Life With: Esben Piper

Life With: Esben Piper

Life With: Esben Piper

Esben Piper, the founder of La Cabra that took shape 13 years ago in his hometown of Aarhus, has skillfully brought it to the beating heart of the ultimate metropolis—New York City. With two hot spots already stirring the buzz, New Yorkers are lapping it up, and you better believe there’s more to come.

Text by Magnus Fuglsang, Photos by Luis Garcia

Esben wears ANOTHER Overshirt 2.0, Navy (see more) & ANOTHER Pants 6.0, Black Pin Stripe (see more).

Which coffee is your favorite?

I enjoy the ritualistic aspect of my morning coffee (filter coffee is my go-to). It’s a serene moment which signals the gradual awakening of the day in a very calm way. Surprisingly, I only have about two cups a day, so I like to savor them. If I go beyond three cups, I can feel the caffeine kicking in, and oddly enough, I haven’t built up a tolerance over the years.

When—and why—did the idea of bringing La Cabra to New York first cross your mind?

When we opened our doors in the late summer of 2021, it also marked our third attempt at opening in New York, so it's been a long time coming. The idea began to sprout nine years ago when my business partner Mikkel and I, en route to Central America on our first sourcing trip with La Cabra, found ourselves in New York, delving into the city, visiting coffee roasteries, and connecting with industry folks. While there was a long and proud culture with a lot of impressive players, the delicate, light-roasted, nuanced approach we were excited out about wasn’t quite the norm there.

Esben wears ANOTHER Polo Shirt 2.0, Night Sky Navy (see more) & ANOTHER Pants 6.0, Black Pin Stripe (see more).

So how would you describe the coffee scene at the time?  

It had to be fast, and the coffee was somewhat darker roasted.There were of course exceptions but generally speaking the scene was more streamlined and it was rare to find coffees with personality back then.
The coffee bars were bustling, but that’s also what intrigued me. If we could marry the expression we find captivating with the customer potential New York offers, it could be truly exciting, I remember thinking. Furthermore, we had recently started to get deeper and deeper into sourdough bread with the team in Aarhus. Cracking that code took some time, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation now if we had attempted to open a coffee shop in New York when the idea first struck me.

How do New Yorkers differ from Danes when it comes to coffee culture today?

The pace is just a bit slower in Denmark. In New York, we also have plenty of regulars, but it’s rare for people to linger for long. Which is fortunate, given our limited space. Naturally, New York is a busier city—as are most major metropolises when compared to Copenhagen and Aarhus—so everything unfolds with a higher intensity. At times we serve over 1,000 people a day, so we also have to grind quite a bit. But we’re proud to contribute to the evolution of a coffee culture that, in our view, needed some some change and didn’t only need to be tied to a caffeine culture, but more so connect to sensuality and feelings as other interesting gastronomy had done for centuries. 

What has it been like to witness La Cabra being embraced in the manner New Yorkers have?

It’s been a dream, and it still is. I wake up nearly every morning feeling profoundly fortunate about it. It’s a blend of timing, luck, and the courage to make it happen. It’s been quite surreal how it has worked out so far. However, there’s still a lot of work ahead, so one can’t dwell too much on it. It’s about maintaining the hard work and continually work on our mission and culture as we grow as a company. 

If your attire reflects a certain state of mind, do you dress differently when you’re in New York, a city that, in many ways, is extremely flamboyant and expressive?

I’ve maintained my Scandinavian prudence regarding colors and materials, but I have to admit that I’ve also been influenced by my surroundings. Parts of New York are highly fashionable, and the clientele in our Soho store is undoubtedly a unique crowd that definitely at times can inspire you quite a bit. One way or the other. 

What makes the best coffee uniform?

In my view, what Another Aspect has crafted for us is both subtle and elegant—it doesn’t make too much noise, which is important to me. Some might find a uniform dull, but I genuinely appreciate how it streamlines the expression behind the coffee bar. It looks sharp and doesn’t distract from the coffee; as a guest, you are better able to relax when you aren’t confronted with seven different looks among our staff, and—in my opinion—having a uniform also aids the product and brand.

The shirts with 3/4 sleeves, that our staff wears, were originally not designed with practicality in mind but simply as an aesthetic reference that I liked. They have, however, proven to be quite practical, as they can be worn year-round. We’ve also subsequently opened locations in Thailand and Oman, where they’ve turned out to be quite ingenious.


What can we expect from La Cabra in the time ahead?

It’s been a long time coming, but things are finally falling into place with our roastery in Brooklyn. We're aiming to open this coming summer. It stands as our most substantial and ambitious project to date together with our new roastery in Copenhagen, which is set to launch around the same time. We are also working on a new bakery in the city.

I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and it’s only now that we’re starting to grow exponentially. I’m grateful that it took this amount of time, allowing us the opportunity to develop as both a business and a brand.