This will seem totally counter intuitive to my West Coast friends, but New York City has never been a real coffee town. In fact, the worst coffee I’ve ever tasted was served in the city, and still is, in thousands of delis and restaurants all across Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Until recently, Starbucks represented the apex of coffee consumption to an average New Yorker (I understand that you are not average).
Things are changing! New York’s Coffee Revolution is under way and quickly gaining momentum. The Times recently ran an article about the long overdue sea change that’s occurring in the city: New York is Finally Taking Its Coffee Seriously.
The first day of spring was a perfectly gorgeous one for embarking on a mini tour of New York’s blossoming coffee culture. We began at Frankie’s 457 in Brooklyn, where a simple breakfast with a coffee beverage for four ran over $100. The americano was a disappointment, the cappuccino and latte were pretty good, and the bacon was great. From Frankie’s we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan to sample the goods at Third Rail, where we shared an iced coffee and a latte in nearby Washington Square Park. The iced coffee was much needed refreshment and the latte was excellent. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I’ve never had a latte that good in Portland (the issue will be addressed in due time). From the park, we strolled east to Abraco, where it was clear from the line outside that New Yorkers were on to something good. We ordered only the obligatory litmus latte with an olive cookie and a slice of olive oil cake. And there I found a perfect combination: the latte was terrific, and paired with the salty sweet crumbly crumb of Abraco’s shortbread cookie with Kalamata olives cooked into it…oh man, time for a happy food dance! Okay, at this point I am deeply perplexed by the difference between the last two lattes I consumed in comparison with just about every other latte I’ve had before. The New York lattes were above and beyond – the coffee was incredibly deep and rich and strong, but perfectly balanced without a hint of bitterness. The microfoam didn’t disappear after a few sips…no! Each quaff, down to the bottom of the cup incorporated a bit of buttery milk froth (my concept of Portland is undergoing a paradigm shift and it hurts a little). We were pretty buzzed after Abraco, but we’d planned to hit five different coffee cafés and had only done three so far. Bluebird was just a few blocks down the avenue, so on we marched. There we ordered an espresso and a latte, of course. I found the espresso undrinkable. It looked and tasted a little like a wee cup of soy sauce. Too strong for me. But the latte was…awesome! Again! What the?! We’d had more than enough coffee by that point, and my head was reeling for other reasons.
People, questions have been raised and I need answers! Could it be possible that New York’s coffee culture, still in its infancy, has already come to rival and in some cases, surpass that of the Pacific Northwest’s? What is this blasphemy?! I shall seek the truth; to heck with my coffee bean allergy. I am a scientist after all. Or I was.