You wake up in the morning and smell the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee. Do you:

  • Savor the aroma and smile,
  • Track down the source, so you can get some,
  • Try to guess the origin by its fragrance, or
  • Lodge a complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection?

In Brooklyn, New York, an anonymous complainant chose the latter option, and now Gillies Coffee — the country’s oldest and most storied coffee merchant — is being attacked by the city it has called home for 162 years.

The basis of the complaint itself appears questionable. Gillies roasting operation wasn’t running at the time… it hadn’t been run in the the 24 hours prior. The complaint didn’t suggest whether the smell was of brewed coffee, or ground coffee. The inspector who showed up at Gillies’ door, however, was quite certain he could smell coffee while standing in the open door… and that smell caused the inspector “discomfort.”


Let’s overlook for a moment that Gillies has ever been a good corporate citizen… that they are New York’s only Fair Trade roaster, that they’re Certified Organic, and a member of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center “Bird Friendly” program. Let’s not even consider that Gillies uses state-of-the-art roasting equipment that is smokeless, self-cleaning, and highly fuel-efficient. If we can, we’ll try to overlook that Gillies’ proprietor, Don Schoenholt, is one of the founders of the specialty coffee movement [indeed, of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, as well] and a remarkably nice guy.


Let’s focus, instead, on but a single facet of this story. The complainant, and the inspector, found the aroma of coffee — an aroma that is so uniquely complex and alluring that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to capture, package and sell the fragrance alone — to be offensive, and to cause discomfort. Hello?

Let’s do this… if the aroma of coffee has ever caused you discomfort in any way, tell me about it. If, however, you find it alarming that America’s oldest — and likely, most revered — coffee companies is under fire from the City of New York, tell New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about it. And hurry… Gillies is due in court on Tuesday, December 17th.

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