The House That Jack Built
HealthyLivingNYC sat down with Jack
Mazzola, owner of Jack's Stir Brew, to
talk about his coffee and the equally
important philosophy behind it.
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Jack’s Stir Brew has become a mainstay
in Greenwich Village. Recently awarded
Best Coffee in 2005 by NY magazine,
HealthyLivingNYC sat down with Jack
Mazzola, brewmaster and owner, to
talk about his organic fair trade coffee and the equally
important philosophy behind it.
HLNYC: What’s the story behind Jack’s
I’ve been acting in NY since I was 17 and
have had many service business jobs.
When I made this jump I was working at
a coffee shop and I realized I was sick of
working for everyone else. A friend gave
me a book by Julia Alvarez called, The
Cafecito Story, which became my inspiration.
The story is about a farmer from Nebraska
who visits the Dominican Republic
and in the process of learning how to harvest
and make coffee, he teaches families
how to speak English. The back of the
book said, “written by Julia Alvarez, who
owns a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic.”
I contacted Julia, her and her husband
came to my apartment with their
coffee, we brewed it up and I loved it. They
invited me to their coffee farm, I worked
on the farm and developed a relationship
with the land, the workers, and their family.
From that point, on I realized the importance
of building a similar relationship
with everyone in the food chain.
HLNYC: Why use organic coffee?
I decided I wanted to do organic coffee
because there were a few things in my
mind that should unquestionably hold
true to the organic philosophy...like the
eggs and milk in my fridge, and the other
staple stuff that I always keep in my apartment.
But no one was doing organic coffee.
Today we go the extra mile, serving
certified organic and certified fair trade
coffee, organic milk behind the bar, and
brown sugar... I
’m serving what I would
call the perfect cup of coffee.
I believe in the organic movement because
being raised in a traditional Italian
family I was accustomed to seasonal harvests
from our vegetable garden in the
backyard. For me that is the true meaning
of organic, the wholesome act of nurturing
food on its journey from seed to table.
HLNYC: Many people disregard fair
trade coffee simply because it costs
more. You are committed to brewing
certified fair trade coffee. Why?
Though you are paying a premium for the
coffee (farmers in the fair trade program
are guaranteed $1.41 per pound for green
organic coffee no matter how low the
commodity price), buying fair trade promises
poor coffee cooperatives a reasonable
price so that farmers can make living wages,
while developing long-term relationships
with international buyers. Buying
fair trade also helps invest money in education,
the environment, and healthcare,
in addition to promoting better working
conditions. After learning about fair trade
coffee its difficult to support the alternative.
We also support Grounds for Health, an organization
that performs cancer-screenings
and provides healthcare education
for women on the coffee farms. I think
its important to educate consumers and
get them to recognize these world-wide
issues, especially since it directly affects
the people who help cultivate their coffee.
Jack’s has a global awareness, along with a
local awareness, which is why this place is
so special. It has built a community.
HLNYC: In addition to award-winning
coffee your loyal customers are also
quick to boast about the amiable atmosphere
at Jack’s. This indeed builds
upon the connection between what we
consume and our surroundings. Can
you comment on how you helped foster
We’re open almost two years now, but
before I opened I would walk down the
street and notice that no one really said
hello to each other. This place kind of
opened everyone up, and now neighbors
finally know each other. When this place
is crowded you’ll rarely see a computer
open or people listening to headphones,
because its a social club. I encourage that
everyone talk to each other, that everyone
get to know each other, and so relationships
have built out of here.
Our customers range from a 70 year old
who stops in every morning for his espresso
to 7 year olds who love the over-sized
Oreos (homemade by Ivy’s Uppercrust
Pastry) for a sugar rush.
HLNYC: The coffee you serve at Jack’s
seamlessly introduces other organic
food offerings from local and sociallyconscious
food companies. Can you tell
us a bit more about the products you’ve
Savoring this link between the coffee farm
and the brewing coffee beans, added a
whole new dimension to the business of
making good coffee. I also realized that
New Yorkers rarely take the time do this.
From the people that make my coffee, to
a friend of mine in Vermont who roasts
Jack’s coffee in his barn, I apply this same
philosophy to everything I sell.
The cherry-almond and apple-walnut
scones (organic, kosher, and vegan) are
baked locally by a friend. We serve organic
granola made from friends at Dr. Cow, organic
green tea soda by Steaz (owned by
my friend Eric), yogurts from local Ronnybrook
farms, and we offer specialty ciders
from NY’s Red Jacket Orchards. The
popular muffi ns are baked by friends at
Brooklyn’s Blue Sky Bakery.
Editor’s Note: The muffi ns, in either traditional,
bran, carrot or pumpkin bases,
are fi lled in the center with seasonal fruits,
come in dozens of varieties
cherry-sweet plum, blackberry-
peach, mango strawberry
and zucchini banana-
HLNYC: What lead to the
creation of the stir brew
I really wasn’t happy with
traditional brewing systems,
so I developed a system that really
makes the magic happen. The coffee
blend is complex and stirring it during the
brewing process oxygenates it, removes
the bitterness, and ensures that the whole
blend is utilized. It’s just like mom’s sauce.
My mom would always stir her sauce. She
would put the ingredients into the pot in
the morning and then she would stir it
through out the day. They’ve been stirring
coffee since the 1800’s but no one had
built a commercial brewer that does so.
HLNYC: Any special events at Jack’s?
Tuesday night live music, which my buddy
and I started two years ago. When we
started, it was just him and I and two other
people. Now on a Tuesday night you can
barely get in here. Underground and local
musicians perform, but it’s not an open
mic as it’s a bit more organized. Everyday
people drop off CD’s and we go through
this process of listening and choosing
who is next to grace the small stage.
We also started working with some local
writers and set up readings of recently
published works. Recently my pal JP, the
author of the Cork Boat (corkboat.com),
did a reading for his paperback when it
came out, and he’s also responsible for the
politically-inspired American fl ag collage
(composed of warning labels and advisories)
on the wall.
HLNYC: After growing accustomed to
Jack’s Coffee, a customer explains that
her palate can now unmistakably recognize
bad coffee served by larger coffee
chains. “The bitter, acidic and burnt
coffee taste is obvious once Jack’s becomes
your reference point.” How do
you explain your coffee’s taste?
It’s a dark roast, strong, and very smooth.
You’ll detect an explosion of many fl avors,
as it’s really an ensemble of notes that
complement each other beautifully.I treat
my coffee beans as
if they were delicate
produce from the
market. Age, light,
and moisture are all
factors that contribute
to the coffee’s
taste, and can specifi
cally bring about
its bitter character.
don’t treat the beans
with proper care, and
this is frequently refl ected in the quality
and taste of the coffee they serve.
HLNYC: What’s the most popular drink
Our staple drink is nothing fancy. Either a
small or big coffee with steamed milk on
top. Adding cold milk to hot coffee kills it.
Steaming milk takes the chill out and marries
the fl avors much better. I don’t think
larger coffee chains even put milk in for
you. This was just another way to build a
relationship with customers. When you
come in, we know how you like your coffee.
But, if you’re looking to try something
a bit different, we have a chalkboard fi lled
with customer favorites. The coffee itself
is the key ingredient. A lot of people ask
me what’s in the coffee and I don’t really
like to disclose the blend. That’s my secret.
Jack’s Stir Brew is located at 138 West 10th
St. between Greenwich Ave and Waverly Pl
in Greenwich Village. Coffee starts at $1.65
for a small; muffi ns and scones are $2.75.
Coffee by the pound is available in store or
through their website, jacksstirbrew.com.