Chat with...Doug Zumbach, coffee aficionado and unofficial ‘Mayor of Pine Street’
Published 4:35 pm, Friday, August 11, 2017
NEW CANAAN — On a recent Monday, Doug Zumbach, the owner and namesake of the popular Pine Street establishment Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee, could be seen at the back of his shop in an area blocked off to customers by a waist-high wall but visible to all who enter the store.
Past the urns of coffee — holding at least 35 unique blends at any one time, according to Zumbach — that line the store’s shelves, the college pennants shrouding the ceiling and the high volume of people waiting in line or chatting loudly at tables, the rear of Zumbach’s coffee shop attracts the eye, not due to the presence of the owner, but because of the machine over which he can so often be seen standing and from which emanates the smell of fresh-roasted beans.
Zumbach uses the large, green-and-red metal piece of machinery to roast roughly 300 pounds of coffee daily that is then sold retail, wholesale and by mail order.
“Twenty-five pounds takes about 17 minutes,” Zumbach explained. “The first two minutes you’re just drying the bean because they’re full of moisture. The next couple of minutes, you’re roasting, it’s drying and the bean is developing. And then in the last 30 seconds, that’s when I make the decision, as the roaster, that it’s done.”
According to Zumbach, each coffee bean, depending on what part of the world it comes from — he’s partial, at the moment, to Brazilian and El Salvadorian beans — and how it’s grown, has its own flavor profile.
From there, as a roaster, he has the ability to further manipulate the taste by determining how long to roast the beans. A difference of just 20 seconds can transform a light roast to medium. An additional 20 seconds and a dark roast will result.
Once the call is made by Zumbach, the beans are transferred to the connected cooling bin, which ensures that roasting does not continue once the machine has been cut off.
“I love the creative aspect of it,” Zumbach said. “It’s actually my product. I roast the coffees how I feel they should be roasted.”
Prior to opening the coffee shop in 1992, Zumbach — a Yonkers, N.Y., native who has lived in New Canaan since 1994 and the founder of the beloved local car show Caffeine and Carburetors — worked in Manhattan as a vice president in human resources for nearly 15 years.
After being caught up in corporate downsizing, and a brief stint managing a gourmet food store in Mount Kisco, N.Y., where he was surprised by customers’ reactions to the small selection of gourmet coffees offered, Zumbach decided to set out on his own.
He looked at real estate in Westchester County and throughout Fairfield County before settling on Pine Street, which, in 1992, was not the vibrant extension of downtown New Canaan that it has become in recent years.
“There was nothing down here. People thought I was nuts,” Zumbach said.
On his first day of business, Zumbach said he waited all day to no avail; no customers wandered into the new establishment. But his time in anonymity would prove fleeting. In his first weekend opening, former New Canaan resident and “Late Night” star David Letterman came in, earning Zumbach a write-up in the local paper and some early fanfare.
With that hurdle cleared, Zumbach then had another problem to face.
“I’m not about food,” Zumach said. From the very beginning, he made it a point to focus on the coffee. Aside from muffins, food is not offered in the shop, much to the surprise of some early guests.
“People thought I was a delicatessen. They came in and asked for roast beef on rye or ham and Swiss. I had to correct them,” Zumbach said.
Over the years, he has stuck to that original model. A self-described traditionalist, Zumbach feels his coffee should be drunk black, or perhaps with a touch of milk, but certainly not with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
“That changes the whole complexity of the beverage,” he said.
Zumbach doesn’t advertise, though he does regularly donate coffee to town functions. His success on the once-remote downtown New Canaan street is such that his friend and fellow gear head behind Caffeine and Carburetors, Peter Bush, called Zumbach “the Mayor of Pine Street.”
As he has in the past for his shop’s continued success, Zumbach said he will continue to rely on the word-of-mouth that comes as a result of people congregating over what he terms, “the beverage of friendship.”
“One pound of coffee will give you 40 cups of coffee. So there are potentially 40 individuals who are sampling my coffee,” Zumbach said, of his approach to attracting new drinkers. “That’s the best advertising.”