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Intelligentsia Coffee Expands Empire to NYC

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[Photo: Liz Clayton]

Intelligentsia Coffee, no longer content with strongholds on the West and Middle coasts, opened its eighth coffee bar this week in New York City's High Line Hotel, finally heralding a flagship NYC location for the Chicago-based specialty roaster, along with new pourover methods and a custom built espresso machine. Though plans for a large amount of outdoor seating in front and back are yet to come to life, the coffee shop is meant to echo the blurred outside/inside lines of the chain's Los Angeles cafes—and will in that way be very un-New York.

Though the coffee chain's entrance into the NYC market is a long time coming, many expected it to be more of a grand retail spectacle, like the company's Venice, CA location—a store built on revolutionary promises of one-on-one barista attention and individualized espresso "pods". (Think micro-cafes, rather than K-cup, here.) But the coffee bar itself is, by contrast, more boutique bar than retail splash. In a way, its understated approach—and indeed, the hotel's common spaces are still largely under renovation—seems to speak to the company's confidence that the product, and the outdoor-indoor interaction with the historic hotel, will outweigh any need for conceptual theatrics.

Intelligentsia occupies a diminutive (though not by New York standards) space in the lobby of the 118-year-old High Line Hotel, which has no other bar or restaurant. The red-and-red custom colored La Marzocco Strada is joined by the company's first dedicated Kalita Wave brew bar for by-the-cup coffee—a pourover trend so far only embraced locally by Irving Farm and the Joe Pro Shop.

Intelligentsia hopes to capitalize on the continued appeal of the High Line and the food culture continuing to thrive along, and above, 10th Avenue, but is also part of a larger year of expansion for the growing roaster. New York City is the second of five new locations the company will open in 2013, a rapid expansion in the wake of dramatic reorganizations of the last two years, which saw much internal realignment as the company edged to maintain an influential position in an increasingly saturated fancy-coffee marketplace.

Though many of the roaster's coffees have been long available at NYC cafes like Third Rail, Joe, and Kaffe 1668, the new location will be the first time the entire coffee roster will be available in New York at the same time, including the return of the popular Guatemala La Maravilla, which debuts exclusively in NYC for this week. Maravilla will accompany an extensive list of seasonal Central American coffees—expanded sourcing roles in the company have led to the ability to buy more seasonal coffees faster—along with further-flung origins like Zambia and Sulawesi.

But will another new cafe make a New York difference? It might, for those who've long sought out the brand. Like Stumptown's stronghold in the Ace Hotel, the cafe's ability to expand into the common areas of the High Line Hotel will make or break its success. And with front and back gardens and a coffee service til midnight with beer and wine? That walk to 10th Avenue might just seem a little shorter than it used to.

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.

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