Ninth Street Espresso (9th & 10th St)

The window of Ninth Street Espresso, disconcertingly on 10th Street and Tompkins SquareNinth Street Espresso has been around since 2001, making it something of an established player in New York’s speciality coffee market compared to newcomers such as Pushcart Coffee where I’d started my day.  I tried two branches, the original on 9th Street in Alphabet City and the East Village branch just two blocks away on 10th Street/Tompkins Square.

In theory I should have liked Tompkins Square as much as I liked 9th Street. However, I didn’t. On such small things hang the status of a Coffee Spot, although in fairness to Tompkins Square, the reasons I didn’t get on with it were very much specific to that visit.

In both branches, the focus is firmly on the coffee, which is excellent, while what’s on offer is very typical for an American coffee shop. Although Tompkins Square has seating, it’s set up more for takeaway trade, while 9th Street is much more the place to linger for an hour or two. They’re a little off the beaten (tourist) track in the East Village/Alphabet City area, but if you happen to be in the vicinity, both branches are worth visiting.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

Both branches of Ninth Street Espresso have almost identical offerings when it comes to coffee: urn brew, espresso and Chemex to order. There’s also tea (green, black, oolong or peppermint) and a limited range of cookies, scones and pastries. You can also buy Ninth Street’s beans, chemex filters, cafetieres and Ninth Street branded mugs.

Ninth Street serves its coffee by size rather than name, something which is becoming increasingly popular and which I really like. The choice is espresso or espresso with milk, the latter coming in four sizes: 3oz, 6oz, 9oz and 12oz. Quite how these match up with a cortado (piccolo), flat white, latte and cappuccino is the subject of an article in itself (which I will one day write). I hesitate to simply say that cortado = 3oz, flat white = 6oz and so on because people will argue about ratios of foam to hot milk and frankly life’s too short for that sort of thing.

However, the coffee is where the similarities end. Although both the branches are obviously Ninth Street Espresso, the two spaces are very different. Tompkins Square is long and thin, with a small window at the front and the counter at the back. There’s a bar along the right hand wall, which extends to the window, and a bench on the other side. In all there are 11 seats and maybe space for six on the bench. The wooden floors and whitewashed brick walls looked lovely in the sunlight which was streaming in through the south-facing window while I was there. However, it’s not ideal for sitting for any length of time with a laptop.

In this respect, the 9th Street branch is much better. It’s maybe two to three times the size and almost square in layout, with much bigger windows, although these face north, so it’s not nearly as bright inside. However, there are plenty of tables (10 two-seat tables in all) and space for another 10 at three bars around the place, including one in the window. It too has whitewashed walls, but with a concrete floor.

There were three things that put me off Tompkins Square and they were all very specific to my visit. First of all, there was no obvious restroom and I was bursting. Secondly, while both have free wifi, the very low bandwidth at Tompkins Square made it practically unusable. In contrast, 9th Street’s wifi was great. Third, and perhaps most important of all, was the music.  I didn’t like what was being played at Tompkins Square, and it was loud enough that I couldn’t ignore it/tune it out. Once music I don’t like gets in my head, it pretty much kills a place for me. In contrast, 9th Street was playing jazz (which I liked) and country music (which I didn’t) but at a level that wasn’t too intrusive.

When all’s said and done, the coffee at both branches was excellent and on another day I suspect that I’d find the Tompkins Square branch very much to my tastes, although I’m not sure it’s somewhere to linger for too long. In contrast, the original store on 9th Street is an excellent neighbourhood coffee shop, the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon.

700 EAST 9TH ST / 341 EAST 10TH ST • NEW YORK CITY • NY 10009 • USA
www.ninthstreetespresso.com +1 212 358 9225/+1 212 777 3508
Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Tables (9th Street only), Bar, Benches outside
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Pastries, Cookies
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Cards Amex, Visa, Mastercard
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Saturday 07:00 – 20:00 Power No
Sunday 07:00 – 20:00 Mobile N/A
Chain Local Visits 9th March 2013

Liked this? Then check out the rest of New York City’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City.


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