It was a chilly February morning when a young man with shaggy blonde hair sauntered into BuzzFeed’s new Flatiron office, quaint brown bags with small colored labels tucked under his arm. The zombiefied techies, engrossed in determining “The 25 Faces Fans Make Right Before Being Hit With a Foul Ball” initially took little notice of the visitor, but soon the whispers began. “Wasn’t that boy here last month?” “Is that…the coffee guy?!” Whispers gave way to a standing ovation as the surprised coffee delivery boy, otherwise known as Noah Belanich from Joyride Coffee, slowly made his way to the break room, Stumptown blends in hand.
Joyride first rolled down New York’s streets in 2010, the brainchild of brothers Adam and David Belanich and their friend Lev Brie. Since its founding, Joyride has started delivering Stumptown, Blue Bottle and Dallis Brothers blends to more than 70 caffeine-starved offices around the city, around 70 percent of which are in the tech or computer industries. These caffeine-crazed techies, who include the employees at Twitter, Tumblr and Gilt, will pay anywhere from $12.75 to over $25 a pound (with no delivery fee for orders over $50) for Joyride’s services. “The tech industry really loves coffee,” as Adam put it. “They get in a little bit later than other businesses, but you get emails from them at like two in the morning.” Between the bizarre hours and mid-afternoon meetings, the industry has become “fundamentally linked to coffee,” he said.
Tech’s affair with coffee can be as romantic as Jack and Rose, but at times as volatile as Sid and Nancy. Many techies meet with investors or colleagues at coffee shops, convenient for a mid-day pick-me-up over which to close a friendly deal. At the same time, the coffee shop meeting has become a tired trope. Naval Ravikant, cofounder of AngelList, bought idontdocoffee.com because he was so tired of coffee shop meetings, he told the New York Times. (He redirected the domain to a Quora thread on manners and etiquette: “How do you politely turn down someone who wants to ‘grab coffee sometime’?”)
But coffee shop fatigue doesn’t mean techies are tired of coffee—far from it. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and K-Cups have fallen out of favor. In fact, techies’ palates are more refined than ever. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what drives the tech industry into the arms of designer coffee blenders, aside from the national trend toward the artisanal and slow-brewed. But BuzzFeed has “an unusual number of coffee snobs,” admitted Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed’s managing editor. Boxee co-founder Idan Cohen didn’t hesitate before rattling off two local cafes his employees prefer: Cafe Grumpy and Ports Coffee. Nina Paige, the officer manager at Behance, imported her coffee sensibilities from her hometown of Seattle and converted the rest of the staff.
But how to grab a brew without running into your least favorite investor or, worse, a chatty wantrepreneur? Enter Joyride.
At Gilt’s offices, a couple of engineers dissatisfied with the “overall coffee culture” hired Joyride, said Gregory Mazurek, a front-end engineer for Gilt Groupe who roasts coffee in his apartment and penned a scathing rant against poorly-made iced coffee for Gilt Taste’s website. “It began to essentially raise the bar for coffee, and it was a bar that could not be reversed,” he said.
Their techie clients may be particular about their morning coffee, but the Belanich brothers have an equally sophisticated taste for the gourmet. Adam’s love of city street food even tops his addiction to NPR and skiing. Noah, who joined the company in 2011 around the same time as Mr. Brie left, cultivated strong taste buds when backpacking through Thailand. While attending school in Los Angeles, he would drive an hour to eat authentic pad thai at Krua Thai in West Hollywood. He can also name his favorite soup-dumpling and Szechuan restaurants off the top of his head. David, a former political philosophy major, prefers thinking about politics with a single-malt scotch.
The boys understand the difficult lives of overworked tech nerds. Adam is a former “Special Instructor” at Dartmouth College, and David was pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale before dropping out to run the business. “Nobody’s really doing it the way we are,” Adam said. “They’re roasters who happen to deliver their coffees. We’re more focused on doing coffee distribution. It requires a certain level of understanding of how things actually work in an office setting.”
Mom was also fairly good-natured about the whole quit-school-to-sell-coffee-out-of-a-rainbow-truck affair. “My mother is kind of confused as to why I’m not a lawyer and David isn’t a professor, but she is pretty supportive, all things considered,” Adam said.
In 2010, Joyride’s founders, leaving behind cushy futures in law and academia, packed their caffeine-infused fro-yo and trendy, hipster brown lunch bag-esque coffee bags into a rainbow FedEx truck, tweeting their location to loyal followers. However, realizing that the real opportunity lay in deliveries, the brothers sold their truck in 2011 to become to go-to coffee distributor for startup offices that value their perks.
The brothers deliver bags of whole beans to offices with their own espresso or grinding machines, or deliver bags of ground coffee beans to offices where employees then make the coffee themselves. Joyride stops short of providing clients with a bow-tied barista, but the company leases Fetco or Bunn brewers to around two-thirds of its clients. The brothers also host coffee tastings (Stumptown’s Hair Bender has proven to be the favorite) and the occasional milk frothing class. In a recent job listing, Joyride client Birchbox made sure to note “great coffee” as a reason to work there.
Prior to Joyride’s applauded appearance in BuzzFeed’s offices, the trend-setting startup underwent a “brief nightmare period,” Mr. Lamb said. Employees were forced to drink coffee from “robots,” straining the sanity of many workers and encouraging others to leave passive-aggressive notes for whoever dared to drink the last cup of pre-ground coffee delivered fresh from Staples.com. “Those were very dark days for us,” he said.
The Belanich brothers reached out to BuzzFeed, offering to do a taste test at the office. Not long after the employees first tried Joyride’s Stumptown and Blue Bottle blends, the three brothers started delivering to their office regularly. “It is a joy because every morning we come in and there are these two huge canisters filled with really delicious coffee,” Mr. Lamb said.
Occasionally, Adam said, he will walk into an office and glimpse a few techies standing around the coffee maker “literally watching it brew.”
After winning the loyalty of New York’s finest tech nerds, Joyride catered F.ounders, a lively event that brings together the brains behind New York tech startups. “That was insane,” Adam said, noting that the roughly 225 people in attendance drank over 1,300 cups of coffee. That is “maybe four or five times as much coffee as you would expect a normal person of that size to drink,” he said.
Notwithstanding the techies’ occasionally overzealous love for coffee, Adam said he really enjoys working with these companies.
“It’s very invigorating – to be around these people who are doing what they think is really cool,” he said. He even stays up-to-date on his clients’ latest funding rounds. Joyride recently posted an article supporting its client Boxee in its battle with the FCC, calling it a “real life David and Goliath story.”
The love is mutual. “In some ways, we both support each other, because they’re excited about what we’re doing, and we’re excited about what they’re doing,” Boxee cofounder Idan Cohen said.