New York may not be a city that runs on sleep, but it is certainly a city that runs on coffee. Step out of your six floor walk-up on an early Monday morning and you’ll witness crowds of speedy humans and their partners in crime: that little paper coffee cup. Some addictions have their benefits, however, and one pleasant side effect of that morning coffee ritual is befriending the badass barista behind a well-brewed cup.
Meet César Vega, the founder of Café Integral, who somehow amazingly finds time to grow, harvest, import and play barista for his specialty roasting bar located within American Two Shot, a fashion boutique in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood. César was born in Nicaragua but grew up in Miami, eventually moving to New York to work as a photographer before opening Café Integral. A combination of his increasing fascination with the art of coffee making as well as family ties to Nicaragua led him to open up shop. At the time of its creation there were already a handful of specialty coffee houses in existence, but none that worked so intimately with Nicaraguan farmers to grow and export beans.
So how does he do it? First and foremost, he brews a mean latte and it all starts with a trip to Nicaragua for early picking and testing of the ripest coffee beans. César describes this first trip as a “dress rehearsal” for the full on harvest in late January. Overall the man is willing to travel thousands of miles for the sake of good coffee beans, spending up to three months on farms where most would spend three days. During his time in Nicaragua he works with growers side by side to evaluate the flavor and ensure the best quality. In most cases this involves chemical analysis of soils, measurement of sugar levels and calculation of fermentation times vs humidity and temperature.
After the harvesting season takes place, the coffee rests for about a month or two until César imports nearly 50,000 lbs. to the U.S. Upon the coffee’s arrival he plans for the year and begins the roasting process, ultimately brewing it himself and handing it off to his customers directly. Using a vertically integrated model, César is able to infuse American culture with coffee that is both exceptional tasting and wholesomely roasted. “Tasting the first fruits of the harvest is by far the most fun part,” he says, “and as long as our customer’s are enjoying the product, I’m happy.”
In a world inundated with things and stuff, César’s considered approach to his process is undeniably easy to appreciate. When I asked him how he continuously perfects his process he quickly responded, “It all comes down to relationship building, teamwork, a genuine love of what you do and supportive customers. Without those crucial elements, I wouldn’t be able to produce the quality product I’m so passionate about.”