LIC’s Coffee Project NY is New York’s only Specialty Coffee Association premier training camp

Chisum & Kaleena coffee project
Photo courtesy of Coffee Project NY

New York City baristas and coffee enthusiasts now have their own community center in Queens.

Coffee Project NY, “a passion project of coffee, milk and heart,” has set up camp in Long Island City, becoming the first and only Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) premier training campus in New York. The SCA is a nonprofit, membership-based organization that represents thousands of coffee professionals from all over the world.

The new training spot, with its spacious and sleek, yet inviting design, is located in The Blanchard Building (21-10 51st Ave.). Owners Chi Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh invite the community to learn more about the “complex form of art,” as Sum puts it, by taking classes that highlight coffee in all its forms.

“We’re trying to create a community hub for people who are interested in either learning about coffee … or have our professional friends come and dial their coffee,” Teoh said. “It’s a nice little platform for people to just come, discuss and learn about coffee, and for us to share what we know about coffee. It’s really fun.”

Photo courtesy of Coffee Project NY

Partners Sum and Teoh were both born and raised in Malaysia and met while in college in Minnesota. Although they obtained degrees in psychology and IT, they decided to leave that behind and embark on their own “coffee dreams.”

“We always wanted to do something together,” Sum said. “We chose coffee because we really liked the culture and the people. So having a coffee shop and meeting other people who come and drink coffee every day, it’s a lot more relaxing than working at a desk.”

Sum comes from a family of coffee workers, which made her a coffee lover from a young age. She was first a homebrewer, but after attending coffee expos, she realized that she could pursue her passion for coffee professionally — so she enrolled in barista school in Portland, Oregon. Sum is also an SCA instructor and Q Grader, meaning she’s trained in the rigorous practice of scoring and identifying individual coffees.

Teoh, who lived in Queens for almost nine years before moving to Brooklyn with Sum, was also always a coffee drinker, but got trained on the job and is a certified SCA instructor. She recently discovered her own passion in coffee: roasting.

“It’s so data-driven in that every single thing that you do is affecting the nature of the beans itself, and it gives me a lot of story from the supply chain,” Teoh said.

They began Coffee Project NY in 2015, when they opened their first location in the East Village, where they gained recognition for their unique variations of deconstructed lattes and pour-overs. They then introduced another location in Downtown Brooklyn, what they called a “playground for baristas.” 

Then, the opportunity to open up a location in Long Island City presented itself.

Photo: Angélica Acevedo/QNS

It might seem odd to have a training campus in what feels like an industrial neighborhood, but Sum and Teoh think it’s actually reminiscent of Portland and the West Coast’s coffee training school, making it the best place to have their camp.

That, and it’s only a 15-minute train ride to Manhattan.

“This third location is up and running mainly because we want to focus on roasting and career development, therefore the training lab,” Teoh said.

They traveled often to Long Island City and were familiar with the coffee scene there, as they used to roast their beans at the Regalia Roasting Collective. Other than giving them the chance to have their own roasting facility, the new space also gave them a place to create their own coffee education center.

Teoh said that when getting SCA certified, the nearest place to enroll in classes for the certification was in Florida. “We figured that is ridiculous, this is New York and I have to fly to Florida to get trained?” Teoh said.

Now, people who are looking to become SCA certified or undergo those classes can travel to LIC.

Photo: Angélica Acevedo/QNSCoffee Project NY is currently offering a wide range of classes, from SCA pathway courses to recreational workshops.

For those who want to begin their journey in SCA certification, there are several classes, including “SCA Coffee Skills: Introduction to Coffee” on Feb. 29 and March 19, and “Q Cupping Essentials (Pathway to Earning Q Certification)” from Feb. 20 to 22.

If you’re looking for an educational class to enjoy with some friends, there’s also “Cupping For Beginners” on Feb. 29 for $85, during which they teach participants the industry’s standard way of  evaluating the aroma and taste of coffee. There’s also an upcoming “History of New York City Coffee” taught by NYC UnderGrounds founder K.A. Keener, for $30.

Sum and Teoh also want to bring awareness to the different crises in the coffee world.

“It’s a really fun process and we hope that people can come and learn, and actually see coffee as more than just a cup of coffee that they drink … that cup of coffee passes through so many people before it even gets to you,” Teoh said. 

For more information and to keep up with Coffee Project NY’s programming, visit coffeeprojectny.com.

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