Paper Plane Coffee Company: Ready to Soar
When Francis C. Klein & Associates took over the project to convert the storefront at 194 Claremont Avenue, in Montclair, from an antique shop into Paper Plane Coffee Company, we didn’t know that we’d be contributing to a five-generation legacy. Now several months in, we sat down with its owner, Jonathan Echeverry to talk coffee.
FK: How did you choose Montclair to open Paper Plane?
JE: It happened through serendipity. My wife is from Montclair. She’s a teacher here in New Jersey. I fell in love with Montclair the moment I arrived. It’s so walkable and green. Eventually I moved out here. Commuting into the city wasn’t really making sense to me–two hours each way on a good day. And I just started looking in the area and found this great space.
And Montclair is a place with such a varied demographic. Here everyone has a story. I definitely saw that I could create a unique space for people to enjoy specialty coffee.
FK: How does being in Montclair compare to your previous experiences at your coffee shop in Williamsburg?
It’s obviously very different, fewer people and less congestion, but actually there are so many New York expats here. So many people from Brooklyn found their way out here, starting a family, like I did. We’re close enough to the city to have all the advantages, but we have all this lush greenery instead of being surrounded by large buildings.
At first, I expected my clientele to be concentrated among Gen Xers, Millennials, and maybe some Gen Z. But I’ve been surprised to see such a broad spectrum of people in the shop. It’s inter-generational, gender diverse, and really fun. I think that encapsulates what it’s like to be in Montclair.
FK: How did you decide on the paper plane theme?
JE: I wanted the brand to be something playful like me. It takes on some fun aspects and touches on childhood. We take coffee really seriously, but we don’t take ourselves that seriously. The paper plane theme always played out in my head since its conception.
FK: How do you train people to create your excellent drinks?
JE: You know that’s probably the hardest thing for me because I’m a terrible delegator. I’m the type that says, “Okay, watch me do it. And remember how I did it.” But getting down to it, my experience in food and beverage, and working in restaurants, has taught me the skills I like to convey. Like being able to talk to people and setting up each day, so you can kind of tackle one thing at a time.
FK: Can you tell me a little more about the history of your family’s involvement with coffee and your roots in Colombia?
JE: Our coffee story started about 150 years ago with my great great grandfather from the Basque region who was a bit of a nomad. He traveled around Colombia and helped establish a coffee growing and trading business in a German colony which is now known as Sancturario, the little hometown where my dad is from. My great great grandfather had seen the explosion of interest in coffee through his travels, and saw how it was very exportable. He was able to grow coffee up at those high altitudes, and he ended up teaching a German family, the Gartners, who had started the colony. So we’ve always been intrinsically tied with the legacy of that town. Throughout all five generations everyone’s kind of found their way back to this sanctuary.
We’ve always done coffee in some form or facet. My father actually found my great grandfather’s Federation of Coffee Growers official certificate. It cost about $540, a very small amount compared to the millions it costs now.
FK: Could you tell me about the process of roasting your beans?
JE: It’s very complex, it’s a bit scientific. Each bean requires a different roasting method. You could roast some beans very similarly, but they’ll all yield different results. Early roasters were finding that their coffee was very inconsistent so they would pretty much burn their coffee in order to create a uniform flavor.
Now because we’re able to get coffee so fresh, we are roasting to get the best flavors out of that coffee. It depends on the elevation of where the coffee was grown, the particular variety. This affects the density, and the density will mean either a higher or lower temperature. Also, the process of how the coffee is dried lends a huge hand. So it’s fun, it’s a complex process.
FK: The coffee shop is now considered a “third space,” after home and the office. Do you see that at Paper Plane?
JE: That’s a good question. I like having people enjoying Paper Plane. I absolutely love the atmosphere and people talking and working. I wanted Paper Plane to feel comfortable for me and therefore I translated that into a space that would be comfortable to everyone who comes in. Sometimes I’ll just sit up at the bar and type away.