New York's Coffee Culture

This is the second post in the Ultimate Planes, Trains & Automobiles Trip series.

You may recall my stated intent to check out some of the coffee establishments that the New York Times declared as evidence that the Big Apple is finally taking it's coffee seriously. I went to four of them during my visit last weekend. Before I get into the specifics of each cafe, I have two general thoughts.

First, I think the NY Time's got the headline wrong. If I'd written it, it would have said: New York Is Finally Taking Its Espresso Seriously. While each of the shops I visited served coffee, it seemed rather clear that the focus was on espresso drinks, with coffee being shunned like an unwanted stepchild. I understand that espresso drinks are popular, but they're not what I drink. I ordered a hot coffee at each cafe, and my opinions formed around the quality of that coffee.

Second, Manhattan coffee shops are primarily grab-and-go kinds of places. I'm writing this post from my favorite coffee shop in Cleveland, but that wouldn't be an option at the Manhattan coffee shops I visited. This is a serious hang-up for me, because as much I think the density and vibrancy of New York City is amazing, I struggle with the idea that the local independent coffee shops aren't places where people can go to relax or socialize or hang-out.

That said, here are a few specific thoughts on the New York coffee shops I visited.

First up was Gimme! Coffee in NoLIta. I had high hopes for this coffee shop, having heard it hyped by many coffee enthusiasts. I walked away feeling disappointed.

The store is slightly bigger than a hole in the wall, but it was still tiny. There were no seats or places to socialize inside. There was a bench on the side
walk outside that could seat maybe 2 or 3 people on a nice day.

I ordered a small coffee. I immediately noticed that it
was smaller than a the small size I'm used to; it looked kind of like a sample... I guess the small size at Gimme! is only 8 ounces. The barista handed me an empty cup and pointed me to the corner of the store where I could pour my own drink. They were serving a French roast and a Kenyan roast. I picked the Kenyan, as I have a taste for the African roasts. I found the coffee to be overly bitter tasting and not particularly smooth. I'd probably give Gimme! a 3/5 on Yelp.

The next stop was Bluebird Coffee in the East V
illage. I walked right past it the first time I strolled down First Street, as it's seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood.

There were a small number of seats inside, but hardly enough to sit comfortably for any extended period of time. The baristas were very friendly and served my coffee quickly. The small was 8 ounces, making me think the standard New York sizes a
re smaller than what I'm used to. Bluebird served the coffee very hot, so it took a few minutes before I could take my first sip. The coffee was pretty good, but not "so pleasant, it’s disarming" as the Times called it. I'd probably give Bluebird a 3/5 on Yelp.

From there I walked over to the West Village JOE. T
wo things immediately distinguished JOE from the previous two coffee shops: the interior was big enough to have a few tables with people socializing and the small coffee was 12 ounces.

The coffee was very good. After the previous few disappointmen
ts, I left feeling like I'd gotten a proper coffee fix. I'd probably give JOE a 4/5 on Yelp.

On Sunday morning I ventured over to Cafe Grump
y in Chelsea. It was a fairly small cafe, but there were a few tables and people sitting at them. Grumpy makes every drink 'to-order' which means it's both very tasty and very expensive.

I bought a 16-ounce Indonesian coffee. A barista scooped the beans, ground them, and brewed my cup of coffee. At $3 per cup, this isn't the kind of place I would visit every day, but I guess there's some truth to the belief that you get what you pay for.

Ultimately, none of New York's coffee shops, even those highly touted by the times, served a cup of coffee that was the best I've ever had. Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe I would think differently if I were an espresso enthusiast. Or maybe, like many aspects of New York City, when it comes to coffee, the Big Apple is just a completely different beast.


    Excellent post. Nice pics.