Friday, May 2, 2008

New York Coffee Scene, by Jazzy Jeff

A coffee and espresso trip in Manhattan/ the state of coffee and espresso in Manhattan.

On our trip to New York I had decided to draw out a map of coffee places I had to visit. Good coffee and espresso was a rare sight not so long ago on the east coast, especially in New York, where big chains dominated and still largely determine where people go for a cup of joe. Speaking of which, last time I went was in the summer of 2006 and “Joe, the art of coffee” together with “9th Street Espresso” were the only real decent cups around, especially for espresso type drinks.

But this time a nice surprise awaited me. A veritable coffee-scene, albeit still small in comparison with the big town, is unfolding. It seems that everywhere I went there were baristas and coffee geeks from other shops that knew each other.

Early pioneers have expanded over the years, the original venerable 9th street espresso (located east 9th street between Ave C and Ave D) has now also set up shop in the famed Chelsea Market (located 9th Ave between 15th and 16th street). 9th street espresso used to pull shots with Counter Culture coffee, but I heard they just switched to Stumptown. You could see these guys are dedicated to making every cup excellent, asking me instantly what I thought of their brews. I chatted away with them about beans, machines and flavors. They pimped out their Marzocco, spraying it in black with pirate logo’s.

A pleasant new addition to the scene was Everyman espresso, based in the lobby the Classic Stage Company theater (located on 13th street between 3rd and 4th ave). Peter, the barista in charge when I was there, told me that Everyman was a remnant of 9th street’s early expansion, before they abandoned it and chose the Chelsea market as venue. He proved to be an excellent barista and pulled a few perfect shots on his shiny 2 group Synesso. He was friendly enough to let me taste the Stumptown blend vs Counter Culture blend, the hairbender was superior, more pure chocolate and smoothness indeed. The macchiato was also well made. Having looked at the great assortment of Counter Culture bags they had to offer I bought an Ethiopian and a Costa Rican single origin. Peter told me he was practicing for the West Coast Barista competition, I wish him the best of luck. A friendly shop in an artistic setting.

Joe, the art of coffee expanded to 4 new locations. I’ve been to the 13th street location (between univ. pl. and 5th ave) where I went 2 years ago. Not much had changed, which is all right, I found that the cups at that time were exellent. Except I now have a better basis for comparison, having sipped excellent espresso at Caffenation during the last years AND paying attention for a change. They work with a roaster called the Barrington Roasting Company and offered only a few blends and 1 single origin, the lack of specialized beans made me think that they were slacking lately. The machines were also behind on the competition, the 2nd store I went to in the Alessi shop in Soho (on Greene st.) used old grinders and obscure Italian machinery. Now I must rate them just above par, the waiting line was also gone this time around….

Time to go to Chelsea where Café Grumpy (w. 20th street between 7th and 8th ave.) awaited me. Rob told me about the place too many times so I HAD to go there. Glad I did! First of all when you enter the space you’ll notice the large Synesso machine, what a beauty. They use beans roasted by Novo, and also Intelligentsia single origins on the Clover setup. Yes the Clover setup, 2 pimpin’ Clovers for each bean seperately, I guess to increase purity, madness. The espresso, or should I say, ristretto, had good chocolate and roundness. The Rwanda Zirikana from the Byumba Province on the Clover had brown sugar, earthy notes and dark fruit in it. The Bolivia Anjilanaka, Caranavi was pleasantly acidic and a light spicyness.

Wandering through the Lower East Side I stumbled onto “The Roasting Plant” (81 Orchard st.). This was completely by accident and wasn’t on any of my maps, but fresh roasted coffee was in the air, completely hypnotized I stumbled in. The place was small, they could fit about 3 tables. The main attraction is the roasting machine, it’s based on the same principle as the I-roast or my Gene café roaster, hot air does the trick. I ordered a Yirgacheffe, the “barista” typed in my order and instantly the beans were literally flying over my head in a tube system, wow, this concept tries to kick it up a notch, this gives birth to the phrase: roast on demand. Sadly I was disappointed that it was made by automated machines. This came through on the palate, a bit flat and underextracted. The machine is of course not as adaptable as a good barista, it can’t guess the good temping pressure, it can’t determine the good roasting time, grind or water temperature. Rob did a post on this a few weeks ago on this blog, check it out.

At the end of my trip I decided to 2 more stops. In New York Magazine I saw that a new espresso bar was opening in the east village. Abraço is an incredibly small shop (located on 7th street near 1st ave.) full of southern European influences, noticeable trough the Italian sodas, cookies, and yummy churros. The espresso was excellent, tough I forgot which beans they used…

Lastly I took the train to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to see what the hype was about “El Beit” another hyper new coffee bar. Peter, the barista at everyman insisted that I visit the place. He couldn’t be more right. El Beit was full of young energy, the place had Anfim grinders, clovers the newest Marzocco’s and used a whole range of Counter Culture beans. I tasted a few single origins on the clover from Peru and Costa Rica which blew me away, incredible clean tastes.

A very common sight was the large usage of naked portafilters in the 3rd wave bars, most of them had triple gaskets and the baristas pulled triple ristrettos with them. This goes good with big milk drinks as it accentuates all sorts of spices and chocolates, but as espresso it can be harsh. Espresso needs more breathing space to develop fruity, acidic and flowery aroma’s in my opinion. I probably missed some but I think this is a good overview of what the city has to offer. Any recommendations or comments? Please click below.

Article written by Jazzy Jeff, april 2008.

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