Why is New Paltz’s latest gourmet coffee emporium named after a doohickey used to catch trout? How did a former chef at the legendary La Côte Basque end up baking bread and roasting beans for rail-trail joggers and cyclists upstate? And what does all of this have to do with a community temple to sustainability and zero emissions, anyway?
To find out the answer to these seemingly unrelated questions, all one need do is stroll into the Dry Fly Coffee Company, located on the ground floor of Zer0 Place, New Paltz’s recently built LEED Platinum-certified multiuse apartment and storefront complex located on North Chestnut Street (Route 32 North). Order yourself a cup of excellent coffee and introduce yourself to founder/owner Noah Michaels, as Hudson Valley One did last weekend. You’ll soon learn a great deal about how this creative culinary thinker and this cutting-edge green building came together. You’ll also deepen your understanding of the coffee industry and how supporting small farms that treat their workers fairly aligns with treating your tastebuds to the best-tasting brews on Planet Earth.
Michaels is one of those diehard foodies whose first sojourn in the Hudson Valley was to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park – and who ultimately couldn’t stay away. Armed with his BA in Culinary Arts Management, he worked for several years as a chef de partie at prestigious Manhattan restaurants, including La Côte Basque and Jean-Georges. He then went on to earn an MS degree in Food Science at Rutgers University, which opened up a lucrative career as a “technochef” in what he describes as the “flavor and fragrance industry,” doing product development and training for the New Jersey-based companies Firmenich and Symrise.
But even while living in New Jersey, he spent his vacation time in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. “My wife and I always wanted to move back, to bring our expression of coffee to the area.” Part of the region’s appeal, he says, is its heritage as the historic cradle of fly-fishing in America. “I’m a poor fly fisherman,” Michaels confesses. But he retains an affection for the sport that he learned from his grandfather, and naming his new business Dry Fly is intended as homage to the man who took him upstate every year to stand in a mountain stream and cast for trout. He likens the activity to the calling of someone running a bakery and coffee bar: “It’s a silent early-morning pursuit, in which one must be very much in tune with one’s environment.”
As it turned out, preparing fresh fish in various delicious ways became Michaels’ specialty during his years as a high-end chef. Another enduring taste acquired in his youth was for great coffee: “When I was about 16, my friends and I made bad pourovers,” he recalls. “As a corporate chef, I did a lot of business travel. I would research all the coffeeshops in the towns I was going to. I enjoyed the culture of it… Then, about eight years ago, I geeked out on the science of it.”
For the edification of those who want to know more about what goes exactly into their cup of java and how to identify the types that best suit their tastes, posters published by the Specialty Coffee Association are mounted on one wall of the Dry Fly Coffee Co.’s brand-new café. These charts explain the different flavor notes and what sorts of climates, elevations and soils are apt to produce them. The terminology is every bit as fanciful and arcane to the neophyte as the flavor descriptions invoked at wine-tastings. In fact, one of the future community uses that Michaels has in mind for the café space is as a site for “coffee-cuppings” and other educational events. The regional council of Trout Unlimited has already expressed interest in conducting fly-tying demos, he says.
The storefront itself – arrayed along the rear façade of the Zer0 Place building, facing the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, with big triple-paned windows on three sides – is admirably suited for such gatherings. It’s bright and roomy, with seating for up to 60 people. Long counters line the windows, where trailing houseplants soak up the sunshine. The center of the main room has many small tables, and there’s a larger one in a side room that Michaels has dubbed Laptop Land. There will be no pressure here to turn over your table, he says; you’re welcome to linger, use the Wi-Fi and work on your novel-in-progress. “We’re trying to create as inclusive a space as possible,” he says. “We want to be a cornerstone of the community: a place to hang out and meet your friends.”
Proximity to the Rail Trail, with bike racks handily arrayed near the entrance, is certain to heighten Dry Fly’s appeal to the outdoor-recreation crowd. Environmentally conscious locals and regular visitors already know that Zer0 Place is a showcase of net-zero-energy building design, with a geothermal heat pump system supplying all heating and cooling and free EV charging stations in the parking lot. The café itself feels both airy and cozy, and there’s a sweet outdoor patio on the south side that will offer a mix of sun and shade in warmer weather. While not all of Zer0 Place’s retail spaces have been leased as yet, Michaels envisions Dry Fly becoming an “anchor for the business corridor” that New Paltz planners have long envisioned for the North Chestnut Street gateway district.
The furnishings, décor and serving supplies echo the building’s sustainability theme, with all the tables built from “reclaimed bowling alley wood,” Michaels says. He invested in a zero-emissions electric coffee roaster and runs “a generally plastic-free establishment.” Even the tops for takeout coffee cups and the bags for whole beans are made of biodegradable materials. “We’re trying to lead with our values.”
That carries over to sourcing ingredients locally, as well. During the week we visited, Dry Fly obtained its teas from Tay Tea in Beacon, flours from Wild Hive Farm in Clinton, chocolate from Hakan Chocolatier in Beacon, milk from Family Farmstead Dairy in Worcester and fruit from Mead Orchards in Tivoli, for example. “The best ingredients are the ones that are very carefully produced and that people are proud to make,” says Michaels.
Dry Fly is committed to sourcing its coffee beans as much as possible directly from independent farmers, and the rest from traders who provide full pricing transparency, even if that means paying more for them. “Most coffee is traded as a commodity, so the person with the least agency ends up paying the heaviest cost,” he observes. One of the three beans used in the house blend (Light Irresistible, named after a type of fishing fly) is what’s called Verified Livable Income coffee, meaning that the farmers who grow it are guaranteed to make enough money to support their families.
All of this adds up to coffee, baked goods and other offerings of the highest quality. The prices aren’t competitive with the corner grocer or convenience store; but, having tried the batch-brewed house blend at $3.50 a cup (still cheaper than certain large corporate coffee chains), we can attest that they’re fair for what you’re getting. The on-premises bakery makes a sprouted oatmeal porridge miche that’s to die for, along with an array of other fabulous naturally leavened breads. The “Viennoiserie” menu offers pain au chocolate, turnovers, cookies and croissants in various flavors (we’ll definitely be going back to try the key lime croissant). Coming soon will be prepared dishes including fancy toasts, egg dishes, salads, beans-and-greens bowls and stewed vegetables – “things good for sopping” with the delicious house breads, in Michaels’ words.
Located at 87 North Chestnut Street, with free parking both on-street and in the lot on the north side of Zer0 Place, Dry Fly Coffee Company is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. For more information, visit https://dryflycoffee.com.