New York (downtown) Good Espresso guide
There is not much choice here in NY but the choice that you do have is really worth your while and is definitely worth visiting. The shops are really spread apart but once again, make that trip it will be worth your while. I walked everywhere to see the city but if you are on a time budget take the underground metro it will take you anywhere you want to go.
I will do top 4 shops here in NY, unfortunately that’s all they have worth mentioning. I am not being bias or lean towards any shop, I judge my shops by taste of espresso and overall ambience, maybe 90% taste 10% ambience, so here it goes …
Oh one more thing … the top 3 shops that I will list all use 21 gram baskets, so you get a ton of bricks drop on your head, the espresso is very concentrated so to more accurately break it down it might be wise to dilute it as a form of a Long Black (Americano). The enzymatic and sensory characteristics will be more clear and enjoyable.
Real winner for me was Café Grumpy (224 W 20th St.) Very small, specialized espresso shop PUMPED with the best equipment possible. They have a 3 group Synesso along side TWO 2 phase Mazzer Robur’s and a Mazzer Major got their house decaf. They push through lots of “Clover” coffee and offer 6 different single origins that they vary all the time. Ok back to the espresso. I had their house blend, which is 100% Arabica blend of 2 brazils; Daterra Estate Reserve and Fazenda Cachoiera screen dried Yellow Bourbon. It is roasted at Ecco Caffé in California. Full bodied cup, very fruity like complexity with strong dark chocolate notes and syrupy like sweetness. Not very acidic, overall well balanced with clean finish, making your palate begging for more well after 20 minutes. I loved this shop as they are constantly experimenting with different coffees through different extraction methods, they even run a free cupping session for regular customers for absolutely free. They don’t go through a large volume of espresso so baristas have time to grind on demand and consistently concentrate on every shot they pull!
When I was there they had 100% Arabica, Australian single origin coffee from Mountain Top Estate, located close to Nimbin. It is rare for anyone to get their hands on this so called “Bin 35 Espresso Blend”. The blend consists or ripe and over ripened cherries that Andrew Ford and his team carefully sort in small batches. I used this blend in my last barista competition; which was roasted by Tony D’Angelo at RIO coffee in Adelaide. Tim Wendelboe has won the barista competition in 2005 using it for his cappuccino, so this coffee has already placed itself on the world map. I guess it was good timing for me to be there as I was able to advise the baristas on best possible extraction to produce best results. The coffee was 4 days old from its roast with light oils starting to show, producing amazingly sweet, lightly acidic, full bodies coffee.
Inside the shop is very small and narrow, like I said they don’t get too busy so that might not be an issue, considering that over 50% of their customers drink “Clover” coffee, giving the espresso machine some what of a break. There are a few tables where you could sit down and enjoy your latte, they even have a small pastry section, although the selection is not great few simple cakes are on display.
In close 2nd place my rating goes to 9th Street Espresso (136 E 19th St.) Once again a very well established specialized espresso bar with best possible equipment. 3 group LaMarzocco GB-5 with a 2 phase Mazzer Robur. Their menu is very espresso specific with no fancy flavoured coffee, so no messing around there! They have 21 gram baskets with all 3 groups fitted with naked portafilters, so your single shot is a triple shot! Once again ton of bricks on your head weather you like it or not. The espresso was outstanding what seemed to be 100% Arabica roasted by Counter Culture. Sweet aromas with distinct toasty notes on the nose. Light chocolaty notes were also distinct. The palate very much reflected the smells, light chocolate, candied toasty nuts and very crisp fruity finish. Overall great complexity, great balance making a definite impression.
Inside the shop it feels really spacey and home like, there is plenty of room to sit down, the selection of pastries is not great but you could certainly get a biscotti. I was there during lunch-time and it was not very busy at all, the barista told me that they do get busy in the mornings. They clearly don’t go through a large volume or coffee, allowing the baristas to concentrate on every shot and obviously grind on demand. The selection is very straightforward, only traditional Italian espresso drinks. Unlike Café Grumpy they don’t have the “Clover” machine and don’t play around with coffee as much.
Blue Spoon (76 Chambers St.) is one of the recently opened espresso bars in NY. They use an unknown brand coffee machine and possibly a Mazzer Super Jolly, I don’t remember. The only thing they stress is their coffee beans. They use Intelligentsia’s “Black Cat espresso blend” and for many that’s a big thing. I’ve had the best of this blend in Chicago and wasn’t all that impressed by it due to its weakish, dusty profile. I had two coffees at this store, first an espresso and than a long macchiato. The espresso was pretty good a nicely extracted shot, dark in colour distinct toast and chocolate smells. On the palate coco stood out, with a dusty finish. The blend is very full bodies and might have a good portion of Kenyan AA judging by its character. I wanted to try the espresso with milk so I ordered a long macchiato. It was noticeably overextracted and not consistent as the first shot of espresso, so I was disappointed by the inconsistency. The coffee was ground on demand and made with proper techniques both times so I figured they do care and concentrate on their shots.
From memory the shop is extremely small with few tables, some snacks on display. I think they have everything going for them in the future they possibly need some better equipment, I hope they build themselves up to a high standard and compete with other espresso bars.
Joe Art of Coffee (9 E 13th St.) located few blocks down from 9th Street Espresso is worth a trip just to experience the vast difference between the two shops. They have a 3 group LaMarzocco linea with 2 Mazzer Majors. I must say I wasn’t very impressed with the espresso, it was overextracted absolutely butchered through the extraction process with pale crema. All I was tasting is rancid orange sensation and unpleasant bitter aftertaste. The shop
itself is really busy, they also struggle for space … as I walked into the shop the first thing that I saw was the tree house (pictures on the right), from what I am told it is their office and is for staff use only. The baristas were making elementary mistakes such as burning the milk, not wiping the steam wand. I think for Joe’s it’s more about quantity rather than quality. I’ve been told that in one of the other stores they make a better cup running a Synesso and Robur combination, unfortunately I didn’t make it there. I couldn't understand why they put a flat blade Major grinder in such a busy shop; I can only imagine how hot it gets. The doser was filled with coffee, for the volume of shots they were pulling the coffee would have still been reasonably fresh. I hope they don't let the coffee sit in the doser when it's not busy.