Coffee shops are very important to Chérmelle Edwards. As a freelance writer and “coffeetographer” (a coffee photographer), the passionate and too-pleasant-for-someone-so-caffeinated thirtysomething has made coffee her life. Her website, smdlr.com (an acronym for small, medium, and large), is a “cultural ode to coffee culture,” she says. The site is meant to be a “communal space for cultural revolution,” which sounds crazy ambitious. But Chérmelle truly believes in the power of coffee culture: “It’s about showing people that everything we love as a society: music, art, film, style, connection, community, all exists in the coffee shop.”
While she visits many, her mainstay is Café Grumpy, which might sound familiar, as it’s featured in the hit HBO show Girls. (And it’s where another regular and Girls actor works as a barista.) Grumpy’s Greenpoint location is large by New York standards and recalls the halcyon coffee house days in the ’90s where people didn’t just grab n’ go and instead hung out and even spent time with each other. Of course, those people are often outnumbered by carpetbagging NYU students studying for an exam, occasional film crew guys stopping by to re-up their caffeine, and plenty of zombie-like laptop jockeys staring into their bright screens. Chérmelle falls into the former category, as she’s the type of person to ask the quiet guy drawing comics what he’s working on or inquire where the girl reading a book got her lovely scarf.
Born and raised in LA, Chérmelle has lived in New York for nine years. She’s about to take a three-month break back home, and she’s already having separation anxiety from the apartment she’s leaving behind. For the last couple weeks, she’s been crashing on a friend’s couch and getting her fleeting fix at Café Grumpy before heading back west. “I’ve been feeling displaced,” she says. “It makes me emotional because the coffee shop is my second home. I know what’s supposed to happen here. I understand its frequency.” As she sipped on a soy flat white, Chérmelle went on to show her connection to this café and the power it’s given her as one woman fighting for a voice of her own in today’s crazy world of coffee.
It’s like home. There’s a hodge-podge of stuff. It’s not too perfect. There’s chips in the furniture; it’s worn in. You walk in here and you feel like people live here.
We live in a Starbucks world. But in specialty coffee you have outlets that don’t want you to stay too long. They want you to get what you want to get and leave. They don’t tell you that, but it’s insinuated because there’s no comfy couches. There’s a chair or two or a coffee bar, and that’s it. When you get a space like this that feels homey, it’s a people’s space.
I feel like regulars are the backbone of not just coffee shops but any kind of people establishment. Without that repeat customer, that Norm at “Cheers” character, you don’t have an establishment. They’re the ones that have stories. They’re amazing. They’re great. They can tell you how the space moves. They see certain things. I know what kind of people those are, because that’s who I am.
Every time I come in here something magical happens.
I did an interview with Caroline [the owner of Café Grumpy] and had a tour here. It changed my life because I didn’t know the [in-house] roastery existed, that [Grumpy’s coffee roasting process] was happening here in Greenpoint.
I was a woman trying to come into the coffee space and have a voice. And there weren’t any women writing about coffee that I knew at the time. And I felt like I wanted to write about culture, but I didn’t have anyone to look up to. I thought I’d create my own path. But I felt like if I wanted to be respected, I had to understand what was happening in the space. And I started to understand it here at Café Grumpy with my first invitation to a roaster, and it was from a woman.
I think Café Grumpy on Girls is great for culture. They show it as a real space that’s actually set in Greenpoint. The effect is monumental. It puts coffee culture in the national landscape.
Sometimes black people feel like it’s a hipster thing. A coffee shop will come into the neighborhood, and black people will still go to a bodega, or they won’t drink specialty coffee or want to pay for it. But I don’t believe that because I’m drinking specialty coffee. You want to call me a hipster? Call me whatever you have to label me, but we’re here. So when I see black people – people of color – in coffee shops, I want to document them [for smdlr.com].
I am proof that I, as a black woman, exist in this coffee dynamic, and that I care about it.
It’s changed. I can come in here now and I can see someone Iranian, Indian, Polish, black. But that’s a product of the changing neighborhood as well. It’s a product of specialty coffee. It’s a product of Café Grumpy being consistently brilliant.