Perking up: Utica Coffee rises to national prominence
What started as a small roasting business on Genesee Street has grown into a national business that is waking up coffee lovers everywhere.
Perking up: Utica Coffee rises to national prominence
UTICA — What started as a small roasting business on Genesee Street has grown into a national business that is waking up coffee lovers everywhere. Aiming to become the world’s highest-quality roasting coffee company, Utica Coffee Roasting has outperformed expectations and capitalized on its rich, flavorful coffee with the addition of two cafes, an extensive line on grocery store shelves, branded apparel, and a world-class roasting facility on Water Street.
Utica Coffee’s production facility is quizzical at first glance. A Willy-Wonka style production hub, set in the forgotten New York Susquehanna & Western Railroad building, rests behind the Nexus and Adirondack Bank Center on Water Street; its mysterious brick structure is adorned with stone gargoyles, intricate staircases, steel balconies, and large, oversized windows. The parking lot, which hosts a steady stream of Utica Coffee delivery trucks, and the shadows that float past the window as busy employees deliver products, fuel the curiosities of those pondering what lies past its large steel entrance.
For golden ticket holders, an inside glance at Utica Coffee’s growing production begins as employees greet you behind an old ticket-purchase window while an abandoned railroad stop light, an old bell, and a church statue lead you up the stairs to their business offices. Straight ahead, the production facility buzzes with conversation and upbeat music as staff work to bag, sort, and label pallets of beans ready to be roasted and delivered to the adjoining room. Then, with a hair net in place to ensure nothing affects the pristine facility, employees guide you through a pair of large swinging doors where an enormous black roaster demands attention.
“Utica Coffee’s growth in 2022 has been significant, but one of the things we’re focused on right now is our new Probat roaster, which is the second in the country,” India Paschal, Utica Coffee’s Director of E-Commerce & Brand Development, stated. “This machine allows us to improve our controls, heat accuracy, and timing so that we’re able to produce better quality coffee. Since coffee is our primary focus, this machine changes everything.”
The sound of beans pouring into the pulley tray echoes around the roasting area while roasters set the Probat to proper parameters, a process they tested to ensure they achieved the color, richness, and specifications their coffee has always had while delivering a level of consistency that surpasses their previous standards. Mouthwatering aromas resembling toasted bread guide you toward the production facility’s online center just as Brazilian coffee beans enter the Probat’s drum.
“Our online site is one of our fastest growing markets. We’re shipping 200-400 bags of coffee to states and places like Canada and Puerto Rico every week,” India noted as fresh bags of blueberry coffee arrived. “Our inventory is consistently moving and updating, so our customers receive their orders as quickly as they come in.”
In addition to online coffee orders, you can buy Utica Coffee clothing, local goods like Shaw’s maple syrup, Syracuse Salts, Nora’s turkey joints, Avico’s grind, and trendy stoneware mugs.
“Our mugs are one of those special items we spend a lot of time cultivating and collaborating on. People line up down the street and online, hoping to purchase a mug the day we release them,” Paschal said. “Typically, we sell out in an hour, though on our online store, the mugs sell out within minutes. At first, we thought family members or people who visited the area were purchasing them. Then, a gentleman from Canada informed us that our mugs had become sought after by members of a mug collector’s club. We have people who email us from all over requesting updates and notifications on when our next mug will drop.”
Among their exploration of stoneware mugs, local products, apparel, and fun items like their coffee advent calendar, comes a great deal of research, round tables, and collaborative meetings where staff is encouraged to share ideas.
“So much of Utica Coffee comes from our staff, customers, and collaborative sessions. From our roaster select series to the flavors our head roasters play with, marketing techniques, branding items, and local markets and companies we want to pair with, Utica Coffee gives everyone a seat at the table,” Paschal continued.
A great example was Utica Coffee’s deep dive into decaffeinated coffee.
“Utica Coffee has always stood by the motto that coffee should be approachable for everyone. So when we heard from individuals who loved coffee but could no longer have caffeine for medical reasons, we knew we needed to change the decaf market and make up for the lack of variety and flavors. That’s been a massive undertaking, but it’s come with an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Paschal.
While other companies might miss the mark regarding their customers’ needs, Utica Coffee has established a brand designed to speak to everyone; something newcomers at Nexus Center and local college campuses learn.
“The Nexus Center was another great step for us in 2022. We’ve got Utica Coffee on Genesee Street, which keeps us connected to our community, business professionals downtown, people coming off the Thruway, and our shop in Clinton, which allows us to expand our reach and tap into professionals and families coming to Hamilton College,” Paschal continued.
“With Nexus, we’re connecting with individuals coming to the area for a hockey or soccer tournament. But we’re doing more than placing a great cup of coffee in their hands; we’re introducing them to the cultivation behind our coffee, our area, and local products. In turn, those customers introduce their family and friends to our roasts and the local honey or yogurt they found. So it acts full circle.”
While Utica coffee has no intention of slowing down, there is one component they’d like to see inside their Water Street location.
“Utica Coffee is always looking to educate our customers, highlighting the work and preparation that goes into a blend before it’s poured into someone’s cup. One of our goals is to offer tours so everyone can see Utica Coffee’s movable components and hold cuppings where people can sample coffee as we explain the blends, processes, and beans behind it,” she added.
As you stand outside the Water Street location, the steel doors and oversized windows conceal the laughter, music, and creative ideas from the Wonka-esque factory. Yet, while Utica Coffee isn’t handing out golden tickets anytime soon, one hearty pour inside their signature black and white cuppa is a glimpse into the revolutionary company that’s changing our area’s landscape, believing in possibilities and awakening a caffeinated community to the textures and flavors of coffee -- something everyone instantly becomes a part of with one sip.
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