Brooklyn’s Coffee Triangle: Christian Felipe Guzman Herrera and Pueblo Querido Coffee Roasters
Christian Felipe Guzman Herrera roasts on an MCR-20. The machine lives in Pueblo Querido’s third location, a shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that opened just last year.
Christian is a night owl; waking up at four a.m. is often the hardest part of his day. But now, five years into running his trio of coffee shops, mornings help the work feel more meaningful. “Your day is worth it,” he says.
Setting the Scene
Christian grew up in the middle of the Coffee Triangle in Colombia. He built a foundation of coffee knowledge by proxy and curiosity, starting with the consumer-side beverage and then learning its production.
Because most specialty-grade Colombia greens are exported, it wasn’t until Christian left the country that he saw the myriad of ways that coffee from his home was roasted and prepared.
With his interest and background in coffee, he attended school to study business, earning a bachelors in banking and accounting and then an MBA from Universidad Europea de Madrid in Santiago, Chile. While he was there, he created his own business model: a coffee roastery, which would serve as showroom for both the coffee that Colombia is known for as well as its food and culture.
Prior to the opening of Pueblo Querido, Christian traveled widely, visiting and living in countries like Australia, China, and Thailand. “I jumped from one thing to another,” he says. In each place, he added another skill to his business toolbelt: construction, importing and exporting, problem-solving.
In 2016, He took everything he learned and moved to the US.
First, he tried Memphis. “I almost died of boredom there,” he says. Then he tried Orlando, but Florida didn’t have what he was looking for either. It was New York, the goldilocks of cities, that became his home and the home of his future business.
The Way Up
Right off the bat, New York pitched a handful of challenges Christian’s way. For one, finding a lease in the city was nearly impossible. Secondly, he didn’t know anyone; he had to do everything himself in lieu of connections and network.
The commercial lease he found in Greenpoint, Brooklyn came from someone who’d also started his own business from scratch. The friend, Ofer Zur, moved to New York from Israel in the 1990s to start a pizza shop, and he understood the difficulty of launching a new company with no help. He offered to rent his building to Christian, and Christian accepted. He bought his first roaster, a 2.5K, and Pueblo Querido opened for business in 2016.
In 2019, he invested in his next roaster, a MCR-20. With a bigger capacity, he could finally add another storefront for his company and begin scaling. Two more locations followed the first, both in Greenpoint. The second shop opened in 2020, and the third opened in 2021.
The three shops form their own small coffee triangle on the map. In the middle of the triangle is Christian’s home. He is never far from his business, which is convenient, because it takes everything in him to keep things running. “I don’t get days off,” he says.
Christian is as hands-on with his business as is possible. He did much of his second location’s buildout himself, because he had the expertise from his construction days in Australia.
He sources all the ingredients for Pueblo Querido’s menu himself, and then makes pastries, entrees, and drinks in-house. With his banking and accounting skills from college, he takes care of payroll, manages accounts, and balances expenses.
The result of that work means that Christian doesn’t have to rely on a lot of outside help for Pueblo Querido to operate smoothly.
Ultimately, keeping the operation internal saved his business when COVID-19 upended the brick and mortar model in March of 2020. “I think that’s the reason I didn’t go bankrupt in the pandemic,” he says. His evergreen work ethic kept Pueblo Querido going, and he even managed to open the second location in May of 2020 despite the state of the world.
Since then, the company has grown to eighteen employees across the three stores. Many of the cafe’s daily operations are taken care of by baristas and bakers now, although Christian is always the one to come in when someone is sick.
With a full payroll of employees comes other challenges, such as inflating salary costs and the logistics of scheduling.
Still, he keeps on. And the challenges are not enough to daunt him: “There’s a lot of drama, but it’s fine,” he says. And New York, for all its hard edges, has given Pueblo Querido a good home and a reliable base of customers.
Newcomers to Pueblo Querido are often drawn in because of its vibrant aesthetic and welcoming atmosphere, which is intentionally modeled after classic Colombia friendliness and neighborliness. After wandering in to take photos, oftentimes the high quality of the menu, drinks, and interactions with staff will keep them coming back.
The Pueblo Querido Coffee Roasters Menu
Pueblo Querido only offers Colombia coffee, which Christian sources from Royal Coffee in New Jersey. Usually, the menu has four single-origin options. Right now, the shop carries a medium-roast castillo, two medium-roast caturras, and a medium-roast caturra-gesha-borbon amarillo variety.
Christian only roasts what’s in-season and available, which means that the menu has expanded–up to twenty different products, once–and has also contracted down to three. He has to jump on opportunities to buy when they come–there’s no hold option. While a degree of unpredictability can be an added stress, it has also given Christian the opportunity to try a much bigger sampling of Colombia greens.
With all his coffees coming from the same country, Christian doesn’t have to gamble wildly with a big variety in roast profiles. “All Colombian coffees behave the same,” he says; the factor that changes his technique the most is altitude. Denser coffee from higher regions needs more attention in the drum than the bigger, less dense varieties. Despite the extra care, he does have a soft spot for those small greens–peaberries especially.
The roasting team has grown to include Manuela Maya, Christian’s wife and Pueblo Querido’s head roaster, as well as Jose Maya, Christian’s father-in-law. The Maya family has farmed coffee for over two hundred years. With Pueblo Querido, Christian seized the opportunity to teach Jose how to roast, and to show him the actualized potential of the fruit his family has grown for generations.
In the cafe, the beverage menu includes a classic selection of espresso drinks as well as hand-pressed juices and teas. He also serves breakfast and lunch; both corn arepas and pan de bono are hits.
Because many New Yorkers avoid gluten, Christian has found a niche market to cater to with his menu. Colombian pastries and meals are mostly corn-based: they’re naturally gluten-free. The fit was unplanned, but a happy coincidence. He also offers oat milk–his most popular drink base, he says–and other plant-based alternatives for those avoiding dairy.
The cafes have become a pillar of the Greenpoint coffee scene.
Christian, now a seasoned New Yorker, will open a fourth location in late 2022. The Pueblo Querido coffee triangle will become a coffee quadrilateral.
Bring Pueblo Querido Coffee Home
Visit any of the Pueblo Querido Coffee shops in Greenpoint: 195 Greenpoint Ave, 34 North 6th Street, or 698 Manhattan Avenue. By the end of 2022, you’ll be able to visit the fourth location inside the Bellslip on Greenpoint Landing. Otherwise, keep up to date with the grand opening on Instagram or on the Pueblo Querido website.