In Bay Shore, Something Special is Brewing at Cyrus: Chai & Coffee Company

It’s mid-morning on a Wednesday when I walk into Cyrus: Chai and Coffee Company, straight off the train at Bay Shore. Cyrus himself, perfectly coiffed and with tattoo-covered biceps, says hello to me by name before returning to a conversation with customers—a couple, the female half quite pregnant. He’s holding forth on the influence of colonial patterns on spice use in Africa following talk of how the overdue baby might be coaxed into the world by a chile-heavy meal. There’s a lot of authority in his voice, and it’s not just because he speaks with a British accent (though that certainly helps): This guy is very smart.

There are hints that the person behind the shop is quite bright from your first visit. As you wait your turn in line, you are encouraged to sniff the coffee of various origins—six of the seven continents are represented—from small Mason jars to get a sense of the different flavors. It’s a passive lesson in terroir, immediately changing the mind of someone who thinks “coffee is coffee is coffee.” Any of the blends can be had in either pour-over or cold-brew form, hopefully teaching the dubious Starbucks drinker that proper coffee takes time. (Tea drinkers aren’t left out, either; there are jars of over 20 varieties.)

Cyrus Kabir opened the shop in the spring of 2015. “I had always been interested in coffee and tea,” he says, “and I come from a culture that is steeped in it.” Kabir was born to Bengali parents in the former British colony of Zimbabwe, before growing up in England. “When I came to America, coffee became this massive, almost sort of magical elixir.”

He’s been in the U.S. on and off for about 17 years—arriving right as third-wave coffee was exploding—finally making the move a decade ago. Initially, it was study; Kabir received his entire education in the CUNY system before moving into hedge funds, which was his round-about introduction to hospitality. “I saw the back end of how restaurants and steakhouses ran before I went into the business myself, so I had a ten-year experience of understanding the numbers and the profits, losses, margins,” he says. “By the time that I went into it myself, I had half of the picture.”

Kabir eventually began importing and distributing wholesale coffee, which introduced him to farmers. I ended up making a little contact with a lot of small, very specialized growers around the world who are producing amazing coffee and tea that people haven’t heard of because they’re so small and so boutique,” he explains. “I took a chance and I said, ‘I’d like to do a global appeal to coffee and tea,’ and I reached out to people that no one else was going to talk to and I took very small batches and worked on roasting them in my own way.”

That way has involved a lot of experimentation at every stage of the process, from aging to fermenting to roasting. I think it makes our coffee very unique and imparts a very natural signature to every bean that we have,” he says. People often think there has been flavoring done to the beans (the Hawaiian, especially, tastes ultra-chocolaty), but Kabir believes his processing simply extracts more flavor from the beans themselves. “We spend eight weeks, for the most part, and we have some beans that spend four months in preparation before our customers even drink it.”

In the near future, his plans revolve around further exploration of rare coffees. “We have a reserve collection of Yemeni coffee, which we only get five pounds of at any given time,” he says. “We only serve that in-house: one size, black, no sugar.” While his approach has certainly been new to most Long Islanders, the response has generally been positive—even if it takes many people a few visits to get into the swing of choosing coffee by its place of origin rather than simply saying, “coffee.”

“Not that this is an overly cerebral experience,” Kabir says, “but I think the basis of it is, ‘Hey, this is what you’re used to, but this is what can be done with it. Have fun with it.’”

But what happens beyond the beans here is just as important as how long the aging process took. At 6 p.m., the coffee shop closes and opens as a space for plant-based dinner and movie nights, poetry readings and other cultural events. “We aspire to just be a part of the community,” Kabir says. “We just want to see our customers come in 300 times a year and we’re happy.”