Beans in the Big Apple

The city that never sleeps.

Sunset from a rooftop in Clinton Hill.

I’m currently in the process of moving to New York City, and part of me thinks no one who lives in New York calls it the big apple. But for now I don’t live in the city, and am therefor a tourist by default and free to represent every obnoxious stereotype. Last week while scouting for housing and employment I tried to hit as many cafe’s as possible. That being said, I tried to skip out on the places that were heavy on the “scene” and were more focused on the quality of their offerings. I was in search of great coffee, and to be sure there is plenty to be had in New York.


Blue Bottle Coffee (Williamsburg)

On the Blue Bottle Coffee website they explain that the name Blue Bottle comes from central Europe’s first coffee house. Not sure that matters if the coffees no good. Lucky for them, it’s grand. They go on to explain that their founder opened Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland as a response to schwilly 16 oz. pumpkin spiced hazelnut macchiatos, Starbuck, three pumps of vanilla, and the like. It’s important to note that their is no such thing as a 16 oz. macchiato. The word macchiato is Italian and it means, more or less, marked. Tainted. Maybe stained. But in this case, it only means marked with milk, not drowned in it. It’a ratio thing, and if you’ve got 16 oz. and it’s only “marked” with milk, you’re drinking an obscene amount of espresso which will probably induce severe vomiting. Just saying.

Where Blue Bottle excels is in it’s adventurous methods of coffee preparation. The space looks half like a coffee bar and half like a science lab, with tubes and beakers and all other manner of confusing equipment that makes me think they’re processing Columbian cocaine, not coffee.

Here we make coffee, mutant soldiers.

I got a pour over (a method of extraction whose sole purpose is made-to-order drip coffee) of the blend named “Three Africans,” comprised of a Ugandan Mt. Elgon, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Sidama. I tend to enjoy African single-origin coffees, and this did not disappoint. Tasting notes? Nah, just get a cup. Black is beautiful. It was simply tasty. Afterwards, I had to try the espresso. As a barista for a few years, pounding triple ristretto, double shots, and small cups of drip all day every day, I thought I was prepared. The counter person looked at me like I was trying to drink enough coffee to ensure an embarrassing moment on the metro whereby the extra bevy causes extreme loss of bowel control. Anyone who’s had too much coffee (and smokes) knows exactly what I’m talking about. Also anyone who’s ever had to clean a cafe bathroom also knows the potential for disaster where coffee is concerned. Within an hour I was grossly dehydrated and twitching more than I’m comfortable with. My fault, I know.

I liked the fact that there was limited seating real estate. A few laptops littered the place, but otherwise the focus seemed to be on coffee. No plush couches, no visible power outlets, no camping. There’s nothing more frustrating than going to your favorite cafe to meet a friend and talk for a little while and finding that every seat is taken, where everyone in the place has spread out their weeks work and set up shop for what appears to be an indefinite amount of time. Blue Bottle is a place for lovers of coffee. Best try some.


RBC Coffee (TriBeCa)

I wanted to like this place, and I did. Sort of. The coffee was good, but not great. The space was small, but not without charm. I settled for a cup of drip, and it had hints of flavor, but ultimately fell flat. I can’t even remember what it was, though they post all of their coffee origins and the roasters on the wall.

Coffee Menu. Sure.

Ultimately, it seemed a decent place to meet and have a decent cup, though if you’re in the city looking for a game-changer, and cup that’ll make you say “HOT DAMN THAT’S GOOD!” look elsewhere. That is all.


Kaffe 1668 (TriBeCa)

Business Casual.

This spot was actually a nice synthesis of slick, cushy cafe vibe and boutique coffee bar. They also work with a three-group Synesso, which is the only espresso machine I have ever used, so I was intrigued. I settled on a single origin espresso, an Ethiopian I think (notice a trend here?) and was highly impressed. The barista was down to talk a little shop, which is always a plus when I’m looking for something tasty. He told me “it’s pretty mellow, with some nice floral notes without being a fruit bomb.” And he was right. I’m always flattered when a barista pulls me a shot, looks suspiciously at the demitas, gives it a quick sniff, dumps it out, redials the grinder settings, and makes another go at it. That tells me that the barista is intent on ensuring that each shot makes the grade. Now, maybe when he’s hauling drink after drink, he doesn’t have the time to really perfect each shot, which is fine. Especially where single-origin espresso is concerned, it can be a fickle process to get it just right. It’s why most espresso uses a blend, to create balance in not only taste, but in preparation. I know I’ve had to dump multiple shots trying to dial in my grinders when working with single-origin espresso.

The space was rather unique in that they had traditional cafe seating upstairs, though it was more of a bustling cafe than a writers haven from unpaid heating bills. Downstairs there was more seating, a couch and a couple tables, and it was clearly for the laptop workhorse types who like to lounge and work on their blogs that will hopefully get them some low-paying paying staff job at some equally unheard of internet publication… They also had tons of cheeky artwork, all referencing the cafe. Bordering on kitsch, it was kind of charming.

Before we die, let's get better lighting in here so people can take pictures of this kinda tacky artwork with their iPhones.

Considering it’s New York, I imagine I could cover three cafes a week and never catch up. But for my first foray into city coffee, I was delighted to find that I didn’t have to try to hard to find such fantastic bean based bevy’s. Got a favorite spot? Spill the beans!