There's nothing quite like the agonizing pleasure of shopping to make a cup of coffee sound that much more wonderful, or even like the only thing left that could possibly keep you alive. Rather than settling for the nearest chain-store swill (and bumping seasonal gift totes with all the sheeplike masses), why not search out one of the city's finer coffee establishments to break for that most appreciated cup of quality coffee, espresso, tea, or hot chocolate?
Some of them even have bathrooms and chairs for you to enjoy while you decompress from your pre- or mid-holiday meltdown. And don't forget, you can always buy coffee and coffee gear as part of your giftmongering, too! Here are a few of our top recommendations, by district.
Union Square Holiday Market
Toby's Estate Pop-Up
Pop up from the Union Square subway train in just the right location and you'll be in front of Toby's Estate's own pop-up: a seasonal booth serving hot coffee drinks in the heart of the Union Square Holiday Market. This particular candy-striped tent offers handcrafted coffee and espresso drinks alongside a handful of worthy gift choices for any coffee-lover (the Espro Press, Hario pourover gear, some books and trinkets) as well as bags of whole-bean coffee from Toby's own roastery in nearby Williamsburg. A welcome pause amid the cold-weather chaos. No particular place to sit, but you are certainly welcome to enjoy the park's public bathrooms during the hours they are open. (If you need great coffee and a place to sit indoors a little longer, may we recommend you head round 13th Street to Joe or Everyman. Those also have bathrooms.)
Culture Espresso Bar
What seemed at first like an unlikely location for a fabulous espresso bar has become the bustle of West 38th Street, a packed house of coffee lovers clamoring for room at the rough wooden central table, or stealing away in a corner for a quick meeting over one of the finer shots in midtown and self-proclaimed-famous-cookies. Serving espresso beverages from a La Marzocco Strada, enthusiastic Culture staff now pull shots of quality espressos alongside hand-poured coffes, iced Kyoto-style drip, and some fancypants sodas. A fair amount of seats and perching room, but no public bathroom.
This Soho/Nolita outpost of the always-solid Gimme! family is ever-bustling, but won't keep you lingering in line too long while you break quickly from the boutiques that surround. An ample supply of brewing gear and the company's own Ithaca-roasted beans make good shopping alongside your coffee break, but we warn that the standing-room-only spot can get a little clogged. In better news, they have a bathroom.
This wedge shaped-shop on West Broadway just below Canal Street takes cues from Scandinavian design and offers no real seats, but instead a bench-and-window-seat vibe with a serious approach to coffee. Alongside the carefully-prepared coffees from Counter Culture is a small line of artisanal, fizzed-to-order sodas from Brooklyn's P&H Soda Company, as well as cookies from Downtown Cookie Co. and doughnuts from Brooklyn's raised-and-glazed wizards, Dough. No public bathroom.
Blue Bottle Coffee
In the subterranean labyrinth of Rockefeller Center dwells a stealth Blue Bottle. Pass through a door into what opens up into a handsome, bigger-than-you-thought cafe with multiple barista stations—but don't expect to sit and linger, as there are no seats here. You'll have to take your drink into the food court, or back out under the Christmas tree. The usual Blue Bottle pourover bar and cold-brew options are the stars of the show here, alongside espresso and milk drinks made with Battenkill Valley Creamery milk. Enjoy a savory shortbread or granola with your drink, as you make your way back to the skating rink. Bathrooms available in the food court.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.