It’s impossible to talk about a single New York speciality coffee “scene.” With so many wide-ranging influences — from home-grown coffee fans all the way to Aussie imports — each part of New York has its own coffee culture reflecting the local character. Here are three carefully-selected examples of what’s happening in New York now.
One notable trend is the rise of individual, hand-poured coffee. Something of a rarity three years ago, now it seems that everyone is offering it, although it has yet to challenge the dominance of drip-coffee, the pre-brewed filter coffee beloved of Americans. Single-origin coffee (where the coffee can be traced back to a specific area or even farm) has also gained prominence.
In a still developing coffee specialty coffee market, Café Grumpy is an old hand, having launched 10 years ago. Roasting all their own coffee in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Café Grumpy now has several Manhattan branches. The Fashion District branch has a simple layout, a large counter dominating one side, the seating (two large, communal tables) dominating the other. Potentially a sterile environment, the atmosphere is actually buzzing with the communal tables nearly forcing strangers to talk to each other, or at least encouraging them to mingle. This is also helped by Café Grumpy’s “no laptops” rule enforced across all their locations.
However, Café Grumpy’s main draw is its coffee. There’s the house-blend, Heart Breaker, and a single-origin on espresso, plus four more single-origins available as hand-poured filter. The specific coffees on offer change every couple of weeks, so there’s always something new. These are joined by a single-origin decaf, while the drip coffee is another single-origin.
One of Café Grumpy’s founders is an Australian which explains the presence of a flat white on the menu. This drink, popular in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, but is still rare in America. A similar size (6 oz) to a tradition cappuccino, but with less foam, a good flat white really lets the coffee shine. Mine was excellent, the coffee going well with the milk, producing a very balanced, rounded drink.
One notable trend is the rise of individual, hand-poured coffee. Something of a rarity three years ago, now it seems that everyone is offering it…
Café Integral is on the SOHO/Chinatown border, inside a clothing boutique, American Two Shot. Like Café Grumpy, it roasts its own coffee. Nicaraguan, César Vega, is the driving force behind Café Integral and he personally selects and roasts all the coffee. Emigrating with his family to New York 25 years ago, César starting Café Integral out of a frustration of not being able to find a decent cup of Nicaraguan coffee in New York.
As a coffee shop, Café Integral is minimalist, no more than a counter as you come into American Two Shot. There are some bar-stools at the counter though, which make an excellent spot to sit and chat with the barista and watch your coffee being made — mostly Nicaraguan blended coffees, of course, on the espresso machine and two single-origins, El Puma and El Bosque, available as drip-coffee or as hand-pour. I tried the El Puma as a hand pour, watching with interest the attention to detail paid by the barista as he made my drink. It was beautifully presented, served in a carafe, with a cup on the side, which is something of a rarity in the US, where filter coffee of all varieties usually gets served in a mug. It was just as good to drink, well-balanced, with great body, the flavours evolving as it cooled. I also tried the El Bosque, which was a much fruitier and brighter coffee.
The newest of the three, Underline, was set up two years ago. In contrast to Café Grumpy and Integral, it does not roast its own coffee preferring to serve the well-respected Counter Culture roasts from Durham, North Carolina. Literally under New York’s Highline in Chelsea, Underline has a slightly subterranean/basement feel to it; it’s long and thin, with the seating up front and the counter at the back, creating a cosy atmosphere, particularly on colder days.
If you’re a coffee geek you will really enjoy Underline appreciating Kees van der Westen lever espresso machine and constant experimentation. Underline offers a espresso blends, along with a pair of single-origins, one of which was from Papua New Guinea, which makes a change from the usual South/Central American and African coffees. Unusually (which is where the experimentation comes in) Underline is happy to offer the single-origins as either hand-pour or espresso, so you can compare the difference in taste. If you fancy making a session of it, Underline also offers two bespoke coffee cocktails, one for each of the single-origin coffees, all of which changes every two to three weeks.
I had really loved the Papua New Guinea as a hand-pour; the coffee matured delightfully as it cooled, it’s fruity nature coming through, making it one of the best filter coffees I’ve had in New York. ML