Written by Jordan Michelman.

Allow me to take you back to a very particular time and place. The scene is Brooklyn—specifically Williamsburg—in the latter years of the first decade of the 21st Century, in what some might call “the naughty Aughties”. North Brooklyn, in general, and Williamsburg, in particular, were more or less the center of the burgeoning millennial universe at that time. The tattoo sleeves were inky, the Edison bulbs a-glow. We drank picklebacks at the Bushwick Country Club and downed artisan craft cocktails with aplomb at the Hotel Delmano. A young Kickball Katie taught us how to rock. The days were long, the nights cool, the green fields of McCarren Park endless, and no matter who you were or what shade of Converse you happened to be wearing, some significant portion of your life and time flowed in and out of Variety Coffee, and the cafe’s seminal, immensely influential original cafe location on Graham Ave and Conselyea.

This could have all gone up in a puff of smoke, never to be heard from again, like the Dum Dum Girls or that pre-fixe Scandinavian restaurant that used to be on Bedford Avenue, but happily, there were bigger things afoot for Variety Coffee. Here in 2024, they’ve grown into one of New York’s most interesting and successful modern coffee brands, now with 8 locations (plus a roastery) in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Each cafe is slightly different, but the coffee is great at all of them, with a trusty La Marzocco machine anchoring the bar at each one.

I checked in with Sarah Lowe, Assistant Director of Retail at Variety Coffee, to learn more about how the cafe manages bar flow and what makes each location unique and special. If only more millennials had the ability to age gracefully like Variety Coffee.

Hi Sarah, thanks so much for speaking with me. Variety now has 8 locations plus a roastery across New York, which is amazing — I remember going to the original one in Williamsburg a million years ago, in the late aughts.

With that many locations, I’m curious about how you all think about workflow and practices from spot to spot — are they all pretty similar, or are there unique challenges between each location? I’m also curious — do baristas on your team work at different locations throughout, say, a given week, or do your team members tend to just work at one spot for all of their shifts?

For our workflow, we generally have the same setup across cafes, it just depends if it’s right-handed or left-handed! All of our cafes use La Marzocco machines with scales, two of which are custom Officine Fratelli Bambi machines. This is great because we have a consistent interface on the user side while matching the aesthetic on the customer side to each cafe. The integrated scales under each grouphead allow for consistency in service and workflow throughout all our cafes. This also allows great flexibility in scheduling baristas between stores.

On the gear side — are you using the same equipment configuration at each cafe — same grinders, same espresso machine, etc — or are there differences between your locations? Tell me more about the thinking behind this.

We have some variance in our gear, but we have favorites we tend to return to. Mahlkonig E65 S for our espresso grinders and La Marzocco espresso machines, although differing models from cafe to cafe.

How much of what you serve runs through the espresso machine — like as a ballpark figure, what percent of your workflow routes through the espresso bar?

I would say 60% of our drinks are espresso-based, but it varies slightly from cafe to cafe.

* Do you have a personal favorite Variety cafe — like one that you think is just kind of cool and special and enjoy spending time around? My guess is that there is fierce loyalty towards that original shop, but maybe there’s another one of your cafes where it’s like, “This is the one.”

There is definitely a homebase feeling to the Graham Ave location but from spending so much time in each of the cafes, each one has something about it that is really cool to discover. When talking with people I meet about my job here, I get so many people talking about their Variety, the one they visit every day and how that feels so special to them which is really cool to see.

Whether it’s the one on Wyckoff Ave that’s two blocks away from their apartment, our Chelsea location that is right by where they’re going to school, or our cafe on Lexington Ave that’s a good place to stop and have a coffee between work and physical therapy. I personally considered the Driggs Ave location *my* location before I worked at Variety. Our newest location in Ridgewood has such a drastically different and colorful design and yet the coffee and the people feel very much like Variety still. The neighborhoods change but the people show up still in the same way for the baristas they see every day.

Around how many team members do you have now at Variety?

Last time I checked, we were at around 90 employees!

Variety Coffee Roasters has seven locations throughout New York City.

Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram