Java in Manhattan
To blog about my recent NY trip is a daunting task which involves archiving ~500 pictures, post processing, and stitching panoramas. I’m going to kick off this “mini” project by talking about some great brown colored beverages in NY. Not the classic cocktail named after Manhattan because its water was brown in the old days, but NYC coffee.
As an aspiring coffee “connoisseur,” one must try coffee from far and beyond. When I visited NY years ago, I was extremely disappointed by the quality of coffee. Fortunately, in the last few years, the NY coffee scene is going through a revolution.
We planned our visit in the city around visiting coffee shops. It was a bit challenging because the best coffee shops were situated in very residential parts of Manhattan. To distinguish themselves from the tourism industry and to better serve and educate the local New Yorkers.
Upon arriving in NYC on the first morning, two very grumpy sleep deprived Seattlites went straight for Cafe Grumpy in Chalsea. The coffee shop was narrow and deep. The interior designers cleverly solved the problem by installing a wall of mirrors to give the illusion of a broader and brighter space. The color tone was warm and inviting. It was packed with people since the few tables they had were all occupied. I liked my latte but to tell the truth, I was so sick from a cold and tired that my taste buds were compromised. But according to Pierre, the espresso shots, especially the single origin Ethiopian, were excellent. One caveat: stay away from the Mexican TAZA chocolates; they were the worst chocolates I’ve tasted in my life. The chocolates has nothing to do with the quality of Grumpy’s coffee.
On our second day of coffee adventure, we headed down to East Village. Pierre’s roaster friend had recommended a couple of coffee shops there within walking distance from each other. Ninth Street Espresso was highly recommended. Unlike Grumpy, 9th St was in a much quieter part of the neighborhood (at least on the day we went). The shop has an dramatic black and white theme that seemed all so befitting for New York City. Even their La Mozzoco espresso machine was customized with a black “coat.” A few patrons sat in the shadows. Despite of the stark appearance, our barista Derrick was like a heating lamp for the place: unpretentious and skillful. I especially liked his latte art.
Ninth Street uses a special blend of roast from Counter Culture, which is the same roaster that Murky Coffee near my apartment in DC uses. I must say I wasn’t super impressed with the roast in a latte. It wasn’t as flavorful as the one I had a Murky. The espresso shot might be better.
It was a fairly overcast and cold day in New York. It was already 3 in the afternoon by the time we left Ninth Street to head over to Cafe Abraco. Cafe Abraco was also situated on a slightly busier street of East Village. Abraco means to embrace in Brazilian, explained owner and barista Jamie. The moment we walked in, we were bathed in the color of red. The coffee shop was very unusual from the previous two because it had enough space to fit about 5 patrons, but it has a full kitchen that serves soups, sandwiches, and pastries. Interestingly enough, Cafe Abraco uses Counter Culture as their roaster.
I got an Americano instead. Jamie made it with the least amount of water proportion I’ve ever seen, served in a little 8 oz glass, topped with a heart of foam. It was perfectly delicious. The usual Americanos turned out to be too diluted. And I think it worked well for the Counter Culture roast. We spent what seemed forever in the tiny coffee shop, enjoying the coffee, the ambiance, Lou Donaldson playing in the background, and chatting with Jamie. It was a tiny space yet so efficient. It was the perfect escape in a gloomy NY winter afternoon.
Jame had recommended another coffee shop in East Village called Everyman Espresso, set up in the lobby of a theater. The espresso bar is right next to the box office windows. It brews Counter Culture as well. The sun was already setting by the time we made it to Everyman. We hadn’t had any food for the whole day except for coffee drinks. I ordered a machiatto but my stomach and tongue were already rejecting anything caffeinated. Quoting Pierre, they could potentially make better espresso than what we got that day. Not only did I not enjoy the coffee, I didn’t like the space at all. Tall bar tables and stools prevented me from wanting to stay to enjoy the espresso drink.
We escaped Everyman with only one goal in mind: Jean Claude, an excellent French bistro in Soho recommended to us by Clarie. Just writing about it right now is making my stomach growl. But that’s for another chapter on another day. Our little coffee adventure in NYC was a lot of fun (of course, who wouldn’t be happy after all the caffeine). I’m pleased and excited about the growing coffee culture, in NYC and on the East Coast in general. Hopefully the next time I visit the city, I could get a decent cup of java just around the corner.