Although the Diedrich Coffee Roaster was moved near Coffee Labs Roasters’ back wall, co-owner and barista/roaster Mike Love is front and center for his community, causes, and, yes, coffee.
“Well, I am competing again,” Love posted to Facebook last month. “At Coffee Fest NYC, (Tarrytown’s) Coffee Labs has made it to the Semi-Finals of America’s Best Espresso Challenge (http://coffeefest.com/EspressoCompetition.aspx).”
Friends and fans cheered via social media as Love conquered his opponents, espresso shot by espresso shot, in the head-to-head, bracket style competition held during Coffee Fest, March 8 to 10 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
By Sunday afternoon, Love was one of the top two contenders in the final round. Tension mounted.
Then, by split decision, Tarrytown’s ultimate barista won second place.
“We took it home! Twenty-two roasters, three days later, and we bring it home to Coffee Labs!” Love posted on Facebook. Ceremony Coffee Roasters (Annapolis, Maryland) clinched first place, and Flat Black Coffee Roasters (Boston, Massachusetts) took third place.
“There were awesome people, and it was lots of fun,” he said the following week, relaxed and wearing a signature hat and flannel shirt. “Ceremony Coffee and I swept it in. They’re great people, and I have a lot of respect for them.”
Baristas had six minutes the first day, and 10 minutes each the next two days to prepare one espresso that was submitted to the three judges, chosen from those competing in the Latte Art World Championship Open. A total of 124 espresso shots were evaluated by flavor complexity, mouth feel and appeal and aftertaste.
“The competition was amazing, and the final was a battle of coffee powerhouses featuring Ceremony Coffee versus Mike Love of Coffee Labs,” said David Heilbrunn, Lifestyle Events Inc. president. “Mike clearly wanted to keep this America’s Best championship title in New York.”
More than 170 exhibitors and 3,200 attendees from the United States and worldwide attended the three-day trade show — sponsored by Lifestyles Events Inc. DBA Coffee Fest — catering to the specialty coffee and gourmet tea industries, and with educational offerings, networking events, and the Latte Art World Championship Open Competition. Similar events are held for the western and central states.
Acknowledging the split decision, Heilbrunn (who was not one of the judges), said, “I personally tasted the shots submitted from both competitors in the final and did, in fact, score Coffee Labs higher.”
From 2007 to 2011, Coffee Labs was the Official Coffee Sponsor of The Ultimate Barista Challenge, New York; Love is a 16-time winner of that challenge as Latte Art Champion, Best of Brew Champion, Frappe Champion, and Cocktail Champion.
“Winning a Diedrich Coffee Roaster (in the Ultimate Barista Challenge® NYC ‘Showdown’) is the most amazing prize I can think of. It will help me change the way I roast coffee,” he said after the 2010 competition, when he also earned titles in Frappe Espresso and Latte Art.
Love is already strategizing for next year’s competition. “One of my (former) baristas opened his own shop in DC, and he buys coffee from a fellow roaster. It (next year) has a personal feel,” he smiled.
While challenging baristas in Leningrad and Shanghai can be exciting, Love will cease competing internationally and focus on growing the environmentally-conscious and independently-sustainable business he and his wife, Alicia Love, opened in 2003.
Coffee Labs is one of several Fair Trade Roasters/Retailers/Wholesalers in New York State; the Loves are members of Coffee Kids, an organization devoted to ensuring that children of coffee farmers get a solid education.
If you don’t see him at a coffee showdown, or helping those less fortunate, like the villages’ food and toy drives for victims of Hurricane Sandy, you might catch him on village streets in his 2011 Subaru STI XWINGFTR — custom-vinyl-wrapped, bumper-to-bumper, in pink digital camouflage and sporting Coffee Labs, Scoobies for Boobies and pink ribbon (the international symbol of breast cancer awareness) stickers
Used as a fundraising charity car for breast cancer awareness, the car will remain wrapped until his personal $10,000 goal is reached.
“So far we raised $1,800 cash and $1,700 online,” Love said of his Go Fund Me page (http://www.gofundme.com/XWINGSTI), which donates 100 percent of donations to Scoobies for Boobies. “It’s about Alicia and me. It’s as much for her as it is for me.”
