Baristas worth every bean

It has taken a long time but at last you can find great coffee in New York City, writes Monica Glare.

Trying to get a decent cappuccino, latte or macchiato in New York City is no easy task. It is either too weak or too strong, too hot, too bitter, or the milk is too foamy. Having thrown away more coffees than I've sipped since moving to New York six months ago, I made it my mission to find a good one. I finally found a few cafes making espresso that would make any Australian barista proud. Even better, they also happen to be located in some great neighbourhoods.

New Yorkers and coffee go back to 1696, when the first coffee house opened in the Financial District. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Americans felt a patriotic duty to drink copious amounts of coffee.

Next, waves of Italian migrants at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century had their influence.

Then, in the 1950s, the young bohemian, anti-establishment poets and writers known as the Beat Generation met in coffee houses to write, philosophise, drink coffee and smoke marijuana.

But despite the long association, New York coffee has somehow morphed into the diner style: brewed, flavourless and ready to be poured into 12-ounce (350 millilitres), 16- or 20-ounce cups starting at $US1.75 ($2.16).

Since 2000, a number of new cafes dedicated to espresso coffee have opened in Manhattan, indicating a growing demand for good coffee. Many of the newcomers hail from the west coast, which for many years has had a strong tradition of coffee and the cafe culture.

But be aware that they tend to make it on the strong side. Most of these cafes use a double shot of espresso (14-20+ grams), whereas in Australia the standard cappuccino is made with a single shot (eight to nine grams). In most of the cafes listed you can ask for a single shot in an eight-ounce cup, giving a similar strength to that in Australia, but expect to pay $US3.50-$US4.



La Colombe, 319 Church Street Here you'll find the best coffee in New York. The first thing to hit you when you walk in the door is the aroma of freshly ground coffee. Exposed brick walls, low-hanging lights and minimalist decor give the cafe a raw industrial feel that reflects its TriBeCa location. On the walls are some great photos of Naples taken by the owner, who is also a part-time photographer.

Sit by huge windows and watch passers-by on busy Church Street or read the cafe's copy of The New York Times. You can even order a flat white a drink not generally known in New York and the staff say they have Australian and New Zealand regulars who come in for their daily cup. The rest of the clientele are a mix of TriBeCa art-house locals, tourists from nearby China Town and street vendors from Senegal who come in for cappuccinos, peppermint tea and pastries. A second location has just opened in SoHo at 270 Lafayette Street.

Greenwich Village

Jack's Stir Brew Coffee, 138 West 10th Street This nostalgic cafe in Greenwich Village re-creates the coffee house scene of the Beat Generation era with '50s memorabilia, old car number plates, rustic tables, a long narrow bench and plenty of reading material filling the tiny space. The cafe also induces a faux sense of the country, with milk from the Hudson Valley and apples for sale from upstate New York. They do their own coffee creations local favourites with names such as Mad Max (coffee with a shot of espresso), Half Lou (half decaf , half regular) or Dirty Harry (triple ristretto, steamed soy milk and vanilla). Luckily they also do a great regular cappuccino.

West Village

Joe, 141 Waverly Place Another intimate cafe, hidden in the labrynthine West Village streets, Joe is popular with the thirtysomething crowd. The yellow Laminex table tops, exposed brick wall and raw wooden floors give an authentic bohemian vibe. The cafe is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by on trendy Waverly Place. The coffee is excellent and they also sell pastries, cookies and "I love Joe" T-shirts and mugs.


Think Coffee, 1 Bleecker Street Raw unpolished floorboards, huge wooden beams, blackboard coffee menus and marble-top tables make for a French cafe-meets-hippie feel at this new cafe-wine bar. The coffee is Fairtrade and even the milk comes from hormone- and antibiotic-free cows and is pasteurised locally in the Catskills. It's the sister store to Think Coffee in the Village (248 Mercer Street) and people sit around sipping coffee while working on their laptops, reading, studying or playing Scrabble. Staff serve breakfast until 11am, then it's soups or the cafe's special: grilled cheese sandwiches.


Gimme! Coffee, 228 Mott Street Located in the heart of NoLita, with its boutiques and chic cafes, a La Marzocco coffee machine gleams with pride at this "we take coffee seriously" cafe. It's standing room only at this hip establishment, unless it's summer and you're lucky enough to score the one bench outside.

East Village

Abraco Espresso, 86 E. 7th Street This Melbourne-style hole-in-the-wall cafe has enjoyed good reviews since it opened in 2007. It is tiny and has no seating; instead, you lean on the bar or stand in the street. A cappuccino is made with a double shot but the barista will happily oblige and do a single shot. East Village, once the home of Irish and Eastern European migrants, now is the hub of the New York fringe culture scene, inhabited by artists, musicians and students.


71 Irving Place Coffee & Tea Bar, 71 Irving Place This atmospheric cafe with its mood lighting and French bistro-style chairs has lots of 1850s Gramercy charm. The cafe caters to the American penchant for fancy drinks and coffee concoctions, with 15 different hot drinks in three different sizes. When the woman in front of me ordered an iced, soy, skim, caramel latte, my expectations for a good coffee were not terribly high. But the sampled cappuccino was actually a nice, mellow brew and went well with the freshest croissant from the Balthazar Bakery in SoHo. They serve great sandwiches, soups and waffles, too.