Steve Sutton of Devoción
Food & Drink — Coffee & Tea

Steve Sutton of Devoción

United States

Mood of Living  /  Jan 11, 2017

A genuine reverence for coffee guides Devoción founder Steven Sutton every step of the way, from the farm to the shop’s Williamsburg location.

Discovering a diamond in the rough in Colombian coffee, which had been largely overlooked by other leaders in the industry, Sutton set out to create the only true farm-to-table coffee roaster. The seed was planted and he launched Devoción in 2006 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He knew that all Colombian coffee needed was a little extra devotion.

Born in Medellín, Colombia, Sutton perfected his craft in his home country. Colombia is the only country that harvests year-round, meaning that it exhibits full palette flavors and aromas. At Devoción, each step in the bean’s journey to your coffee cup is handled with extra care to preserve those defining characteristics. As guests move through the store space, those same traits are brought to life through the lingering aromas of the coffee beans, the sun shining through the store’s natural skylight, and the extensive vertical garden standing parallel to the bar. Devoción transports its visitors to Colombia through the heightening of senses.

Q & A with Steve Sutton

Mood of Living: What career did you have before you created launching Devoción?
Steve Sutton: I started in the Music industry, where at a young age I opened a record label, studio and a production house. From there, I passed for a few months through the flower industry before I moved into the coffee industry, and landed my first job in coffee as GM for PDS Distributors in Miami, Fl.
MoL: What inspired you to create a coffee company? Where did the story of Devoción begin?
SS: While I was managing the coffee distribution company in Miami, I noticed that Colombian coffee was not looked upon as being high-end. This lead to my deep investigation of Colombian coffee and I found that it could be extremely high-end if sourced the proper way. This was the seed of what was to become Devoción.
MoL: What does the name of your brand, “Devoción” mean?
SS: It means devotion. From the farmer to the barista that is serving you, the whole chain must be full of devotion and love for your cup to be perfect. Everything must be full of Devoción.
The Devoción storefront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Devoción storefront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
MoL: There are many coffee shops in New York, in the United States, and across the world. What makes Devoción different than other specialty coffee shops?
SS: We are the the only coffee roaster that roasts only fresh green coffee beans; the industry standard for specialty coffee is around 6-month-old green beans. Our standard is 10-day-old green coffee beans freshly roasted, thus, we are the only farm-to-table coffee roasters in the world with, by far, the freshest coffee.
MoL: Describe the relationship with producers and farmers in Colombia. Does your company practice sustainability?
SS: We purchase from over 500 farms. The purchasing network is actually ours, so we get to have close relationships with the farms and their families. All of the coffee we buy is purchased by our sustainability department. We pay above fair trade prices and follow an environmentally smart production system.
MoL: What are some of the traits of beans harvested in Colombia?
SS: Colombia has many micro-climates that allow it to be the only country in the world that harvests coffee year-round. With this comes a full palette of flavors that you can choose from. To generalize and say that Colombian coffee has a distinct flavor or trait would be wrong. If you know how to source high-end coffee, Colombian coffee can have many different flavors and aromas. We aim to perfectly bring out the flavor profile of each particular coffee.
MoL: What is your specialty/most popular drink? Do you have any season-specific menu items?
SS: We like to say that our specialty is all of our coffee drinks because of their extreme freshness. That said, our clients like our continuously rotating menu such as our sparkling cascara, made from fresh coffee fruit (coffee cherries). At the end of the day, in Devoción it is all about freshness, high quality and authenticity in our products.
MoL: What does “bean to cup” mean? What are the benefits of this true “farm to cup roaster” practice?
SS: It means that we protect our coffee in all of its stages, and want it to be uber-fresh. The green coffee bean is alive and has around 400 elements that contribute to the flavor. We have a logistics team that works directly with farms in Colombia. These farmers show us their product and Devoción assesses which are the best. Whether it be by car, foot, or mule, we oversee each step of the bean’s harvest until they are ready to be shipped. We use FedEx Express to ship our coffee a day or two after dry milling so elements including minerals, lipids and sugars are protected from oxidation. This achieves the freshest and most flavorful cup of coffee.
MoL: Why did you choose to open in the neighborhood you are in?
SS: Williamsburg is a place where people are interested in trying new things. They are interested in learning about the product, where it comes from and it’s story. It made sense to start here in a place where we could tell our story and people would listen.
MoL: What was the inspiration of the shop’s interior design?
SS: Colombia. We wanted to transport you to our country and invite you to drink a cup of coffee. When I think of Colombia, I think of lush green mountains. That’s why we did a big vertical garden and a sky light….every single plant in that wall can be found in a Colombian tropical forest or mountain. The roaster is in the front because we are roasters and much of our business is wholesale. We are inviting you into our roastery to drink your cup of coffee while we work.
MoL: How are the customer’s senses engaged during his or her coffee experience?
SS: The moment you come into Devoción you feel you are in a special place. In the entrance you see the roaster. To the left you see a huge board explaining our farm-to-cup model. This starts to prepare you for the quality that you are about to experience. As you move into the space, the aroma kicks in and the living wall and skylight enhance the freshness that you are about to taste. Our friendly expert baristas will greet you and help you choose the best coffee for your moment with us. Finally, you take your first sip and understand all of the effort that has passed to deliver the freshest cup you will ever have. All this while listening to great music and feeling an amazing energy.
MoL: Why did you decide not to have WiFi in the shop on weekends?
SS: We wanted less work computers and more friends and family gatherings. By not having WiFi we have been able have a more social atmosphere during our extremely busy weekends.
MoL: Do you have any tips on the best ways to have a great experience in a coffee shop?
SS: Talk to the baristas. Explain what you would like to experience and let them guide you through the world of coffee.
MoL: How important is music to the shop experience? Do you have any favorite musicians or songs?
SS: It ties the ambience together. No music or bad music will likely create a heavy vibe that people reject quickly. I love blues, salsa, jazz and rock. Howling Wolf, Hector Llavoe, John Coltrane, the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead are some of my favorites.
MoL: What imprint on the world does the company wish to leave?
SS: Our motto is “live with Devoción”. This embraces our values and shows the lifestyle the company wants to offer its employees and customers. To live with Devoción means to live happily and full of passion; to act in good faith and honesty, and to be conscious of everyone and everything around you.
MoL: How does the company cater to quality of life?
SS: On our supplier side, we pay above fair trade pricing, provide education and community services, and help our farmers protect their surroundings so their lifestyle is sustainable. We also believe our company caters to a higher quality of life through high gastronomy and our motto. If you’re a foodie like I am, the high gastronomy of our products definitely translates into quality of living, and if you share our motto, you will probably find life more joyful and less complicated.
MoL: What is your favorite smell?
SS: Coffee!
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind?
SS: The Choco region of Colombia with the community who live there.
MoL: What puts you in a good mood?
SS: Nature and food.
MoL: We find that people who make beautiful things are more likely to lead an artistic lifestyle. How do you explore creativity in the home or kitchen?
SS: I love cooking and creating. In New York it is a bit challenging, as most of my time is spent in Devoción. I’m still trying to decorate my place, but don’t seem to get the time to do it. I love cooking simple and fresh things. One of the easiest and most amazing plates is a tiradito: really fresh fish that is thinly sliced. One minute before serving you put a bit of olive oil and lime juice and you’re done. I’m all about the natural flavors and am dedicated to getting my food at its freshest stage. Food is beautiful and delicious, most of the time you don’t really need to do anything to it.
MoL: With which living person would you most like to share a conversation over a cup of coffee?
SS: Stephen Hawking. I’m fascinated by his theories and views of life and the universe. In my book, he is by far the smartest and most interesting person on earth. That said, I’m also inclined to respond that we should give the same importance to having a cup of coffee with a humble person who has not been confined to the modern structures and material social needs. Some of my most precious times have come from conversation with farmers in remote areas, or a native of the Choco Colombian region. These conversations make you realize how small and simple everything really is, and how difficult and complex we have made things for ourselves. I especially admire people who live with passion and look to help humanity and nature. In the end, it is a balance that I think is really important. Sometimes the most unexpected person is the most interesting or the most helpful.
MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
SS: My father and mother told me that with hard work and kindness you can achieve your dreams.
MoL: What advice can you give anyone interested in starting his or her own career in the coffee industry?
SS: Dive in and love every second of it. You are about to enter one of the most beautiful and amazing industries in the world. From the farms to the local coffee shops: culture, nature and history are tangled up into every cup of coffee we serve.
Photography courtesy of Devoción

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