Where to Drink Coffee in New York City: The Creme de la Crema
We've been pleased to provide you with several in-depth neighborhood guides to New York's best coffee purveyors, but now that summer's almost here, we thought we'd compile the best of the best in Manhattan as a quick-caffeination reference guide for tourists and locals alike.
This industrial-chic hideaway on Houston Street is a completely hospitable and charming place to pause for a cup of well-prepared Counter Culture Coffee. It's small—in width if not height—and focused. Enjoy a Doughnut Plant doughnut with your espresso, too, whydont'cha?
Bowery Coffee: 89 E Houston Street, New York NY 10012 (map)
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.
Is there a cuter coffee shop in all of New York City than Abraço? Is there a smaller one? This mini-sized walk-up boîte defies food service logic—smiling baristas functioning in the tiniest 7th Street confines while doling out delicious, handcrafted coffees. Oh, and there's a kitchen smashed in behind them too, whose selection of treats includes an olive (not olive oil) shortbread cookie easily in the city's very highest cookie echelons. Pair one with a cortado's perfect espresso-milk balance and enjoy at the sidewalk standing bar, or perched as out of the way you can get in the orange-neon glow of the window while you watch the neighborhood go by. Beans by Counter Culture Coffee.
Ninth Street Espresso
There is magic here in this original location of Ninth Street Espresso—in the joy of uncovering the spot-on espresso intensity and milk perfection nestled quietly (though bustlingly) under the shade of two willow-treed corners. And rest easy: for those imbibers just too lazy to walk all the way to 9th Street and Avenue C, the shop's nearest other location is just a scone's throw away at 10th and B. Both serve locally-roasted coffees from Dallis Bros. with an occasional severity that makes you just take it all the more seriously. Don't fuss with making a day (or a mealtime) of this trip, but find a space between the tattooed laptop campers to enjoy your coffee time. This place has been through many coffee changes in its position of local seniority—but never stops being a favorite.
Third Rail Coffee
A gem of a shop—and it's about the size of a large gemstone, taking up a requisite tiny amount of New York real estate—Third Rail's continued reputation for friendly service is matched only by the quality of their coffee. Which is to say, this is one of the best shops in New York City, even if you can't find anywhere to sit. Beans from Stumptown and Intelligentsia and occasional guests fill the hoppers, and the small selection of sweet and savory treats are good too. We can't wait to see their next location when it opens later this year.
The very first location of the now-basically-a-local-chain Joe Coffee is still as humble and neighborhoody as coffee shops get: and the coffee's great, too: offering beans from Intelligentsia as well as their own in-house roasted selections, this Joe's evolved over the years to include a little more room to linger (or at least make it around the table chaos to your seat) while you enjoy one of the city's longest-standing quality cafes.
Note: We're definitely aware that Stumptown is opening an "epic" cafe on West 8th Street any minute now, but it wasn't yet open at the time of this writing.
This west Chelsea branch of the bicoastal roaster is at first deceptive: sure, it's an espresso bar, like any other, right? And there's nothing up that short flight of steps and beyond the wall? Or isn't there. Stride behind the perfectly fine Blue Bottle espresso counter and enter a dimension of attentive, guided coffee service and well-considered tasting. You may start with an amuse and a marshmallow, and proceed from there through the rotating menu of coffees offered by personal syphon. There is also fancy toast.
New York's newly opened flagship location for the Chicago-based specialty roaster inhabits the historic High Line Hotel, featuring a red-and-red custom colored La Marzocco Strada and the company's first dedicated Kalita Wave brew bar for by-the-cup coffee. The coffee bar's surprisingly small, but is poised to explode into a rarely-enjoyed-in-Manhattan indoor-outdoor space when the hotel's full patio abilities are realized this summer. Look for the revered coffee purveyor to also offer beer and wine, and keep hours as late as midnight.
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. What started as a (visibly identifiable) spinoff from Brooklyn's Variety Coffee (I did like that wallpaper the first time, come to think of it) has now full come into its own. Having upgraded from the creaky machine they opened with to a state-of-the-art La Marzocco Strada, enthusiastic Culture staff now pull shots of PT's espresso from—that's right—Kansas with excellent execution, like the balanced, chestnutty shot we tried last week. Iced coffee on Kyoto dripper is available along with Valhrona cocoa, and some fancypants sodas, sandwiches, and chips—a most practical application of serving multiple urban niches that most cafes fail to do well.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
The first East Coast outpost of this legendary Pacific Northwest roaster is more than two years old now, but the new-cool sheen still hasn't worn off this brass-and-steampunk boîte adjacent to the Ace Hotel's superhip lobby. Queues for the sturdy espresso and seasonal selection of Red-Hook-roasted single origin coffees (on Chemex, or from an urn if you're rushed) often reach well around the counter and into the hotel itself, where by the way you're welcome to take your cappuccino to see and be seen while you enjoy the complimentary wifi. (There are no seats in the actual cafe.) Pastries revolve from selections by various purveyors, like the cafe's friends at Momofuku Milk Bar. Service looks fancier than it truly is—it seems they want you to remember they're are still Portland punks at heart—but it's a reliable quality coffee experience in a truly gorgeous setting.
Upper West Side
Irving Farm Coffee Roasters
This year-old location marked a turn in style for the neighborhood-centric New York State roaster, whose cafe at 71 Irving Place bears a distinct, older-Gramercy feel. By contrast, this Upper West location just off of Broadway marks a strong entry into the third-wave-look-and-feel category, featuring a La Marzocco Strada and a Kalita Wave pourover brew bar, as well as a full menu of housemade sandwiches and baked goods, as well as beer and wine. There's plenty of hospitable room in the back to sit and idle, but no wifi provided.
One of the first to bring decent coffee to the Upper West Side, Joe remains a stronghold—a very, very tiny-footprinted stronghold—in this corner of the city. Enjoy espresso and filter coffee in this nicely-near-the-park location of Joe, and wonder (as in many of this company's stores) how the staff manage to fit everything they need into such a cleverly small space.
Another tip: if you're ever lost in the city and can't find the nearest cup, there are a couple of apps—one curated by noted New York Times coffee writer Oliver Strand, and one curated by yours truly—that can help you find your way. They are the New York Times app The Scoop (look for coffee under "The Filter") and New York's Best Coffee, respectively.
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 this spring.