Coffee and the City – The search for real coffee in New York

Coffee and the City – The search for real coffee in New York

My name is John and I have an addiction.

Prior to setting off for the States I had a nagging concern. When addicts don’t get exactly what they’re craving, what their body needs, things get a little tense. A little messy. I’ve been told by a few non Australians that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to coffee. Coffee that’s made by a person that knows how to operate an espresso machine, how to steam milk and pour it like a pro. Admittedly we have our very fair share of hopeless souls that just can’t grasp an espresso machine and put it to good use but on a whole, I think, we’ve got it good.

When you travel overseas you can’t help but get the feeling of that country’s coffee culture, if it has one, and how they embrace it. Vietnam does coffee it’s own unique way, so does Malaysia and any Middle Eastern country and when you go to France, well, don’t get me started on that. Spending a month there drinking poorly-made coffee in a variety of regions drove me insane until one place was found in Paris that almost made me weep with relief. There is a god.

I’ve always associated American coffee with that filtered, poor quality and overly-diluted stuff you get on an aircraft. The stuff that sits on a heat pad for hours. If you love that stuff please don’t take my tone the wrong way, you can have your bottomless cups of coffee to your hearts content. I’d sooner drink tea than that sort of filtered coffee. Yes you have your Starbucks and its clones but they’re places that don’t get my dosh. Am I fussy? You bet.

When I googled Australian coffee in New York prior to landing there I found a few places set up by Aussies and immediately added them to my ‘café’ list. Some relief set in and as I researched deeper I found many places that seemed to make what I call ‘real’ coffee. It was all looking pretty good.

I’ve compiled this list in no particular order. It’s a list that shows all the places we had coffee at in New York, good and not so good. Something I did find myself doing sometimes when walking past a café was peer in and look at the way they poured their coffees, or how it appeared in the cups that people were already drinking. Was there crema? Or was it a fluffy mess. Sometimes it worked in our favour, sometimes it didn’t. Apologies Manhattan, it wasn’t a hobo peering over your shoulder into your latte, it was me.


Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Ace Hotel NYC

Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Ace Hotel NYC

Stumptown Coffee Roasters – 18 W 29th St, Downtown

Located at the base of the Ace Hotel, this little coffee mecca had us hooked every morning thanks to being close to our first NYC hotel, the Affinia on 7th. The café has no seats and deals with a patient line of customers that grab their chosen coffee and go. Weekday mornings may have you waiting up to 10 minutes in the queue but just grab the wifi code from the desk in the hotel lobby and catch up on e-things as you edge closer to the counter. It’s definitely worth the wait.

The kids behind the counter know their way around the espresso machine. You’d want them to otherwise those 1920’s outfits and tats would be wasted on shit coffee. The milk is poured with precision, the beans have the caramel and gutsiness I love and all I can fault is the lack of seating at the window bench. At least you can take your cup and saucer into the trendy Ace Hotel lobby and sink into the fur-lined lounges whilst tucking into a pastry or fresh berry tart. The latte comes in a cup, not a glass like we’re used to in Oz and the macchiato is larger than the Australian norm.


Joe the Art of Coffee, West Village NYC

Joe The Art of Coffee – 141 Waverly Place, West Village

The West Village neighbourhood is one that many out-of-towners would love to live in if they had the chance. Relatively quiet and leafy streets, a young family atmosphere and almost everyone has a pooch. This outlet of Joe’s (there’s about 7 of them) sits on a residential corner and has limited seating inside and a coveted bench outside.

Tables inside are minuscule and almost always taken up by locals tapping on laptops and the line for the coffee is almost as long as the one at Stumptown. The caps , lattes and maccs are all made very well, though sometimes a little cooler than I prefer. Not that I like hot coffee, either. Note to Australians – cappuccino in NY doesn’t come dusted with chocolate, so don’t expect it.


Culture Espresso NYC

Culture Espresso NYC

Culture Espresso – 72 W 38th St, Midtown West

Here’s another one of those Manhattan coffee shops where the baristas don hats and similar threads. It’s located near Bryant Park and the Garment District and is so small you could easily strut past it. Order and pay at the counter and desperately try to nab one of the window or communal table stools.

