Photos and article by Lee Havlicek.
[Editor's Note. On our trips to New York, we artisanal coffee-obsessed West Coasters have noticed that New York appears to be a little under-obsessed with coffee. Or is that actually the case? Do they just fuss less? Or fuss differently? New Yorker Lee Havlicek sets us straight.]
Lately, more and more places are throwing around words like artisanal, local, sustainable, and “We roast our own beans!” Don’t be taken in by these labels. They do not necessarily a great cup make—or a great experience, for that matter.
But when they’re taken seriously by people who truly care about the process and product, who’ve studied coffee from bean to pour, who’ve honed all of it as their craft, and who go so far as to care as much about creating the perfect environment as creating the perfect cup, something magical happens.
In this sea of caffeinated confusion, where can we turn? Here are 10 places to start in NYC.
275 Greenwich Street
The sparse, almost industrial aesthetic of the Swedish Kaffe 1668 is balanced by bright pops of color, warm candlelight, plenty of wood, and sheep decorations (you’ll have to go see for yourself). With a low-key, European feel and enough room not be in on everyone else’s conversations, this is the perfect place for a calm respite from the day.
Stick around and regroup for a while by quietly enjoying an espresso in one of the most beautiful cups in town while munching on homemade Swedish meatballs, baked goods, and more.
700 East 9th Street
Ninth Street Espresso has a few locations, but the café on East 9th Street is something really special. From floor to ceiling, everything is beautiful and simple. The space seems just the right size—not huge or cramped, but airy and wide with a bright front window spanning the whole length, making the shop open and welcoming. The menu here is small and made up entirely of handcrafted espresso and brewed coffee drinks. The uncomplicated selection sets the tone and intention of Ninth Street: purity and quality in an easy-going atmosphere.
136 East 13th Street
Unassumingly tucked in Classic Stage Company’s lobby, Everyman Espresso is a gem that you might walk right by and not think twice about. But if you don’t stop in, you’ll be missing out. Living up to its name, Everyman has one of the more diverse patron groups that you’ll find, creating a fantastic energy and sense of community.
At any given time, you’ll find this spirited spot filled with actors and theater-goers, but also neighbors, business people, travelers, and people from all over the city. With the vibrant mix, Counter Culture Coffee in their grinders, local milk in their fridge, and a tantalizing assortment of confections and snacks to grace their counter, anything Everyman is lacking in its own personal style (it is, after all, in a lobby), it more than makes up for in coffee, goodies, and personality.
182 Allen Street
Another Swedish coffee shop, but with a totally different feel. Konditori’s aesthetic is an eclectic mix of the ruggedly natural, the vintage, and a modern Swedish sensibility. The sparsely decorated little space has a glass front, which keeps it from feeling too small but also means that when you walk by, the wall of Swedish pastries will certainly catch your attention.
Their Swedish roast coffee is distinctive and addictive, but their dark roast brewed coffee and espresso are just as good. Don’t leave without a little something sweet and Swedish to go with your coffee.
86 East 7th Street
Of all the small coffee places in New York, this may be the tiniest. There’s no room for tables or chairs, just a little standing room and a small window ledge to rest a cup and a plate. The juice is well worth the squeeze, though, and in this case the squeeze is some outstanding coffee and some unbelievable food. There’s not much room for décor, but Abraço’s neon sign is all the signature it needs.
The impossibly small kitchen produces excellent, strong coffee using Counter Culture beans, as well as some of the greatest food you’ll ever find in a coffee shop. Everything from pastries to sandwiches to small plates is made in-house, each laced with twists of unexpected flavors and textures. The menu changes daily, so don’t get too attached, but our guess is you won’t be disappointed with whatever new offerings you find on your next visit.
240 Sullivan Street
Third Rail Coffee is a quintessentially New York scene. Writers, students, and regulars are always packing in, side by side, having animated conversations over casually incredible cups of joe. The design is simple and cozy, with constantly changing photography shows hung on the exposed brick walls. Third Rail regulars are loyal to the core and after one visit, you’ll understand why. Since Third Rail uses a variety of roasters, there’s always something interesting and a little different to be had. Be sure to ask if there’s anything particularly exciting that you should try when you go. The staff will be more than happy to chat.
514 Columbus Avenue
Plain and simple, like its name, Joe is absolutely one of the best cups of coffee in town. This family-owned company’s full name is Joe: The Art of Coffee and they certainly have created an art all their own, while embodying the epitome of the neighborhood coffee joint. If you like your coffee without bitterness, weird aftertastes, or unnecessary frills, head to any one of Joe’s eight Manhattan locations. Make sure to check out their local treat selection while you’re at it. If you’re lucky, you may arrive before one of the best coffee accompaniments in the world, Doughnut Plant doughnuts, sell out.
224 West 79th Street
At Irving Farm’s Upper West Side location, the bustling, homey front room gives way to a quieter back area with a high ceiling, a skylight, and a romantically lit nook tucked away to one side. A beautiful, large communal wooden table near the door is one of the best features and a great place to sit if you’re hoping to run into friends. A mix of warm light from vintage-design light bulbs in some areas and bright natural light in others creates perfect work and conversation areas, depending on your mood.
Exquisite touches such as exposed brick and wood paneled walls throughout, a custom wood-paneled espresso machine, and beautiful display case for some of the best locally made baked goods around pull the whole aesthetic together. The design would steal the show if the drinks and food weren’t so good. One conversation with the knowledgeable staff and you’ll discover that everything edible was as thoughtfully selected as the décor. Coffee beans are roasted by Irving at their Hudson Valley location and all bakery and as many ingredients as possible are locally sourced for the foamiest steamed milk, the freshest eggs, and the most wonderful bread.
224 West 20th Street
With a memorable name, a charming storefront, and a friendly staff, you’d already be hard-pressed not to head to Café Grumpy on a regular basis, whether or not it’s actually in your neighborhood. But add their coffee, espresso, and baked goods to the deal and it’s sealed. Grumpy’s locally roasts their beans, an impressive, ever-changing global selection, making them some of the freshest around. A hands-on approach to coffee, both roasting and brewing (pour-over coffee is the method of choice), and baking (everything is made at the Café Grumpy Bakery on the Lower East Side), means that quality is high and reliable. When the weather’s warm, head to the garden out back.
450 West 15th Street
This Oakland, California transplant has a long-running reputation as some of the best coffee around. Always striving to create the finest, freshest coffee, Bluebottle has roasting plants outfitted with vintage roasting equipment on both coasts. This makes it possible for them to pledge that their coffee will never be more than 48 hours old, post-roast. Only organic, shade-grown beans are used and they’re always bagged in environmentally friendly compostable packaging.
Bluebottle has always been on top of the best and latest brewing methods. At their Chelsea location, pour-over coffee is the name of the game. The high ceilings, glass storefront, light wood and white interior, and minimalist style give the small shop a spacious feel. When you sit down with your flawless cup of coffee, be sure to order one of their unique and incredible pastries from the Blue Bottle Pastry Kitchen to go with it. All ingredients are local, sustainable, and organic.
All photos by Lee Havlicek.