Coffee Story offers more than namesake
When Han Lee’s parents first asked him to open a business next door to their own Sun Nail and Spa, he was hesitant.
“At first I said no,” he said with a laugh. “But, I got thinking about it and I said, ‘If I do this, I’m going to do it my way. I’m going to do something I’m passionate about.”
Mr. Lee opened Coffee Story, the only independent coffee shop in Wilton Center, in pursuit of his passion on Monday, Aug. 26. Serving hand-made espresso, gourmet coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and self-serve frozen yogurt, his shop is already finding its own niche in town.
“I already have a few regulars,” Mr. Lee said, “and it’s only been four days! There are a lot of business and law offices in this area that open early, and they are always in here for their morning coffee.”
After a five-year stint in the financial sector, Mr. Lee finds that his shop gives him a more rewarding experience than working in New York City and New Jersey.
“That one cup of coffee in the morning can really make your whole day,” he said while sitting in his shop. “In a way, I am able to make a small difference in the lives of people in Wilton.”
Keeping his offerings as high-quality as possible, he said, is the perk of being an independent coffee shop. His shop’s personal attention to detail is something his patrons have already begun noticing.
“At the big franchises, the machines pretty much do everything. The workers just press a few buttons, and out comes a drink,” Mr. Lee said. “I don’t believe in that concept.”
Instead, all of Coffee Story’s drinks — from espresso to fruit smoothies — are made with the customer’s experience in mind.
“No matter how good or expensive the coffee is,” he said, “it makes no difference if the person making it doesn’t know what they are doing. Every espresso is hand pressed, and every smoothie is made with extra fruit. If we don’t like the way it comes out, we’ll dump it out and make you a fresh new one.”
Originally, Mr. Lee said his parents were considering managing a shop in the space themselves, but wanted a younger presence in the shop.
“You know, they saw a free space, but they know they are very old school. They grew up most of their lives in Korea, and they felt that if they ran the shop, it would be too old school to be successful. That’s why they wanted to bring me in.”
Keeping in line with the “new-school” vision of the shop, Coffee Story offers free wi-fi, and has independent artists’ work hanging on its walls. Over the course of time, Mr. Lee said, he’d like to begin hosting a variety of events, from poetry readings to live, unplugged acoustic music.
Love and espresso
Coffee Story’s espresso, Mr. Lee said, is his shop’s pride and joy. Each morning at 4:30, he arrives at the shop to fine tune the Italian coffee machine behind the counter of his shop.
“Every morning I come here and adjust the machine to take humidity and temperature into account,” he said. “If you even have the door open in the shop for 10 minutes, the shot can come out different. I’ll adjust it until I think its perfect.”
For much of his life, Mr. Lee never understood the appeal of espresso.
“Whenever my friends would order espresso at the big franchise chains, I never understood why people would drink it. It was too bitter,” he said. “But ours isn’t like that at all. It’s still flavorful, but it’s much smoother. I’ve learned to love it.”
Both the shop’s espresso and coffee blends are purchased from independent coffee roasters who use secret recipes to craft special blends of coffee, Mr. Lee said. His shop’s espresso blend was voted the best in the world last year.
“I only buy from independent roasters who get beans from all over the world, from India to Guatemala to Africa,” he said.
His shop, he said, acknowledges the large demand for unique coffee offerings in Wilton, and the extended community.
“I’m learning that there really is a big coffee culture around here. There’s a real study to roasting beans, to making blends, and to making espresso. That is something that I’ve really begun studying since I decided to open the shop three months ago.”
Mr. Lee, who lives in Ridgefield, said he already feels at home in town.
“Everyone seems to know each other, and are always trying to support each other. I’m already looking to move to Wilton soon.”
His frozen yogurt offering, he said, is a way to expand the appeal of his shop to a younger audience.
“We use YoCream frozen yogurt, and try to have as many toppings as possible. Instead of just having coffee,” he said, “it shakes up the idea of the coffee shop” and attracts the younger crowd of patrons. “It was actually my father who suggested I offer it, and it sounded like a great idea.”
Click play below to watch a video of Mr. Lee crafting the perfect latte.