Sandwiches and cakes offer sustenance and the Intelligensia coffee gets two thumbs up. They do perfect flat whites, yes flat whites and a superb macchiato, even if it contains more milk than its Australian cousin. One of the owners is from Oz which could explain the flat white.


Joe the Art of Coffee, Chelsea

Joe The Art of Coffee – 405 W 23rd St, Chelsea

This Joe’s outlet proves to be just as busy as the one in West Village, just minus the pooches. Seating is minimal, the queue is long and the macc is spot on. Strangely the latte comes in an over-sized paper cup even if you’re sitting in. I can definitely vouch for the berry scone and delectable cranberry donut from Doughnut Plant; not the healthiest breakfast options but perfect to have with a strong coffee.


Oslo Coffee Brooklyn

Oslo Coffee Brooklyn

Oslo Coffee Roasters – 133 Roebling St, Brooklyn

This is a little place we happened to discover as we wandered up Roebling Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Locally roasted beans are used and loved by many of the regulars and seating is very limited. My macchiato was gutsy and strong and heavy on the milk. More like a piccolo latte. The regular latte here also comes in an over-sized paper cup and is on the weak-side.


RBBTS NYC

Rbbts – 142 Sullivan St, SoHo

Sullivan Street in this little piece of SoHo has a nice little collection of cafés and one of them, Rbbts/Rabbits was a good little spot to take a load off and perk up with some caffeine. It’s a tiny space with exposed brick walls decorated with mirrors, colourful skate boards and hanging lamps.

The Aussie guy (at least I thought he was) manning the machine made a decent macchiato but the choice of drinking vessels seemed to be limited to mugs and large paper cups. What’s with the paper cups in this town? The cortado came in one of those dreaded cups and was bubbling with air from poorly steamed milk. I wonder what the other joints were like on this street?


Bluebird Coffee Shop, Chelsea

Bluebird Coffee Shop, Chelsea

Bluebird Coffee Shop, Chelsea

Bluebird Coffee Shop – 72 E 1st St, East Village

This part of town is generally visited by tourists for two reasons – Katz’s Deli and Russ & Daughters. Little do many of them know that a few minutes away is this cute little neighbourhood café shaded by trees and small enough to fit a handful of people.

Aussies will see the familiar flat white on the menu and the macchiato comes with my own high praises. The beans here have some guts and the guy pulling the shots is very friendly and takes his job seriously.


The Shop, Midtown

The Shop (retail) – 485 5th Avenue, Midtown

As an escape from the downpour we took refuge in this little cafe that’s actually a ‘retail’ offshoot to The Shop, signature restaurant at the Andaz 5th Avenue. It’s found across the road from Bryant Park and is a small modern space offering soups, sandwiches and pastries plus a mean cortado.

As we sat and savoured the coffee two separate people walked in, noticed our coffees and asked the guy what we were drinking. They wanted what we were having. Great coffee, especially when you can sit and flick through cookbooks that are also for sale.


Cafe Madeline, Brooklyn

Cafe Madeline, Brooklyn

Café Madeline – 1603 Cortelyou Rd, Ditmas Park

The barista at Bluebird Coffee Shop suggested we try this place but little did he know it was already on my list. Café Madeline and Milk Bar – also in Brooklyn – have Aussie connections, though we didn’t make it to the latter.

Ditmas Park seems like the place to live if you want to buy a house on a tree-lined street to set up family. A bit far to schlep from Manhattan just for a coffee but if you’re nearby the friendly service and relaxed vibe will have you hooked. Nice latte and cortado and very tasty maple glazed scones.


The Standard Gill NYC

The Standard Grill – 846 Washington Street, Meatpacking District

Breakfast at The Standard Grill seems like the popular thing to do, especially when you’re staying upstairs in the hotel as we did on our second week. The set-up is bright and airy, service very friendly and the breakfast pretty good. The brioche French toast with buttered rum walnuts & banana (12) couldn’t be avoided and my side of smoked bacon was completely unnecessary.