Last October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Love started a fundraiser for Scoobies for Boobies, while businesses rallied for the cause and for his wife, a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010, she received a clean bill of health in 2011 following chemotherapy.
Created in 2008, Scoobies for Boobies has been supporting the Keep A Breast Foundation since 2011. Money raised from 2008 to 2010 was donated to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.”
A huge blue water bowl outside Coffee Labs Roasters on Main Street in Tarrytown is frequented by dogs that stare into its huge window, or look through the door, unable to cross the threshold. Its website tells visitors “DOG WAIVER PENDING — check back soon.”
After nearly three years of letters, emails, phone calls, meetings and site visits to the cozy neighborhood coffee nook owned by Mike Love and Alicia Kelligrew-Love resulted in a letdown when the Westchester County Health Department, under Commissioner of Health Dr. Sherlita Amler, said it will not allow canines in Coffee Labs. Specifically, the department refused to consider a waiver to Section 14-1.183 of the New York Sanitary Code that allows patrol dogs to accompany security police officers and guide dogs to accompany blind persons.
“It’s hurting business instead of promoting small business,” Love said after hearing the news. “How can you give us guidelines, and when we comply, you say no?” Kelligrew-Love agreed, “This doesn’t seem like a way to help small businesses in the community.”
“Protecting the health and safety of residents is the Health Department’s paramount concern,” Director of Public Health Information and Communication Caren Halbfinger said. The shop “was always subject to NYS Sanitary Code and never had permission to allow dogs to enter the establishment,” which Love admitted. “It’s part of who we are. It’s our identity. It’s our brand,” he said two years earlier.
Partially named after their pets, the award-winning coffee house had allowed dogs inside its 1,000-square-feet space since opening in 2003 — until the Health Department said Love needed a dog waiver, outlining a list of concerns that needed to be addressed before the department would consider the waiver request. Prior to this, there were no violations, incidents or complaints at Coffee Labs pertaining to dogs since it opened.
Thus the Loves began to work on the requirements until personal issues demanded their attention; when they were able to move forward again, the answer was different.
“They gave us a ‘yes,’ and when we didn’t follow up right away we called them, and they said it never happened,” Kelligrew-Love said. Phone calls to the Health Department in September 2011 resulted in phone tag — and the department’s change of heart. “We have the paper that says ‘yes’ to the waiver. Needless to say, we are upset!”
“The department had ongoing dialogue with Mr. Love regarding these pending concerns, but the concerns were never addressed,” Halbfinger said. No other jurisdiction allows non-service dogs inside restaurants, it determined “after a comprehensive search, and discussions with several health departments across the country.”
Coffee Labs’ owners were hopeful in June 2010, when the Westchester County Board of Health — nudged by the public’s overwhelming response and a 3,000-signature petition created by Coffee Labs employees — agreed to meet with them to discuss a waiver to the aforementioned code.
The independent body of 12 people reviews all complaints and approves or denies any waiver to Health Department rulings.
Then Acting Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Archibald told Love, attorney Andrea I. Castro, and the 10 to 15 supporters that the June 2010 meeting was “to inform the board of all the information related to this request.”
Frank Guido, MPA, RS, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Public Health Protection, said at the time that the situation at Coffee Labs will set a precedent and that the variances to the New York State code are being considered to minimize risks to staff and customers. “It (Coffee Labs) is a low-risk establishment, which means there is a low potential for food-borne illness,” Guido said. “The store has pre-made muffins, and the staff cut open bagels that they spread with cream cheese or butter.”
Posted on Coffee Labs’ door and window were signs indicating dogs are allowed inside, and that they (dogs) had to be licensed, leashed and vaccinated. Since none of the board’s 12 members had even been to Coffee Labs, they visited before the following month’s meeting.
“They looked the place over,” Kelligrew-Love said. “Things we had done for many years, they said were a violation. We thought we had it all worked out, and it was a go.”
An email to Amler received no reply, and a phone message left for Assistant Commissioner of Health Peter DeLucia, who the Loves said had been assisting them, was forwarded to — and answered by — Halbfinger.
Coffee Labs rallied support via its Causes.com page, Help Coffee Labs Become the First Official Dog-Friendly Coffeehouse, and Facebook, including canine fans who kept asking when they’d be allowed to return.