Serious Eats: Drinks
Is All New York Coffee Secretly Australian?
In New York City, we like to think of everything fabulous as truly our own. But as sophisticated coffee goes, that may be a claim we can't rightly stake. As five more Australian-bred cafes joined the already bustling antipodally inspired landscape of our five boroughs this year, oughtn't we give a little more credit where credit is due?
Though the elevation of espresso as a culture is a credit traditionally given to the Italians, and those Seattleites who followed in their wake, those who've grown fond of sleek, modern cafes focusing on exceptionally prepared espresso would do well to credit friends much, much further away: the Australians. A coffee culture so focused on excellent espresso that filter brews are still coming around as a good idea nationally, the Australian emphasis on espresso—and its influence on New York's cafe scene—can't be stated enough. (Said nation's infuence on New York's avocado toast scene, too, can't be undersold.)
Whether you're looking to find a flat white in a true Aussie tradition or simply hoping to get your lamington on on the side, we've compiled a quickstart guide to the Down-Under-infused cafes of New York City. Now bounce on over and check them out!
This five-shop chain and local roaster co-founded by New South Wales-born Chris Timbrell opened its most recent Cafe Grumpy store late this summer just south of Times Square. An Australian import who came to coffee through the restaurant world, Timbrell notes that while espresso culture has been a big part of Australia since World War II, it's also become far easier for Australians to travel to and work in the USA since 2001. "Previously they would travel to London and spends two years living in Shepherd's Bush working in a pub, more and more are now traveling to NYC, staying for a couple of years and end up working in the coffee industry—or opening their own stores," says Timbrell, who opened the first Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint in 2006 with his wife, Caroline Bell. "The influx of Australian baristas and coffee professionals has coincided with the rise of specialty coffee here in the US," said Timbrell. Very well, but can all these Australians make a proper Flat White?
"A flat white in Australia is typically served in a 6 ounce Libbey glass on a saucer, with a napkin folded around the glass for heat purposes, and with a little treat on the side," said Timbrell. "I have not seen that anywhere in NYC yet. We serve our flat whites in a standard 6 ounce cappuccino cup because all of our Libbey glassware keeps breaking and if you want something served in Libbey glassware, order a cortado."
Multiple locations: Greenpoint, Chelsea, Park Slope, Lower East Side, Times Square. cafegrumpy.com
Quickly emerging as a dose of Australia in rather underserved neighborhoods—the Financial District and Midtown East—this self-proclaimed Melbourne-influenced two-cafe chain is sure to grow. Stop into either location for a high quality coffee beverage (they use Sightglass beans, roasted somewhat closer to Australia in San Francisco) and a requisite avocado smash.
Bluestone Lane Midtown East: 805 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (map) 212-888-8848
Milk Bar and Bluebird
Both owned by Australian restaurateur Alex Hall and Sabrina Godfrey, these two coffee-focused outposts—Brooklyn's Milk Bar, no relation to David Chang, is more of a restaurant-cafe—deliver a distinctly service-forward experience that's sadly a little unfamiliar to native New York cafes. "My whole idea with coffee is I take the attitude out of it," says Hall.
The shops, which use Counter Culture Coffee beans, put tremendous care into both food and drink, placing emphasis on hospitality and always diminishing any notion of barista snobbery. Teensy Lower East Side spot Bluebird offers a limited menu, but larger, brunchier Milk Bar on rapidly fancifying Vanderbilt Avenue does offer mashed up avocado on toast.
An Australian chain "big" not just at home but in other style-focused places like Singapore, Toby's Estate expanded to Brooklyn in 2012 to much fanfare. Now they've opened a second New York City cafe inside...a...Club Monaco clothing store, adjacent to a lifestyle-bookstore outpost of the Strand. Now, setting aside the fact that Club Monaco is actually Canadian, the relationship makes sense. A mid-level mass market clothing store consumer who wants to pick up some fancy magazines would probably love a cup of internationally branded, thoughtfully prepared espresso.
And this shop is the total package—a clean, Manhattan-chic kitchen with an all-white-and-wood custom espresso machine and impeccable flowers (also sold adjacent). Because they're Australian, there are sandwiches, and though the menu actually lists "Flat White/Cappuccino" as only one drink, I think we've already established that no one in New York can articulate the distinction anyway.
Toby's Estate Flatiron: 160 5th Avenue, New York, 10010 (map)
Step into Little Collins—well, first try to step in, this place is crowded—and you'll immediately be overwhelmed by Australian accents. In truth, this Melbourne-inspired cafe on Lexington Ave is a magnet for displaced Aussies in search of great coffee, heck, even the mayor of Melbourne comes here!
Food and quality coffee drinks are paired thoughtfully here, with a full menu of breakfasts, salads, and sandwiches that absolutely includes avocado busted up all over some bread. Enjoy your Counter Culture-roasted coffee from the high-tech Modbar, a modular, under-counter, futuristic set of integrated brewing machines that...you guessed it...make coffee! Another example of where the Australian influence focuses on both hospitality and nourishment, your cappuccino, flat white, filter coffee or whatever you prefer will be served with an extra bit of warmth and welcome.
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 the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop., is the New York City correspondent for Sprudge.com, and contributes to other outfits worldwide.