The toast is as plain as toast can be. Coffee-wise, it’s not somewhere I’d suggest going more than two subway stops to get to. The cortado was average and my $5 macchiato wasn’t worth the high price point.


Ciao For Now NYC

Ciao For Now – 523 E 12th St, East Village

 

Here’s another place we just happened to walk past and decide to stop in for a coffee. This family-run business also acts as a bakery and cater to the community using organic produce sourced locally. They even compost their waste at the neighbourhood garden. The café teems with locals sipping organic ink! coffee that’s sourced from far away Colorado. My macchiato was fairly average and the latte equally so. Loved the blueberry polenta cake drizzled with lemon glaze.


Cookshop NYC

Cookshop NYC

Cookshop – 156 10th Ave, Chelsea

This is a place that the locals flock to on the weekends for brunch with friends and family. It has a bit of a cafeteria atmosphere but it’s the seasonal food you really come here for. Not that I’m one to comment as all we had was breakfast. The Cookshop scramble sounded just the thing for my mid-morning cravings – caramelised onions, crème fraîche, chives, buttermilk biscuit and smoked salmon.

This was my first time trying the American classic ‘biscuit’ with a meal so I was very curious of the outcome. Absolutely loved the eggs and salmon, pity the onions didn’t quite make it to the caramelised level. The moisture from the eggs basically turned one half of the biscuit into a pasty mess and the other half was just a regular scone. I’m really not sure why it’s called a biscuit when it’s virtually identical to a scone. It is a scone, people.

The scrambled eggs and hash (8) is another good brekkie option and the amount of roasted potatoes is enormous. The berry jam is sensational. As for the coffee, well, you can see by the cloud of air on my macchiato that whoever is in charge of the espresso machine is taking some very slow baby steps.


Le Pain Quotidien West Village

Le Pain Quotidien – 550 Hudson St, West Village

Le Pain Quotidien was more of a couldn’t-be-bothered-with-walking-any-further-to-find-breakfast kind of place so we settled with the enormous bakers basket (8.5) that features a variety of sliced fresh breads with organic jam and spreads as well as a separate serving of boiled eggs (7.75). The macchiato was one of the most hopeless attempts I experienced in New York. It was like a French cappuccino. Shocker. Sorry, France, but it’s true.


The Spotted Pig NYC

The Spotted Pig – 314 W 11th St, West Village

This West Village gastro pub puts on a fine lunch, more on that in another post, but seeing we wrapped things up with coffee … well… it has made it to this post first. When we asked for two macchiato (macchiati to be grammatically correct) the guy wasn’t quite sure what we were talking about. What we got was pretty damn close to the real thing. Nice one. You don’t come to the Spotted Pig just for coffee but I’ve got to say it was a nice way to finish a great meal.


Momofuku Milk Bar, Williamsburg

Momofuku Milk Bar, Williamsburg

Momofuku Milk Bar – 382 Metropolitan Ave, Willamsburg

We only happened to stumble across this cafe when we were killing time in Williamsburg one day so I took the opportunity to try the ‘famous’ crack pie (5.25). A latte and macchiato was ordered as well.

The crack pie is nothing more than a caramel tart loaded with sugar, and after a bite I put it back into its sleeve to have back at the hotel. Way too sweet and just a little ordinary. The coffee was poorly made and not enjoyed at all. As for the remaining crack pie, it sat in the hotel fridge and eventually got thrown out. Shame.


Ninth Street Espresso, Chelsea Market

Ninth Street Espresso – 75 Ninth Avenue, Meatpacking District

Chelsea Market was one of my favourite places in New York and also a place that I had the best coffee. Ninth Street Espresso is manned by cool little urbanites that pour a mean latte, cappuccino and macchiato. They really know their stuff.

It has no food or seating as it’s more of a place that churns out coffee to go to the hoards that flock there. When we stayed at the nearby Standard hotel we came every morning for our dose of caffeine and the occasional everything bagel from one of the markets bakeries.

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