I Am Coffee

The I Am Coffee logo on St Mark's Place, New York CityNormally I do my research when trying a Coffee Spot for the first time, but every so often I walk past somewhere and that’s enough for me. So it was with I Am Coffee: I was actually en-route to another Coffee Spot when I saw it while walking down St Mark’s Place (in case you’re wondering, St Mark’s Place is what E 8thSt is called for the three blocks between 3rd Avenue and Tompkins Square; I thought only us Brits did that with our street names!).

The first thing to catch my eye was the sign: calling your coffee shop “I Am Coffee” is enough to get my attention any day. It’s a bit of a challenge, really. Choosing “I Am Coffee” means you either have a hell of a lot of front, or you really know about coffee. Fortunately, Giovanni, the man behind I Am Coffee, knows about coffee. I mean, he REALLY knows about coffee.

Standing in I Am Coffee and talking with Giovanni was the coffee highlight of my time in NYC on the recent trip and that’s not counting the coffee, or the place itself. It’s a must visit!

March 2015: Bad news. On my return to New York in 2015, I found that I Am Coffee is closed, the shop shut up and everything gone…

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On St Marks Place (a street, by the way), a sign caught my eye. It was a challenge, really.
  • Everything in I Am Coffee is artisan-made. And the artisans all get name-checked, along with their picture. Here's Chef Bassano Vailati, the man behind the Hot Chocolate.
  • Even the coffee gets name-checked in the street!
  • Up the stairs, I Am Coffee is on the left. A little menu at the top tells you what's what.
  • The menu in detail.
  • Above the sliding glass door is a row of bags of coffee beans
  • Inside, it's tricky to photograph and space is at a premium! As a result, everything is kept on shelves on the walls.
  • The shelves run right up to the ceiling: even Giovanni isn't tall enough to reach the top!
  • Instead, he uses this ingenius grab to get things down...
  • As I said, everyone gets name-checked. This is Manuel, who roasts the coffee in Italy.
  • And this is Quirico, whose recipe is used for the pastries.
  • There's even an in-house newspaper with articles about all the artisans. This is Giovanni, flanked by his brother and uncle.
  • So, onto the coffee, courtesy of the menu on the wall at the back of I Am Coffee.
  • Giovanni has a specially-crafted espresso machine, a refurbished E61, to deliver just the right pressure profile. He also has a lever machine which gives a pressure spike and hence delivers a different extraction, but has no space for it!
  • And the result: the espresso was good, but the presentation might be the best I've had!
  • Over at the brew-bar, there are a series of V60s. Here Giovanni is making a naturally-low caffeine coffee for me and using my own travel mug.
  • Giovanni prepares a pour-over for another customer.
  • There's also an aeropress option, although I didn't see it in action.
  • Next up came a cappucino; here Giovanni carefully pours in the milk. Giovanni's cappucino hails from Italy and is very unlike the American 'cappucino'.
  • In many ways it is closer to a flat white. No latte art for Giovanni though! Milk and coffee definitely separate in this one :-)
  • A finished (as in drunk, as in consumed) cappucino!
  • The milk is steamed to order, with just the right amount being used. Here Giovanni has prepared a jug of milk for two cappucinos to go.
  • Two shots are poured from the espresso machine.
  • And two cups await the coffee. I do like the branding on the cups.
  • If you want chocolate on top, fresh chocolate is grated onto your drink there & then!
  • I tried Giovanni's signature drink, a Shakerato: ice & espresso mixed in a cocktail shaker.
  • This is shaken up for just the right amount of time before being poured out.
  • Almost there...
  • The result is quite amazing: forget your iced-lattes and the like. This is the real deal!
  • Espresso at the bottom, iced espresso-froth on top.
  • The cocktail shaker and the Shakerato as the bubbles slowly burst...
  • This was the last one I had. I was getting punch-drunk by then and might have got the name wrong. A marocchino? Anyway, you start by coating a cup with grated chocolate...
  • Then fill it up with coffee, milk & more chocolate on the top. Beautifully presented as ever!
  • I liked I Am Coffee so much that I came back next year (2014). As you can see, not a lot had changed. The coffee is still beautifully presented.
  • The beautiful espresso machine is still there...
  • ... as is the brew-bar.
  • The menu is much the same, although it's a bit fancier now. It's even got pictures!
  • The main difference is back in Italy, where I Am Coffee has bought the roastery!
  • I leave you with one of the few new additions: a beautiful model of I Am Coffee :-)
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Calling your coffee shop “I Am Coffee” throws down a challenge, but it’s one which the owner, the delightful Giovanni, rises to with grace and charm. It runs in the family mind. His brother and uncle run “I Am Wine”!

