New York’s Bluestone Lane Coffee wants Melbourne’s best baristas

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We had a chat to Bluestone Lane’s Coffee Director Jai Lott about what brought Bluestone Lane Coffee in New York all the way to the Melbourne International Coffee Expo.

With a million and one fabulous coffee options in our city, which is considered one, if not THE coffee epicenter of the world, we take for granted that coffee culture is still a work in progress elsewhere – even in some of the most progressive and developed cities in the world, such as New York.

One entrepreneurial and visionary company has recognised this gap in the market, and is expanding like wildfire in the Big Apple and beyond – Bluestone Lane Coffee.

Founded by Melburnian former investment banker Nick Stone, Bluestone Lane is bringing a little bit of Melbourne coffee culture to the States, one espresso extraction at a time… and it’s going gangbusters.

“Honestly the growth potential, especially for Bluestone, is huge,” Bluestone’s Coffee Director, Jai Lott, says. “I would say Manhattan currently is probably where Melbourne was in about the year 2000 [in terms of coffee culture].

“And not to say [the US] aren’t doing a lot of other amazing things in terms of pour over coffee, but in terms of espresso culture, it’s in the last sort of four, five, six years that this kind of intelligence regarding coffee is really hitting its stride now.”

Since starting with Bluestone 12 months ago, Lott’s role has now developed into conducting all training, managing coffee ordering for Bluestone’s nine current locations, keeping the standard of coffee the same in every shop, and training everyone in latte art and extraction times. “We have one location where we’re going through 16 kilos of coffee a day, so that’s about 1400 espresso drinks. So teaching people to make coffee really well but also really fast is important,” Lott explains.

Lott himself was discovered by Stone via Instagram after Lott amassed thousands of followers on his account @coffewithjai where he posted many pictures of his latte art and other coffee-related images.

This kind of direct and unorthodox recruitment style is clearly a regular occurrence for Stone, who has just appeared alongside his Bluestone colleagues in partnership with one of their suppliers, Niccolo Coffee, at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE).

The idea was to recruit Melbourne’s talented baristas to assist Bluestone in educating New Yorkers in the ways of premium espresso culture.

“Our founder and CEO Nick Stone, he is just a visionary. So we really have unlimited growth potential,” Lott says. “With that in mind, we want to bring some talent over to New York on the J-1 Visa, so they can hang out in New York for a year and showcase some good barista skills.

“It takes a while to get the Visas happening, so we’re not really handing them out like candy. We’re looking for the guys that really stand out – some really good, well-educated, experienced baristas.”

Lott says that at MICE, Bluestone delegates were inundated with interest from aspiring Bluestone baristas.

“It’s been insane,” Lott says. “So we just started a new online procedure where you can actually just hop on there and film yourself making a coffee, talk a bit about your personality and apply that way, so it takes a bit of the labour out of the process.”

Bluestone Lane focuses on bringing a bit of Melbourne café culture to New York, which is what the brand is all about. So aside from the skill that Melbourne baristas demonstrate, it’s important to the brand to have a good dose of Australian personalities in the mix.

“We really love that New Yorkers walk in [to a Bluestone Lane café] and the first thing they hear is that Australian accent. That’s really what the whole Bluestone brand is. 50 per cent of Bluestone Lane’s employees are Australian,” Lott says.

It appears the concept is really working for Bluestone, with more stores opening by the end of the year, and even further expansion beyond New York and Philadelphia.

“Nick basically built the Bluestone brand off his phone while he was still working in an ANZ corporate finance job, which is a credit to him. And now we are looking to have 11 stores, that’s the goal, for the end of this year… then after that, we’re going into Chicago, and then DC, and maybe Denver. I’m pushing for Hawaii – mainly because I want to go to Hawaii!” Lott says.

“It was tough at the start, because Americans in general are used to drip coffee culture – so they expect to pay 80 cents, somewhere around that, for a cup of coffee.

“So now it’s about educating people that, sorry, but this cup of coffee is 4 dollars, because we have to pay baristas a really good wage, because we want the good talent. We’re trying to create careers for baristas, which is a whole new concept over there… and also, just explaining that they do have to wait four, five or six minutes sometimes if they want a really good coffee, made by talented people.

“And they’re learning. People are getting it now.”

Lauren Bruce

Lauren started her writing career as a communications adviser before she realised she couldn’t ignore her passion for food and the arts any longer. She gave up the world of state politics to concentrate on freelance writing and styling. She has since contributed to Spook, Paper Sea and Junkee and is a regular contributor to GRAM Magazine.