A story of corn, wine and coffee in Brooklyn for all good things
What do coffee, wine and corn have in common? Maybe more than you think.
For starters, all three were harvested over thousands of years during the industrial revolution and global colonization. Each of them presents a unique and rich diversity of plant varieties, cultivation techniques and representation of global consumption. Specialty coffee has long fought for legitimacy after generations of consumers of Folgers and Maxwell House beverages, while wine had centuries of wine culture as its foundation, although there has been a paradigm shift towards the natural wine that actually started in the post-war years of the 1950s. . Now Matt Diaz and Carlos Macias want to create that “ah-ha moment” for corn, from commodity to specialty corn. Together they opened For all things good, an all-day Bed-Stuy cafe that celebrates the diversity of Mexican flavors by bringing corn, coffee and natural wine together under one roof. But in this cafe, corn is the star.
Diaz, a wine professional, and Macias, an architect, created For All Good Things in June 2020. Their vision was to celebrate the birthplace of corn: Mexico. When they first met, Diaz was studying oenology in Argentina while Macias worked in urban development in Mexico. They both ended up living and working in New York when they began to see a gap in the tortilla products they had grown to love overseas. Diaz began by learning and absorbing everything he could learn about corn and quickly realized that the raw ingredients needed to produce high quality corn foods were not widely available in the grocery stores or restaurants in the United States. Diaz found inspiration by attending conferences and events like Justin Bazdarich’s. Oxomoco to Food and Design Museum and has made its way into restaurants with masa programs. Quickly, he realized that the fate of corn is similar to that of coffee. “What if all cafes and restaurants served instant coffee? It would be crazy. But that’s what we do with tortillas,” Diaz points out.
Corn is a crop with an incredibly rich history of plant varieties and species, but in the United States it is grown as a monoculture. This is the result of large-scale corn farming using government-subsidized GMO corn instead of the heritage corn that grew in the Americas in pre-industrial times. In recent years, Mexico has even banned the sale of American corn domestically to protect varieties of corn grown in Mexico and shield farmers from the harmful limbo of farmer subsidies. These corn regulations have been incorporated into hot political issues around NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). By zooming, the effects are social; tortillas are not considered a specialty food by most consumers.
Another economic challenge for maize is maintaining generational knowledge about its cultivation. When younger generations move away from farming as a career, it creates a divide that jeopardizes inherited farming practices like the Maya. mipa, a tradition of mixing and rotating cultures with spiritual and social connotations. Without consumer interest in maize, less commercially viable varieties run the risk of extinction. Although corn production doesn’t seem day-to-day critical, pros like Diaz and Macias know we’re closer than ever to losing living history, an agricultural problem all too familiar to anyone in the world of corn harvesting. Coffee. “It’s terrifying when you think about it, it’s been cultivated for thousands of years,” Diaz remarked.
The commitment to supporting corn and the surrounding crop is fierce at For All Things Good. At the cafe, they nixtamalize three varieties of corn imported from Mexico. The process of nixtamalization is a preparation of dried corn, cooked in an alkaline solution (historically this was done with lime—the mineral compound, not the fruit) and soak to remove the outer layer of the pit called the pericarp. This process is similar to that which produces washed coffees. Once corn is processed, it can be ground like wheat. The mill is called a “molino”, which is the Spanish word for “mill”, but also refers to where the grinding takes place. In the tradition of milling, there are two volcanic stones used to grind grain, which you might see ground by hand in many parts of Mexico. But in the commercial context, the best commercial-sized grinders are often imported into the United States and can cost around $10,000. After the corn has been ground and water added, it is called “masa”, which is the dough used to make a variety of foods, but most notably tortillas.
With his passion for corn at the forefront, Diaz had started taking the first steps towards opening the store when he decided that a cafe would be the perfect place to develop an audience for corn products. and masa. The parallels between coffee production and corn production drew some interesting parallels, but the American culture of coffee leading to barista-customer interactions was key to starting a conversation about corn. Accompanied by the experts of coffee shopFor All Things Good opened its doors with a simple setup: a group of two La Marzocco Linea EE, Mazzer Super Jolly, Mahlkonig EK43and a batch stirrer.
They import coffee from Mexico City-based roasters Buna, a regional leader in protecting Mexico’s coffee ecosystems that sources its beans from farmers in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz. Creating continuity between everything offered in the café, “even the bitters in the cocktails come from Mexico,” Diaz points out. Buna opened his first café in 2012 in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, part of the launch of third-wave café culture in the Mexican capital. Diaz describes his day dream before they opened as a small space with a few people working at the time until they finally opened. It turned out that the interest in trying masa foods in the community exceeded their imaginations.
Their menu consists of what mipa farmers ate while working on the farm. The Nahuatl drink atole the taste of a sweet corn milkshake is made with freshly ground corn, milk and a little vanilla. You can find triangular masa shapes filled with classic Mexican flavors called tetelasround filled masa cakes called memelasor crispy flat tortillas topped with ingredients called tlayudas. Although this predominantly pre-Hispanic menu looks unfamiliar, the menu is surprisingly inclusive. They cater to a mix of Latinos looking for souvenirs from Mexico and newbies who are just happy for a taco and everyone in between. I asked Diaz, “Who is your target audience?” He replied, “I am always open to conversation. Send anyone who wants to learn my way.
Each day the cafe closes for morning service and reopens for dinner in the evening. This is where the alcoholic side of their menu shines. Personally, I’m more intrigued by their Mexican natural wine list which features bichi‘s No Name Still from Tecate, Mexico, or Vena cava Natural Garnacha. Diaz’s expert experience in the wine industry means he is always on the lookout for more exciting and interesting wines. Work with importers like Selections by José Pastor and Selections Zev Rovine, he encourages them to add new wines to their menu. This celebration of Mexico manifests in drinks like Micheladas, single-farmer mezcals, and refreshing cocktails.
True to form, Diaz hopes events will continue to stir curiosity. His broader vision of the food world to transform the way we perceive corn is holistic in the way he provides a platform for others to share their story. He sees pop-ups and hosting guest chefs as an opportunity to “expand beyond the self-imposed limitations of our menu.” On my first visit to the cafe, they hosted a pop-up featuring guest chef Yoni Lang, formerly of Uchi in Austin, TX and recently from Rosella in the Lower East Side. When I last visited the cafe, there was a pop-up featuring two people from Tequila Mijenta talk through the agave treatment for guests. If you want to know more and participate in the experience, follow them on social networks and go for a flauta in Brooklyn. This place is an education, an eye-opener and a delightful experience – really everything is good.
Kathy Altamirano is a coffee professional and freelance journalist based in New York City. Read more Kathy Altamirano for Sprudge.