Last week we revisited our neighborhood guides and put the spotlight back on the best of the best Manhattan cafes, but why be a borough snob? Here are our very favorite coffee establishments in Brooklyn and Queens. (Sorry, Bronx and Staten Island—we're afraid your fancy coffee time has not yet come. But if it has and I didn't realize it yet, please let me know in the comments!)
The Best Coffee in Brooklyn
Making a truly unpretentious act out of the mere idea of 'specialty coffee' is a feat and a half, and no one in New York City has done a better job of it—while doing an incredible job with their coffee—than Southside. A two-dude partnership that sees both owners constantly behind the bar, this very-neighborhood spot is makes the South Slope the luckiest coffee spot in Brooklyn, walking that perfect balance between everybody-knows-your-name and "just give me an amazing coffee and don't talk to me, it's too early." A rotating cast of super-high-quality roasters, including Counter Culture Coffee, Toby's Estate, and George Howell's Alchemy Coffee, fill out the very simple, espresso-heavy menu.
And if you're hungry and lucky, the house baker may pop over with some tiny quiches or sweet treats while you caffeinate. Consistently serving some of the city's best espresso drinks, Southside is worth the venture just a little bit further south.
Southside Coffee: 652 6th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 347-599-0887
The original location of the four store (and growing!) Cafe Grumpy, this is also their only cafe that allows laptop use, and also the only one famous for being a setting on the show Girls. So sit and linger for awhile among the study set and creative class while overlooking the cafe's carefully sourced coffees being roasted almost every day in the back room. A constantly rotating seasonal menu of coffees and friendly staff accompany the thoughtful preparation of your espresso, pourover, or no-nonsense-Fetco-brewed coffee. And the staff will be eager to talk to you as much—or as little—as you want about where your coffee came from. Creative baked goods are in-housed too.
Founder Toby Smith wanted his Northside Williamsburg outpost of this Australian chain to "have everything here working together, an approachable space and not just a coffee place." From the showpiece roaster to the cupping room, Smith and his partners see the shop as a full coffee journey, offering visitors the chance to see coffee roasted, cupped for quality assurance, and prepared in a variety of ways—Vegemite or no. The well-appointed cafe looks a bit like an artist's rendition of a bustling cafe, and it works: this place is busy all the time, whether they're there for the Flat Whites or that sunlight-drenched free wireless connection, this place indeed pulls it all together as a meeting place.
The Best Coffee in Queens
When Sweetleaf opened in a tiny, wedge-shaped Long Island City storefront back in 2008, it was one of NYC's true sleeper cafes. Great Stumptown coffee served in a super charming, but inexplicable location—even to those of us who believed the Long-Island-City-Is-Coming gospel. Fast forward to 2013 and the Sweetleaf empire has expanded to three shops: two in Long Island City and one on Williamsburg's Northside, all serving excellent coffee to nerd-exacting standards. We like best the "original" location (actually it expanded and moved over a bit from the first shop) with its picture-window bakery and factory-salvaged communal table (which doubles as the laptop quarrantine zone), just over the brige on Jackson Ave. Watch for Stumptown and Ritual beans in heavy rotation, with a little bit of everything else on the side.
The Queens Kickshaw
It seems that an artisanal coffee experience (ahem) would have come to Astoria even sooner: but The Queens Kickshaw opened in 2011, and offers Astorians a state-of-the-art espresso machine, manual brewed V60 pourovers, and a backbone of gourmet grilled cheese to seal the deal. Step into this spacious Broadway cafe and enjoy a quiet morning cup or a relaxing, sandwichy afternoon, either hidden at the big back table or partaking of classic Astoria people-watching from the front. They also serve alcohol, and dinner.
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 month.