There’s never really a BAD time to drink a really good cup of coffee, in our opinion, especially if said coffee is paired with a really good pastry of some sort. But as the New York City winter kicks in–the REAL, holidays-are-over winter–a hot shot or three of caffeine, prepared with love, is a particularly welcome complement to our day. Especially on the winter weekends, it seems, when we have a little extra time to savor: we love to take a break from our walking-around adventures, and sit somewhere warm, and re-energize.
Although New York City is not really known as a hardcore coffee town (like, say, Seattle), we are catching up, with several new and newish coffee house that put as much care and attention into their beans as any demanding New Yorker would, um… demand. Below, then, and for various reasons, are our current five favorite cups of coffee, places for which we will walk blocks (and blocks) out of our way.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Although there have been incursions into New York City from these Portland, Oregon, coffee fanatics before, last fall’s opening of this handsome, no-nonsense caffeine bar off the lobby of the Ace Hotel is the first full-fledged Stumptown Coffee Roasters on the East Coast. And what a beauty she is. The coffee, no surprise, is superb: freshly roasted, freshly ground, freshly pulled by good-looking, mostly mustaschioed young baristas in ties and vests and vintage-y hats. And the accompanying baked goods–both sweet and savory–are outstanding, the best we’ve had at any coffee house in the city… which isn’t much of a surprise, really, as most of them come right from the kitchen of the excellent Breslin restaurant, also off the lobby of the Ace. Stumptown is located on a somewhat dreary stretch of town, on 29th Street, just east of Broadway, but the brew is so good here it’s almost a destination coffee house, especially if you carry your mug and treats into the fabulous Ace Hotel lobby, and kick back in one of their big, overstuffed chairs.
Like Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy takes its coffee seriously. They roast their single-origin beans on premises here, grind exactly enough for the cup you’ve just ordered, then brew it in their fabulously expensive Clover machines. The pastry selection is minimal, but well-sourced from local purveyors, and everything we’ve ever tried has been exactly right as an accompaniment to the main show, the mug in front of you. Sure, the ambiance is more than a little austere, but this is not a place to spend an afternoon Googling yourself, or goofing on Facebook; in fact, laptops aren’t allowed at the Park Slope outpost. Cafe Grumpy is a place to grab a cup of exceptional coffee, to stay or to go, and get on with your day feeling a whole lot better than you did ten minutes ago.
Joe the Art of Coffee
Joe the Art of Coffee encourages sticking around and reading or chatting or doing whatever on your laptop at all of their five full-blown locations. In fact, Joe is so comfortable that it can be difficult, during peak hanging-out hours, to get a seat amidst the lingerers. But whether in the West Village, Chelsea, Grand Central, near Union Square, or on the Upper West Side, they never forget their primary purpose: the Art of Coffee. How to source it, roast it, pull it, serve it with a smile. The treats are perhaps the weakest link here–the $1.75 cookies are tiny and just OK–but this is definitely our go-to spot for to-go caffeine in certain parts of town.
The hippie coffee shop is alive and more than well in the East Village, at Mudspot, a part of the psychedelic two-pronged coffee attack that also includes the can’t-miss-it bright orange Mud Truck. From the drippy signage to the ’60s music to the serviceable granola-y menu to the "secret garden" out back to the infectious laid-back vibe, Mud is a great place to chill and chat and munch out with friends if you’re in a certain sort of mood. If not, the take-out cups of Mud’s fresh-brewed, either from cafe or the truck, are first-rate and, as far as we’re concerned, certainly a step-up from any of the chains, Starbucks included, that have taken over the town.
The Roasting Plant
Yes, it’s gimmicky, but it’s still pretty cool. When you order a coffee at the Roasting Plant, at either the West Village or Lower East Side locations, the barista will summon your cup’s-worth of freshly roasted beans from large cylinders lining the walls, and said beans will shoots through the so-called Javabot’s network of transparent pneumatic tubes–making a rattling racket along the way–and into the grinder behind the counter. The coffee gets pulled and frothed, etc., in regular fashion, and it’s a very good cup of the stuff, no doubt about it (the baked goodies are more like baked passables). But, in truth, it’s mostly the Javabot that keep us coming back.