We Talk All Things Coffee with Jai Lott from Bluestone Lane
I first met Jai Lott during the planning of an event with Bluestone Lane, the NYC Australian-inspired coffee roaster, at Third North. We were planning on serving refreshments to the hundreds of people who were moving in, a noble effort. On the menu we placed cold coffee and Australian pastries, hoping that there would be enough to go around in the end. I wondered how this would all get done, the resources being put into it all, hoping that everything would work out. I was a mess.
Jai, on the other hand, was taking everything in stride, he was cool, composed, and on top of that exuded charisma and charm. He seems to have gotten used to the hectic New York City lifestyle, even if his Australian accent betrays him of his origins. In the following months when I would try to pin him down to talk about future collaborations, he had to finally make himself clear to me that nothing could really happen until the New Year and the spring semester that is now upon us.
I’m extremely happy that we are finally able to work with Jai and the genial team at Bluestone Lane for the month of February here at the Coffee Club. On top of that, we were able to visit their roastery in Dumbo & talk with their head roaster, Ronan Lonergan, who kindly showed around Katie Peurrung and I in order to take some sweet photos and chat about the aim of Bluestone Lane.
Since Jai is busy-as-ever, we decided to conduct this interview about him and how he came to work for the Australian-in-origin coffee chain over email. Enjoy!
How did you get started in coffee?
I started in coffee in 2005, it was the next step after 2 years of washing dishes and clearing tables at a high volume restaurant in my home town of Noosa, Australia.
What about coffee do you like?
For me, it was not about the taste of espresso in the beginning - I didn’t even drink coffee during my first two years as a barista. What got me hooked in the coffee world was the intensity of high volume service while trying to simultaneously chat with customers and engage them while they wait. That warm and friendly interaction with humans in many cases will make or break their entire day.
Speaking towards your Instagram, how did it start & how did you amass such a following?
Weird story… I started my instagram (@coffeewithjai) in late 2014 in Australia with the intention of only posting latte art. I think at the time there were maybe 10 other coffee focused accounts which made it stand out a bit. I was only just learning latte art at the time so figured it would help connect me with people around the world that I could give and receive pouring tips and hopefully I would also find a cool company that I could one day move to the US to work with.
Yes, that math is correct, I made coffee for nearly 10 years without knowing how to pour latte art as it really wasn’t a focus in the industry at the time - it was about making sure the coffee tasted good! I think within 3 months about 5000 people had started following me and around that time Bluestone Lane reached out via DM asking if I had ever considered working in the USA. It just all lined up. I had a Skype interview, and 6 months later my wife and I moved to New York to be baristas.
What are you / Bluestone Lane trying to bring from Australia to the U.S.?
For Bluestone Lane, it’s about human connection and daily escape as opposed to just being purely transactional. Australian coffee culture isn’t about the way coffee is roasted, its that daily routine where sitting down at a coffee shop, surrounded by welcoming aesthetics, and design and meeting with friends, is built into the culture.
What is unique about the coffee you all roast and serve?
We roast on a Loring Kestrel and we focus on development time and bringing out as much sugar as possible in our coffee. Our blends are designed to be had with milk and any espresso or Long Black (Americano) are made using our rotating single-origins which we roast specifically to not be drunk with milk. This helps us ensure that coffee is experienced in its best possible form.
Do you have a mission as Coffee Director?
The mission of my coffee team the last few years has basically been for Bluestone Lane to be providing the most consistent and tasty coffee ever done at scale. Every coffee has its dose and yield weighed, distribution of grinds has a process every time and extraction time is ingrained into the BL barista army as the core of ideal extraction.
It’s easy to make great coffee in one or two stores as a company, but we are at 36 right now and will be 60 plus by the end of the year! In the last 2 months, the Coffee team has evolved into new categories as we prepare for our next stage of growth. Leaving it in insanely qualified hands with new Education Director, Georgia Goldsbrough-Reardon, I have moved over to now run all Strategic Projects for Bluestone Lane which is an exciting new opportunity.
What about NYC has informed the decisions that you all have had to make?
The big two that stand out are needing to create great spaces in a very small footprint and simultaneously needing to have extremely fast fulfillment times. New Yorkers are always on their way somewhere.
Looking towards the future, what are the next steps for Bluestone Lane?
We’re in growth mode currently. We will double our total store count this year while building two new exciting pillars for the brand in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) category as well as wholesale with strategic partners. We are only just getting started.