by Chris Clemens
Rochester, where I live, is lucky enough to have one of the highest concentrations of coffee roasters in the state. So, I’m a bit spoiled at home. But, finding great coffee on the road can be tough. That’s why I think seeing the Third Wave coffee trend expanding into rural parts of New York is really exciting. Earlier this week, the Village of Penn Yan was graced by the opening of Main Street’s only specialty coffee. Add to the fact that its a specialty coffee shop in one of my favorite regions and that they chose a name celebrating the region’s history, I had to drive the over-an-hour-trip to visit Publick Coffee Bar.
A Universal Friend
One of the most interesting facts about Penn Yan (for me) is that one of the original settlers in the region was a spiritual leader seeking solitude for her and her followers. When Jemima Wilkinson fell ill during a Typhoid Fever outbreak in 1776, she believed that Jesus Christ entered her body. The prophetic resurrection removed Wilkinson’s gender identity and implanted a spiritual conduit that spoke to those around her. Of course, America in the 1700’s wasn’t ripe for a female spiritual leader, and her community of followers sought peace and isolation, ultimately finding their way to the then unpopulated region surrounding present day Penn Yan.
Upon Wilkinson’s awakening, she vowed to forget her birth name and previous life. The Quaker born leader would now be known to all as the Publick Universal Friend, reflecting Wilkinson’s desire to be a leader for any who may be called to follow. After her death, the community of followers slowly dissipated without a clear leader and the movement quickly collapsed. Today, it’s easy to find traces of the settler’s legacy in places like their former mill on the Keuka Outlet Trail, Friend Hill Road, and even the house the commune originally lived in, located in present day Jerusalem. While there is no direct historical tie, the newest homage to the Penn Yan spiritual pioneer is a coffee house, that no doubt intends to be a Publick Universal Friend to all those who love great coffee.
Why Specialty Coffee?
Easy. Sort of…
Food reviewers/critics/snobs/foodies all have different ideas about what food should be. What’s so wonderful about the Finger Lakes is our food scene is outstanding–there’s something for everyone! Farm-to-table freshness married with artisan, hand-crafted delectables have become the new standard in our region, and it’s because we have the product and the talent to make it happen.
The term “Third Wave” refers to coffee shops that are ensuring beans grown in the best possible conditions, harvested with care by farmers using sustainable methods, roasted to perfection, and brewed with scientific detail are raising the bar for how we get our caffeine. The Publick Universal Friend was part of the Second Great Awakening when America was revitalizing spirituality. Similarly, a Third Wave coffee shop is part of recent trend to take each branch of the coffee cup production to near perfection–from bean to brew. Does that mean diner coffee is bad? Not in my book. In fact, I love it. But, I also really enjoy the experience of truly tasting every subtle note available to my palate. This is where my food critic friends and I differ, though. Think of it like this: local, super sweet wine slushies are great, but so is that small-batch, rare grape perfect pressed Riesling that won top award last season. They’re just great for different reasons.
13 Main Street, Penn Yan
The build-out of the shop will have a familiar feel to those who spend time in specialty shops. Exposed brick, open shelves, reclaimed woods, Edison-style bulbs, and tall windows letting in natural light all lay the groundwork for an environment naturally suited to the slow-coffee scene.
The Publick Coffee Bar is utilizing brew methods like pour-overs, manual espresso machines, and slow-steeped cold brews. I sampled their drip which was an Ethiopia by super-famous Third Wave coffee roaster Phil & Sebastian out of Calgary, Alberta (Canada). Publick is pulling Gimme espresso, which is roasted right in nearby Ithaca. I had the Gimme Leftist espresso roast in a perfectly balanced cortado. Just to round out the menu, I also had a bit of their cold brew, which was spot on with a bold flavor featuring just a hint of smooth bourbon notes at the end.
In addition to coffee, Publick has a wine list and teas and also will offer a bunch of small plate options like a charcuterie board, and a few fresh baked goods sourced locally in town. While they are currently only brewing the two roasters, it’s common for shops like this to rotate their featured roasters. You guys know how I love supporting local New York brands, so I’m hoping that in addition to Gimme, they’ll someday feature some of the other great roasters from around the state. Need ideas? Here’s a list of every one I could find!
If you’re near Penn Yan, I’m gonna make a strong suggestion that you stop in to Publick and give it a shot. For those living in the region that might be new to the specialty coffee scene: head in with an open mind and prepare for a new experience. I’d expect nothing less of someone who enjoys reading Exploring Upstate!
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens