A Coffee Break with the Barista

Coffee aficionado Carol Marshall of Slave to the Grind in Bronxville.



As co-owner of one of Westchester’s original independent coffee bars, Carol Marshall of Yonkers knows all about our nation’s favorite pick-me-up beverage. Founded in 1993, Slave to the Grind grinds 385 pounds of coffee beans weekly, serving up cups of joe to more than 500 coffeeholics every day.

What made you open a coffee bar fifteen years ago?
Good Morning America was doing a story on the Seattle coffee scene where there was a coffee bar or kiosk on every corner. I thought, ‘Why not New York?’ There was very little here then; maybe one or two coffee bars in Manhattan. Being a coffee drinker, I knew I would gladly pay more for really good coffee than the fifty cents the delis were charging for a cup of brown water.

How has Starbucks affected your business?
Before Starbucks opened here—two years after we did—it had the nerve to interview its future employees right in our store! Starbucks looks for towns where there are already established coffee bars, and then goes head to head withthem. Overall, it really hasn’t impacted us much.

How does the vibe at Slave compare to that at Starbucks?
If I had a dollar for every time someone says, ‘I hate Starbucks’ to me, I’d be a billionaire.

How old do you think someone should be to drink coffee?
I’m not too happy to see an eight-year-old drinking it; there’s definitely a stimulant in caffeine even though it’s not the villain that people make it out to be. I’d say fifteen or sixteen. That’s when my own kids started.

Coffee can stain teeth, give you bad breath, cause heartburn, give you the jitters, and keep you up at night. Ever feel guilty about selling it?
No. Personally, I never get jitters and it doesn’t keep me awake, but other people who are highly sensitive can choose to drink decaf. Yes, coffee stains your teeth but so does grape juice and wine, and you’re not going to stop drinking them because of it. And if you take care of your teeth properly, staining shouldn’t be a problem. If bad breath is an issue, there are a million things you can do for it.

What do you think of Starbucks coffee?
It has a more acidic taste than ours. And it feels thin, not full-bodied like ours. Because Starbucks has to mass-produce so much of it, they harvest the coffee beans before they are ripe. Un-ripened coffee beans have to be roasted longer than ripened ones and I believe that may affect its taste.

What’s next on the coffee horizon?
You’ll see more people getting on the ‘green’ wagon with more emphasis on organic coffees. People would like to support these efforts, but it’s going to have to make sense to their wallet; organic beans cost more than non-organic.

What tips can you offer those who want to brew good coffee at home?
Be sure to get your coffee beans ground specifically for the particular type of coffee maker you are using, like very coarse for a press pot or very fine for an espresso maker. Second, play around with finding the ratio of coffee to water that you like for a taste that’s not too weak or strong. And always use filtered cold water for the coffee itself and to clean the coffee maker—and don’t use anything with heavy chemicals. As far as type of coffee maker, automatic drip is the easiest to use.

Web Exclusive

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
Two cups—and never decaf, always high test. I’ve never ever had a need to drink decaf.

How have you seen the business change since your opening 15 years ago?
We do have ups and downs like any other business. But over the last five years, the business has definitely increased. Coffee has become pretty established; most people are more educated about coffee now and know that the beans are fresh roasted and not processed or preserved—which used to give people headaches. They notice a difference.

What exactly do you do as co-owner of the shop?
I worked behind the counter for the first three years we were opened; my husband would be there doing the day and I’d go at night. I still work the counter sometimes but I mostly do the hiring, training, taxes, and books.

What is your favorite coffee drink of those you offer?
A latte—it’s an espresso-based drink with more steamed milk than a cappuccino. I use mostly skim milk but also some Half-n-Half for flavor—and once in a while, I’ll add a spoonful of chocolate to it.

What’s the percentage of caffeinated vs. decaf coffee you sell in an average day?
We sell between seventy and seventy-five percent caffeinated, the rest decaf.

Which of your coffee drinks has the most calories?
A coffee espresso with whole milk and French vanilla syrup: it has about TK calories.

What’s the weirdest coffee request you’ve ever received?
A regular cappuccino but what was different was how they wanted it prepared. Normally, we put the espresso shot in the cup, steam the milk, and pour it on top. This particular person wanted to pour the milk in herself and was very insistent about it.

What price are your various coffee drinks?
It goes from $1.75 for a small brewed coffee to $5.00 for a large brain freeze.

What is the most popular coffee drink you sell?
It’s a toss up between a cappuccino, a latte, or our ‘brain freeze’ frozen espresso drink—it’s like a milk shake.

What exactly does free-trade coffee mean?
Traditionally, many coffee farms and plantations have really underpaid their employees and treated them poorly. For a very long time, US citizens were isolated and sheltered from these conditions; we may read and hear about things, but it takes a while for this to really seep into public consciousness. Coffee plantations can choose to be inspected and if they are shown to provide decent wages and working conditions, they are certified free-trade. Interest in free trade coffee had grown some over the last seven years but it’s not a huge thing people are asking about; some of that may be a lack of education.

How has the economic downturn affected your business?
In previous bad economies, people gave up things like fancy expensive dinners out, but the little luxuries, like good coffee, were usually one of the last things to go. Whether it will hold true in the current crisis, we just don’t know yet.

How many different types of coffee flavors do you offer per day?
Six brewed coffees, not including cappuccino. Hazelnut is our most popular.

Do you have weird names for your coffee cup sizes like you-know-who?
No—just small, medium, and large.

What’s your most popular type of coffee?
Our proprietary, varietal house blend: a mix of two parts Sumatra from Indonesia and one part Columbian.

What’s your busiest and slowest time of day?
Mornings are busiest—we get a lot of commuter between 7:30 and 8:45 and it’s slowest between 6:00 and 8:00 in the evening, dinnertime.

Is coffee drinking on the rise, the decline, or at same level since you opened 15 years ago and why?
For sure it’s been on the rise, people become more educated coffee drinkers and much more satisfied with the product than the previous standard—the processed stuff then served in diners or delis. Coffee drinkers now say this is worth it and have discovered flavors like French Vanilla, etc. The atmosphere has becomes a home away for home for a lot of people; there’s that social aspect to it now like the original coffee houses in the 1900’s; it wasn’t just the local pub but the coffeehouse where people would hang out. So in a way there’s been a renaissance of that age long ago, where people are socializing, hanging out or catching up in the local coffee house.

What coffee drink did you most recently drink in your store?
Three hours ago I had a latte.

Who is your typical customer?
We literally have such a wide spectrum—everything from school aged kids who drink chai tea or frozen drinks to local high school and college students, mothers, local nannies, and retired people anywhere from eight to 93!

What are your busiest and slowest times of year?
Our busy time starts in September—it’s a new school year, new college kids, everyone’s back from the summer; spring is a close second. And the dead of winter—January and February—like every retail place on the planet, is the slowest, followed by August when everyone is away. Weekends are our busiest times, particularly Saturdays. More people are relaxed and taking their time, not rushing off to work or school.

What kind of coffee maker do you have at home?
We don’t make coffee at home often—we’re in and out of Slave all day long so we drink our coffee there. If we have company at home, I use the Slave house blend in a Kitchen Aid automatic drip coffee maker.

How can someone make a good cup of espresso in their own home?
Even the best home espresso machines will never make espresso like that at a coffee bar; they just don’t have the power. So if you do want espresso at home, the old fashioned little espresso pots you put on the stove are best for that.

Have you read local resident Michael Gates Gill’s book How Starbucks Saved My Life?
I haven’t—not for any reason other than I have way too much to do and I have a long reading list already.

If you wrote a book about Slave to the Grind, what would you call it?
How Slave to the Grind Saved Bronxville And The Local Community. It’s really added to the town; people have a place to go and connect with a really nice diverse group of people. There’s that connection at Slave to the Grind and that’s something that we feel enormously proud of.

 

Web Exclusive

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

Two cups—and never decaf, always high test. I’ve never ever had a need to drink decaf.

How have you seen the business change since your opening 15 years ago?

We do have ups and downs like any other business. But over the last five years, the business has definitely increased. Coffee has become pretty established; most people are more educated about coffee now and know that the beans are fresh roasted and not processed or preserved—which used to give people headaches. They notice a difference.

What exactly do you do as co-owner of the shop?

I worked behind the counter for the first three years we were opened; my husband would be there doing the day and I’d go at night. I still work the counter sometimes but I mostly do the hiring, training, taxes, and books.

What is your favorite coffee drink of those you offer?

A latte—it’s an espresso-based drink with more steamed milk than a cappuccino. I use mostly skim milk but also some Half-n-Half for flavor—and once in a while, I’ll add a spoonful of chocolate to it.

What’s the percentage of caffeinated vs. decaf coffee you sell in an average day?

We sell between seventy and seventy-five percent caffeinated, the rest decaf.

Which of your coffee drinks has the most calories?

A coffee espresso with whole milk and French vanilla syrup: it has about TK calories.

What’s the weirdest coffee request you’ve ever received?

A regular cappuccino but what was different was how they wanted it prepared. Normally, we put the espresso shot in the cup, steam the milk, and pour it on top. This particular person wanted to pour the milk in herself and was very insistent about it.

What price are your various coffee drinks?

It goes from $1.75 for a small brewed coffee to $5.00 for a large brain freeze.

What is the most popular coffee drink you sell?

It’s a toss up between a cappuccino, a latte, or our ‘brain freeze’ frozen espresso drink—it’s like a milk shake.

What exactly does free-trade coffee mean?

Traditionally, many coffee farms and plantations have really underpaid their employees and treated them poorly. For a very long time, US citizens were isolated and sheltered from these conditions; we may read and hear about things, but it takes a while for this to really seep into public consciousness. Coffee plantations can choose to be inspected and if they are shown to provide decent wages and working conditions, they are certified free-trade.
Interest in free trade coffee had grown some over the last seven years but it’s not a huge thing people are asking about; some of that may be a lack of education.

How has the economic downturn affected your business?

In previous bad economies, people gave up things like fancy expensive dinners out, but the little luxuries, like good coffee, were usually one of the last things to go. Whether it will hold true in the current crisis, we just don’t know yet.

How many different types of coffee flavors do you offer per day?

Six brewed coffees, not including cappuccino. Hazelnut is our most popular.

Do you have weird names for your coffee cup sizes like you-know-who?

No—just small, medium, and large.

What’s your most popular type of coffee?

Our proprietary, varietal house blend: a mix of two parts Sumatra from Indonesia and one part Columbian.

What’s your busiest and slowest time of day?

Mornings are busiest—we get a lot of commuter between 7:30 and 8:45 and it’s slowest between 6:00 and 8:00 in the evening, dinnertime.

Is coffee drinking on the rise, the decline, or at same level since you opened 15 years ago and why?

For sure it’s been on the rise, people become more educated coffee drinkers and much more satisfied with the product than the previous standard—the processed stuff then served in diners or delis. Coffee drinkers now say this is worth it and have discovered flavors like French Vanilla, etc. The atmosphere has becomes a home away for home for a lot of people; there’s that social aspect to it now like the original coffee houses in the 1900’s; it wasn’t just the local pub but the coffeehouse where people would hang out. So in a way there’s been a renaissance of that age long ago, where people are socializing, hanging out or catching up in the local coffee house.

What coffee drink did you most recently drink in your store?

Three hours ago I had a latte.

Who is your typical customer?

We literally have such a wide spectrum—everything from school aged kids who drink chai tea or frozen drinks to local high school and college students, mothers, local nannies, and retired people anywhere from eight to 93!

What are your busiest and slowest times of year?

Our busy time starts in September—it’s a new school year, new college kids, everyone’s back from the summer; spring is a close second. And the dead of winter—January and February—like every retail place on the planet, is the slowest, followed by August when everyone is away. Weekends are our busiest times, particularly Saturdays. More people are relaxed and taking their time, not rushing off to work or school.

What kind of coffee maker do you have at home?

We don’t make coffee at home often—we’re in and out of Slave all day long so we drink our coffee there. If we have company at home, I use the Slave house blend in a Kitchen Aid automatic drip coffee maker.

How can someone make a good cup of espresso in their own home?

Even the best home espresso machines will never make espresso like that at a coffee bar; they just don’t have the power. So if you do want espresso at home, the old fashioned little espresso pots you put on the stove are best for that.

Have you read local resident Michael Gates Gill’s book How Starbucks Saved My Life?

I haven’t—not for any reason other than I have way too much to do and I have a long reading list already.

If you wrote a book about Slave to the Grind, what would you call it?

How Slave to the Grind Saved Bronxville And The Local Community. It’s really added to the town; people have a place to go and connect with a really nice diverse group of people. There’s that connection at Slave to the Grind and that’s something that we feel enormously proud of.

 

 

What To Read Next

 
Edit Module