The first thing to say is that I Am Coffee is going to win the 2013 Smallest Coffee Spot Award hands down. It’s mid-April and I can say this with absolute confidence: no-one is going to beat this. Seriously. I Am Coffee is tiny: it makes places such as Manchester’s Caffeine & Co seem palatial in comparison.  In all, the floor space is 65 square feet. Without exaggeration, I could stand in the middle and touch both walls with arms outstretched. It’s not much longer and, bizarrely, is taller than it is long. Giovanni had to fight with the landlord to let him have the space because the landlord wouldn’t accept that Giovanni could even fit a coffee shop into the space, let alone make it pay. The architect who designed the shop, Beppe Riboli, from Cremona, Italy, should win a prize!

I Am Coffee is up a long flight of steps a little set back from the street and fits perfectly into a little niche on the left-hand side of what could generously described as a large porch. There’s a sliding glass door, which Giovanni likes to keep open if it’s not too cold and inside is a counter with room for a cake display, brew bar, hot chocolate dispenser, grinder and espresso machine. Everything else is stored on a series of ingenious shelves on the bare brick wall at the back that reach all the way up to the ceiling.

Giovanni and Katerina stand behind the counter, while there is room for perhaps five customers to stand on the other side, enjoying their coffee. You would think that I Am Coffee was made for takeaway sales only, but Giovanni begs to differ. Everything can be served in proper cups, while Giovanni likes nothing better than to stand and chat with his customers.

Everything in I Am Coffee is artisan-made; the cake, for example, is made in friend’s restaurant kitchen to a recipe by Quirico “Chicco” Lucherini, also from Cremona, while the coffee is roasted by Manuel Terzi.

I Am Coffee opened at the end of 2012 after two years of intensive research and nothing has been left to chance, with painstaking planning going into every aspect of the place. Giovanni hails from just outside Venice and, in preparation for opening I Am Coffee, went back to roots of coffee making, seeking out experts in each different type of coffee and learning how to make it. Every coffee is different and, according to Giovanni, has different requirements. I started with an espresso; I was going to try something else, but the two customers had just finished their espressos and I was struck by their dinky cups. I know, I am easily swayed!

Then I got talking to Giovanni and he started making me coffee. And more coffee! And more coffee! I think I came close to dying from caffeine poisoning that day! Take a look at the gallery to see what I had and then pay a visit to I Am Coffee. It’s worth it!

March 2014: You can also see what I found when I returned to I Am Coffee almost exactly a year after my first visit.

9 SAINT MARKS PLACE • NEW YORK • NY 10003 • USA
www.facebook.com/iamcoffeenyc +1 917 826 1174
Monday 08:00 – 20:00 Seating No
Tuesday 08:00 – 20:00 Food Cake
Wednesday 08:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Thursday 08:00 – 20:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa, PayPal
Friday 08:00 – 20:00 Wifi No
Saturday 08:00 – 20:00 Power No
Sunday 10:00 – 19:00 Mobile N/A
Chain No Visits Original: 10th March 2013
Update: 12th March 2014

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City for more great Coffee Spots.


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24 thoughts on “I Am Coffee

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