Astoria, Coffee
Aug 13, 2014

An Interview With Drew DeGeer of XXX Coffee

If you’ve been to the Socrates Greenmarket, you no doubt have spied the table that is home to XXX Coffee. They serve iced coffee and pourovers, brew with Chemex and (…)

Share this Scoop

total shares!

socrates-greenmarket-xxxcoffee-astoria-queens

If you’ve been to the Socrates Greenmarket, you no doubt have spied the table that is home to XXX Coffee. They serve iced coffee and pourovers, brew with Chemex and french press, and it’s always been delicious. We were curious to know more about these guys so we asked XXX Coffee president Drew DeGeer some questions about their operation and general thoughts about coffee these days. Here’s the interview.

We Heart Astoria: How old is XXX Coffee?

Drew DeGeer: I started XXX Coffee when I arrived in New York from Toronto in Canada in 2009. We’ve been active since 2011. Hardcore Bean has been around since 1998. XXX Coffee is the offshoot of the XXX Diner that I once owned on Queen Street West in Toronto.

WHA: Why did you name it “XXX Coffee”?

DDG: XXX started as an architectural reference from the loft that I lived in in Toronto for many years. There were these three metal cantilever Xs on the ceiling in this firehouse building loft that supported a gazebo on the roof. It was me and three other roommates, and when we first saw the Xs on the ceiling we all said, “It’s the triple X!” So that stuck.

XXX Coffee today is a continuation of XXX Diner—but the focus for me had always really been on coffee and continuing my love of espresso and specialty coffee.

WHA: How long have you been involved in the world of coffee, and in what aspects of the business? What did you do before you got involved with coffee?

DDG: I’ve been involved in coffee since 1991 as a hobbyist rebuilding vintage machines. I bought a propane La Pavoni DP 990 machine built in 1977 from the basement of a place called Zuccarini’s owned by Giacomo Zuccarini. Giacomo began importing Gaggia machines from Milan to Canada in 1954. So he was important in my immediate coffee world. I ordered the parts for my first machine from Crossroads Espresso in San Francisco and rebuilt it myself: the heads, the boiler, the gasket, everything that was a heating element. With a small crew of espresso enthusiasts, we got it up and running.

We had a lot of late-night loft art parties and we started selling and serving coffee off the machine at the parties we hosted.

After the late-night loft art parties, we did one event that was the Cycle Messenger World Championship.The Championship was basically couriers from around the world who descended on Toronto to participate in these bicycle messenger courier races. We decided to host a pop-up restaurant for the racing bicycle messengers. We had the espresso machine that I restored, tons of food, and it all happened in the loft we lived in. We fed 400-500 people food and espresso. Somehow we wound up calling it ” Triple X Diner.” We called the espresso “Hardcore Bean” because of the XXX reference and because it was really, really strong coffee.

From that point in time, I realized that I loved coffee — serving it, bringing it to life, and bringing vintage espresso machines to life.

From my interest in restoring machines I became a self-taught barista. I spent a lot of hours with Giacomo Zuccarini — he was my coffee mentor. He showed me how machines worked, what the principles of good espresso were. Giacomo taught me how to restore machines, how to troubleshoot them. He taught me invaluable stuff about machines. He saw an interest in me about espresso machines and he helped foster that by letting me crawl all over his basement and ask him questions about classic vintage espresso machines.

I started serving coffee from 1994 until I decided to open XXX Diner in 1998.

I started serving as a World Barista Championship judge in 2005.

Before coffee, I was in art school at Ontario College of Art and Design.

pourover-for-iced-coffee-xxx-coffee-socrates-sculpture-park-astoria-queens

WHA: What is your favorite way to brew coffee?

DDG: Piston lever espresso machine.

WHA: What is your personal favorite way to drink coffee?

DDG: Black.

WHA: What is your view on the Americano? Is it a legit drink or just weak espresso?

DDG: It’s a chunk of history, the Americano. American GIs fighting in Europe during the Second World War didn’t have drip coffee. The Americano stands as a European version of drip coffee—it’s espresso added to hot water in the volume you would expect in a cappuccino: eight ounces of water to an ounce-and-a-half of espresso provided the GIs their drip coffee.

WHA: We all know about cappuccino, latte, cortado, macchiato, and mocha. Is there an espresso drink not on this list that you have seen become more popular in NYC or is there an espresso drink you’d like to see become more popular?

DDG: The cortado seems to be a popular drink right now.

What’s also become popular is New Yorkers’ choices in their espresso and milk volumes. And I think people have to differentiate between what is an Italian drink and what is not an Italian drink. Espresso is not just Italian. Espresso bars in New York are universally putting together Italian, Spanish (cortado) and South American drinks on one menu to accommodate New Yorkers… and not in their traditional volumes. I think espresso drinks in their correct volumes—I’d like to see those remain where they have been. The 10, 12 and 16 oz volume size espresso drinks are not proper representations—historical or flavor-wise—of espresso and milk.

iced-coffee-xxx-coffee-socrates-sculpture-park-astoria-queens

Delicious XXX iced coffee.

WHA: Where can we find your coffee?

DDG: Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City Wednesday nights, and Saturdays, and Hester Street Fair in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Sundays. It’s really important that we have a constant source of water and power at our sites, so it’s these two locations right now.

We sell Hardcore Bean coffee beans, and some single origin beans plus cold brew to take home at both locations. Our beans and cold brew will be available online really soon.

We have a couple of projects that we will be revealing soon, as well.

WHA: What drew you to the greenmarket at Socrates?

DDG: The convergence of art, sculpture and community drew to me to Socrates Sculpture Park. It’s a really special New York park. The programming, everything. I’ve never run across a New York City park that is such a pearl in an oyster.

WHA: And what’s with the awesome Doughnut Plant connection?

DDG: I redid their coffee program to focus on the marriage of coffee and doughnuts. Coffee and doughnuts are a Canadian thing. [laughs] We now sell their doughnuts! [grin]

WHA: Do you have any additional thoughts or things you’d like to share?

DDG: The philosophy of XXX Coffee is to return to the roots of great coffee and the “golden age” of espresso making, in the style of the Italian roadside espresso. It’s flavor over waves—whether First Wave or Third Wave coffee, we just want to make good strong coffee for the people.

 

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

2 Comments

Sayydah

Nice article! I look forward to tasting XXX Coffee (and doughnuts!) soon. Best wishes to Drew and his team for great success.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *