• George Cook

At De Fer Coffee & Tea, Good Beans Roast in Small Batches


Located on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh's Strip District, De Fer Coffee & Tea is a community and gathering space where specialty beverages, food, art, and music meet.

A year and a half since opening their doors, De Fer continues to hold true to their mission: bringing small batch coffee and tea to Pittsburgh, all while empowering specialty coffee farmers.

We had a chance to sit down with Matt Marietti, the founder and co-owner of De Fer Coffee & Tea, to talk about roasting specialty coffee in-house and the role of a coffee shop in a community.

How did you get started in the coffee business?

I have always loved food, coffee, drinks, public meeting spaces, art, music, and all of the things that a cafe can tie together and bring to life. I worked in food service before this, so I have always been in and around food. It has always been a passion of mine and my wife, who helps me run this company. Eventually, we thought that we had enough experience and knowledge to go for it and open something that we could work on together, something that could encompass all of those aspects of food and cafe culture that I admire.

How did you land in this location in the Strip District?

People who come to visit Pittsburgh always make the Strip District a destination on their stop. We really wanted a diverse customer set, because we think that best cafes unite people in one space, people from all different walks of life. We get a good mix of customers here: people who live in the neighborhood, university students, and families who are coming in for the weekend, from out of town, or from the suburbs. The Strip District, of all the places in Pittsburgh, is the best place to get that breadth of customer base and diversity.

The Strip has always been our number one location. We actually named one of our teas, our breakfast blend, “Breakfast in the Strip”. It was named that way before we knew we could be in the Strip. It was because we have a tradition of going to breakfast in the Strip, which is one of our favorite things.

What's the origin of the name “De Fer”?

It's our nod to two things: French cafe culture, which inspires this concept most from an operational standpoint—the kinds of foods we have, the kind of customers that we welcome, and the fact that we are family friendly but we also have wine and cocktails.

We also wanted to give a nod to Pittsburgh's long-story tradition of manufacturing high-quality goods, since this is also our manufacturing and roasting space. “Atelier de fer” means “Iron Workshop” in French.

Also, it's in French because we wanted to have it a little whimsical! Coffee is fun. It's emotional, but it's fun. We didn't want to be too functional with it, because at the end of the day, coffee should be fun.

Where do you source your coffee from?

Our raw coffee comes from all over the world. We don't focus on any one continent or country. Right now, we have coffees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Columbia, Brazil, and Sumatra, so we try to keep a decent range available for our customers. I think one of the fun things about coffee is experiencing breadth of flavors and tastes that you can get through the different regions. With specialty coffee, there is no one coffee flavor; it varies by the origin.

We try to keep, at any given time, 5 different origins on hand to share with our customers. We always brew in the cafe and offer all of our different coffees for pour over. We keep 2 of them brewed all of the time on our drip coffee, because comparing and contrasting coffees next to each other really starts to open your eyes to the different range of flavors and experiences that coffees from different origins can deliver.

Where do you sell your coffee beans?

We sell it to other cafes, bakeries, and restaurants in Pittsburgh. We also sell online and use a lot of it ourselves. Our goal now is to grow our wholesale business. Any roaster has to do that to stay financially viable. We are probably at 60% capacity on our roaster right now, so we'd like to take on another 4-6 small, medium customers to make sure we are roasting all the time.

What types of community events does De Fer support?

We have an ongoing partnership with a nonprofit called Angels' Place. They have a couple different centers around Pittsburgh and they provide early childhood education and care to children of single parents. My wife and I have been volunteering and contributing what we can for 7-8 years now, so this is a personal thing that we always knew we would make a part of our business once we opened.

If you look at our coffee bag, we made the bag design with artwork from the children and toddlers at Angels' Place. For each bag that we sell, a dollar goes back to the organization. We've also hosted fundraisers here, so that's our main community engagement piece. We wanted to pick a few things that we can do on a much deeper scale. That's always going to be our ongoing way of giving back to the community.

Beyond that, we host a lot of charity events and fundraisers. We work very closely with a couple of foundations to host events; the Sparks Foundation is one that plans a half dozen events around over the last year. Pittsburgh Cares is also hosts a lot of events. There are definitely a lot of opportunity around De Fer for community engagement.

We've only been here for a little over a year and a quarter, and we've already done a lot. My goal is to do 5-6 events a week, if not every day, so we can always be doing a lot more.

What do you see as a role of a coffee shop in a community?

To provide a space for people to connect somewhere outside of work. Somewhere outside of home where everybody is welcomed. There are restaurants, but restaurants, for the most part, have a very distinct segment that they are meant to bring in. The goal of a cafe is to provide a space for everybody, regardless of age, gender, lot in life, career, to meet and be a part of the community.

Our shelves are full of locally produced items. We have some candles, maple syrup, jams, jellies, olive oils, pickles and all things from other local producers. It's a cool way to introduce customers and the local population to all of the cool artisan stuff being produced in town. That's another goal, but mostly, my vision for De Fer is just to be a space for people to go anytime of the day, for any reason. It's a place that absolutely does not care who you are, or how old you are, or what your career is.

Is there anything that you'd want to share to our audience?

Some folks might not know that our production space is actually part of the cafe. If anyone is interested in learning more about coffee roasting, we do roasting classes for fun where you can come down with friends and roast coffee to take home with you, or learn how to do home-brewing. We want our production process to be on display as much as possible, because learning makes things more enjoyable. The more people who know about specialty coffee, the better for the people who are involved in the coffee production process.

Only 10% of the world’s coffee today is specialty coffee. The rest is commodity coffee which is sold at about $1 a pound. A lot of the time, it is not enough for the farmers who grow it to break even, so people are leaving the coffee growing industry in pursuit of more profitable crops.

The more people that drink specialty coffee, the better for the thriving coffee industry that impacts tens of millions of people globally. We love to do our part by roasting the coffee and selling it, but also by helping people see what it's all about.

Once you understand the process, it is a lot easier to appreciate how the value flows throughout the entire supply chain and does a lot of good beyond our own city and our own local community. It's stretching and reaching to regions far away that badly need that income in the economy. We are always happy to have people walk in and learn.

Visit De Fer Cafe & Tea at 2002 Smallman St. in Pittsburgh, PA. They're open 7:30 am-4 pm on Monday, 7:30am-8pm Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30am-9pm Friday, 8am-9pm Saturday and 8am-5pm Sunday. Check out all the tasty drinks and treats they offer here.


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