Street » Feature
The warm scent of freshly brewed coffee welcomes visitors to the cozy cafe, and the baristas smile as they greet customers and ask to take their orders. The color scheme takes on earthy tones in an artfully simple setting — the small tables are at first mistakable for large stools. This is the world of Rojo’s Roastery, a small artisan coffee shop that opened in Palmer Square just five weeks ago. Word about Rojo’s Roastery has already started to spread around town, building its reputation as a highly knowledgeable and friendly source for coffee.
Even after speaking briefly with the barista, one quickly gets the impression that Rojo’s Roastery employees are thoroughly familiar with their craft. The Roastery divides its menu into two sections. The first is the main menu displayed behind the counter, which lists several typical espresso-based drinks, such as lattes, mochas and cappuccinos. The barista prepares each drink by hand and on the spot — from a coffee mill containing fresh beans, he grinds the beans, carefully measures the coffee-to-water ratio and combines all the ingredients together into a delicious coffee brew. Rojo’s Roastery takes special care to stock fresh and local coffee beans, and the taste comes through in the coffee’s delightfully nuanced aroma.
Rojo’s Roastery also uses a specialty menu, displayed on an iPad at the back of the coffee shop. Here, patrons browse through exotic brews, including Indonesian and Ethiopian coffees. While the espresso-based drinks add hot water under pressure, a process that takes only a few seconds, the baristas prepare these specialty brews using pour-over techniques, letting gravity slowly pull the water through the ground beans. This technique allows a richer flavor to infuse the coffee, bringing out the full taste and emphasizing the distinct characteristics of each type of coffee.
Rojo’s Roastery acquired its alliterative name from its founder, David Waldman, who in his youth sported a beard of red hair. Waldman has always been passionate about coffee, its sources and its preparation, and he sees one of Rojo’s Roastery’s goals as building up the “coffee IQ” of a community. Having plenty of experience with coffee roasting — he opened the first Rojo’s Roastery in Lambertville in 2005 — Waldman encourages customers with questions about coffee to talk to him or to any of the extensively trained baristas for tips about how to construct the perfect coffee brew. He notes that he is delighted by Princeton’s response to his approach to coffee brewing.
“People who come in ask specifically for our hand-made, pour-over coffee,” Waldman said, noting that “the Princeton community is very well-traveled and highly knowledgeable.”
Waldman added that often there is an underserved demographic of high coffee IQ people in the community who seek a coffee shop that adequately suits their needs. Waldman explained that he hopes to fill this niche.
People with a high coffee IQ “attend to the details of coffee-making,” Waldman said; they are aware of the coffee’s path from grower to processor to brewer to drinker. He hopes to foster an understanding among the community of growing techniques, the differences among coffees of different regions and the chemistry and physics behind various methods of preparing coffee.
Of course, one need not be an avid aficionado of coffee to appreciate this cafe. The baristas will enthusiastically walk the customers through the process of coffee brewing and recommend special brews of the day. For non-coffee drinkers, Rojo’s Roastery includes a selection of over 20 organic, loose-leaf teas as well as freshly made smoothies. They also sell chocolates made with only two ingredients, cacao beans and cane sugar, as well as several pastries. The pear ginger scone is a customer favorite.
Rojo’s Roastery welcomes a diverse clientele, ranging from tea-lovers to casual coffee drinkers to coffee connoisseurs. The next time you find yourself near Palmer Square, make sure to check out this cozy coffee shop, discuss the art of coffee brewing with a barista and sip a specialty, handmade coffee drink from Rojo’s Roastery.