Alita Cafe – Brooklyn, New York

Written By: author image Simon Ritchie
author image Simon Ritchie

Today the CoffeeOtter team is in Brooklyn, NYC to meet Alejandro Ceballos of Alita Cafe.

We chat about why he chose to leave a classical music career to work in coffee, how to make excellent drip coffee at home, and why Amsterdam should be on every foodie’s bucket list.


Alejandro, tell us more about yourself and your journey in coffee

My name is Alejandro Ceballos and I am co-owner of Alita Cafe in Brooklyn, New York. I have been working in the Hospitality industry since 2014.

I initially looked into cafe jobs because they were easy to integrate with my school schedule at the time. This is because I was finishing up my Master’s degree in Classical Music performance and needed to work to cover my expenses.

After I graduated and started working in the music industry I realized I didn’t want to completely leave the coffee scene. Classical music is an incredibly fulfilling field, but it can also become very solitary. After so many hours of practicing by myself, I really looked forward to going back to the cafe and being social with my colleagues and regulars.

After two years of balancing both, I realized my cafe work was more consistent and better financially than my music, so I made the difficult decision to leave music professionally and focus on hospitality full-time.

During this time, my best friend Paolo Maliksi was going through a similar experience. We met in school, he worked in coffee to help pay his expenses, and eventually coffee took over as his main focus. He is the reason why I was able to go from working at a big coffee chain to something small and specialized.

Alita cafe Brooklyn Alejandro

Starting our own coffee joints

Fast forward to 2019, Paolo had gone into Coffee Roasting and I found my passion in cafe and restaurant management. When the pandemic hit, like many people we lost our jobs and were left wondering how we were going to rebuild our professional lives. That’s when I was approached by one of my old customers who worked in commercial real estate about a space in East Williamsburg that was perfect for a small cafe.

Paolo and I had always played with the idea of opening something together but never found a location we were happy with. We agreed to take a look just for fun, but by the end of the walkthrough, we knew we found our home.

We opened Alita Cafe in March 2021. While there were many things we loved about the coffee industry, we agreed that there were better ways of delivering a fantastic product and experience without sacrificing quality.

Paolo opened his own Coffee Roasting facility in LIC called Regalia so our coffee program was curated and handled by him. My role was all the front-of-house operations and daily management, this included the food. While I completely understood the need and convenience of wholesale bakeries, I didn’t want our cafe to be just another wholesale account. We were sourcing and roasting our own coffee, so why not make our own food?

This is how we settled on the name “Alita”. Alita is short for Abuelita which is my nickname for my grandmother. For my entire life, my grandmother was known for insisting on home-cooked meals and making every person who walked into her apartment feel like a part of our family.

That’s where our concept for our shop came from. Putting all of our energy and knowledge into making coffee and food ourselves, while giving an exceptional and unique customer experience.

Alita cafe Brooklyn espresso

So Alita Cafe – what’s your place like?

With Paulo’s expertise in sourcing and roasting amazing coffee and my passion and constant curiosity in baking and cooking, we’re one of the few cafes that can say we do everything in-house. Even the small things people might not think of, like the mixed berry jam, or the Sriracha garlic aioli that goes on our egg sandwich, to our ice cream, I’m proud to say it’s made by our own hands.

But even taking all of the above into consideration, I believe customer service is the most important piece of the puzzle. Paolo and I agreed that there are many great cafes and restaurants that have phenomenal offerings, but often we were not interested in returning because our experience was subpar.

With increased care and knowledge about coffee and the ever-advancing tools becoming available, cafes began to feel more like a laboratory than a cozy place to catch up with a friend.

Basically, we strongly believe that both can and should coexist. We want every customer to feel absolutely comfortable and taken care of, while also receiving a carefully extracted beverage and perfectly baked snack.

You’re a big fan of drip coffee…how do you make the perfect cup?

My favorite beverage really is a plain drip coffee. Paolo is always finding new farms to work with and the way he roasts our coffee really brings out the inherent flavor profiles specific to the region and coffee varietals.

For people at home, I’d say try many different roasters who are really taking the time to express the natural flavors coffee has to offer. You’ll quickly find that many of them are over-roasting beans because they believe the general public is looking for your stereotypical “dark”, “strong”, and “bitter” cup.

This is a real disservice to what the beans have to offer. Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit, and like wine, the region, agricultural practices, and climate offer so much diversity that we should embrace, not lose by antiquated ideas of what coffee “should” taste like. Once you find a great coffee, to begin with, you’ll find the equipment is not that important.

Alita cafe Brooklyn food

How do you make great coffee at home…and what would be your dream setup?

At home, I use the Tricolate coffee brewer. It’s a simple, inexpensive yet incredibly effective way to extract a great drip coffee. It fits over your standard mug and all you need is coffee grounds and hot water, gravity does the rest!

The real defining factor for home baristas is their grinder. A good one isn’t cheap, but it makes all the difference.

For drip coffee I’d recommend the Fellow Ode grinder and for Espresso I’d say the Niche is a solid choice. Both grinders would be my ideal setup if money was no issue, along with my Tricolate drip brewer.

For espresso, Breville makes a great entry-level machine that will last a while, if money were no issue I’d go with the Decent DE1 Pro we use at our shop, but with 110v for home use, as opposed to the 220v we need for commercial use.

What other New York coffee shops are worth a visit beyond Alita Cafe?

I’d recommend SEY in Brooklyn, SUITED in the Financial District, and La Cabra in the East Village.

What’s the best coffee shop you’ve ever visited?

I’d say SUITED is my favorite. They have a great rotating coffee program, incredibly inviting staff AND amazing food. They go as far as to make their own sausage patty for their breakfast sandwich!

Alita cafe Brooklyn cookies

Which coffee shops worldwide are on your bucket list?

The one shop I’d love to make a special trip for is Scandinavian Embassy in Amsterdam. They have elevated their coffee and food program to such a level that I believe a Michelin Star is only a matter of time for them.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our CoffeeOtter readers?

I’d like to end with a huge shout-out to my staff!

Running a successful shop is not an individual endeavor. Regardless of the knowledge owners think they have about their businesses, your staff are indispensable for the improvement and refinement of our vision. I’ve lost count of the amount of insights I’ve gained from my staff.

It’s of utmost importance to give your staff a platform to communicate and contribute. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re doing something wrong.

Where can people find Alita Cafe?

We’re at 797 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Thanks so much, Alejandro, we can’t wait to visit you at Alita Cafe again soon!

author avatar
Simon Ritchie Editor