Regular readers will know that I have a soft-spot for Brooklyn-based, Aussie-influenced roaster/coffee-shop chain, Café Grumpy. I first came across its Chelsea branch in 2015, before discovering that its Lower East Side branch is just around the corner from my hotel on my return in 2016. On that trip, I also discovered one of Café Grumpy’s more recent branches, right in the heart of New York City in the Fashion District.
This has all the hallmarks of Café Grumpy, including its trademark no laptop policy. While you can argue with the merits or otherwise of this, Café Grumpy’s very upfront about this. The coffee offering’s the same across all branches: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, five single-origins (including a decaf) on pour-over and two more on bulk-brew. It’s also worth remembering that while now it seems that everyone on the East Coast’s offering pour-over, Café Grumpy was doing it long before it was trendy.
In terms of layout, the Fashion District branch takes the no laptop philosophy to its logical conclusion. The seating consists of two large, communal tables, plus a bench at the back. While you can sit quietly by yourself, it really is designed to promote communication!
Third Rail Coffee has been part of the New York speciality coffee scene for some time now. A chain of precisely two, this branch, in Greenwich Village, is the original, having opened seven years ago. It’s a small spot, not much bigger than Café Grumpy’s Lower East Side branch where I had started the day, with space inside for maybe 12.
The coffee’s from North Carolina’s Counter Culture, the Los Rosales single-origin Colombian on espresso, joined by a guest roaster. This guest spot focuses on East Coast roasters, exemplified by the choice during my visit, Boston’s George Howell. There’s a single-origin (sometimes blend) on bulk-brew, with a choice of four single-origins through the Chemex. These change every couple of months and are chalked up on boards next to the menu. As is often the case in the US, the focus is firmly on the coffee, with cookies if you’re hungry.
I discovered Gimme! Coffee on my first Coffee Spot visit to New York in 2013, when I visited the Mott Street branch in Manhattan. However, it took me another three years before I explored Gimme! Coffee’s Brooklyn heritage, when I visited Roebling Street in Williamsburg. Ironically, this is the newest of three New York City branches, having only opened in 2011, while the first (and other) Brooklyn branch has been around since 2003, the company itself starting in upstate New York in 2000.
Roebling Street has a simple, rectangular layout, with the door at the right, the counter at the back and a smattering of tables in the space between the two. Resisting the urge to cram too much in, it’s a quiet, friendly spot with a sense of space. There’s also some outdoor seating on the (relatively) quiet street.
Gimme! Coffee roasts all its own beans with a house-blend (Leftist), single-origin guest (Colombian) and decaf (another single-origin Colombian) on espresso. These are joined by two more single-origins on bulk-brew and third as a pour-over using the Kalita Wave. There’s also a range of teas from Metolius in Oregon and a selection of cakes and pastries if you are hungry.
Café Integral is not somewhere that you easily stumble upon. I found it thanks to several recommendations, not least from my friends Heather & Tim, who I stay with in New Jersey (the recommendation was specifically from Tim, who is a semi-regular there). It’s actually across the street from one of my New York favourites, Gasoline Alley, so I must have walked past it many times before my visit. In defence of my usually infallible coffee radar, it’s tucked away inside a clothing store, American Two Shot, with only an A-board outside to let you know it’s there.
Other than its location, Café Integral’s main claim to fame is that it only serves Nicaraguan coffee, its owners, the Vega family, having close ties with several farms in the country. There are now two coffee shops in New York, and another in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in a facility over on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. There’s a blend on espresso plus two single-origins, a pour-over using the Kalita Wave, with the other available on bulk-brew. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a selection of cakes and cookies.
Café Grumpy, a small, local coffee shop chain, roasts all its own beans in Brooklyn. With its no compromise attitude, it’s fast becoming one of my NYC favourites. The Lower East Side branch, on Essex Street, is the smallest and is perhaps my favourite (of those I’ve visited so far).
My go-to place for morning coffee used to be the original Pushcart Coffee on East Broadway. Just a few blocks east of my usual hotel in Chinatown, it was perfect. Then it closed and, for the last two years, I’ve been coffee-less first thing in the morning: not the ideal situation!
Embarrassingly, I only discovered Café Grumpy on my most recent trip, not realising that the Lower East Side branch had been open since 2012, some while before Pushcart closed. Just around the corner from my hotel, it’s every bit as convenient as Pushcart, so I needn’t have gone coffee-less all those mornings. What an oversight!
Stumptown, just off the lobby of Ace Hotel in New York City, is one of NYC’s most popular coffee venues, the queues frequently extending into (and around) the lobby. I first visited in 2013, meeting up with Greg of CoffeeGuru App, but it was another three years before I returned on a “quiet” day to do a write-up.
As a coffee shop, there’s not a lot to it, although, like most Stumptown places, it’s sumptuously-appointed. In this case, a single bar runs along the window at the front, the counter running parallel to it at the back, with just enough space between them for customers to queue/wait to collect their coffee. Alternatively, you can sit in the atmospheric lobby of the Ace Hotel itself (if you can find a seat, that is). Stumptown’s Hairbender blend is on espresso, and a single-origin on bulk-brew, with both cold-brew and nitro on draft.
Walking along Brooklyn’s Havemeyer Street, on my way from Northerly Coffee to Gimme! Coffee, something caught my eye at the street’s northern end. It looked like an old-fashioned barbershop, but a sign in the window, plus an A-board outside, proclaimed it to be the home of Parlor Coffee. A little bell rang in the back of my mind. Hadn’t my friend, Greg, of CoffeeGuru App fame, told me about somewhere in the back of a barbershop? Intrigued, I headed inside.
Persons of Interest is the name of the barbershop in question and Parlor Coffee is indeed a lovely little coffee shop, tucked away at the back in what may have been an old storeroom. There’s room enough for a one-group Kees van der Westen Speedster espresso machine (plus a single grinder), serving single-origin coffee roasted in-house by Parlor. An unexpected bonus is that your coffee comes in a proper cup!
This time last year, the Coffee Spot made its first tentative steps into Brooklyn and the first place I published was the then Daily Press on Havemeyer Street, an oasis of calm at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. I was therefore rather distressed to discover later that year that it seemed to have disappeared, both from the map (well, Google Maps) and from social media. I asked around, but didn’t find out very much, so on my return last month, I was determined to track it down and see what had happened for myself.
It was with some trepidation that I walked along Havemeyer Street, but I needn’t have worried. There was what I knew as Daily Press, in the same old spot, looking remarkably similar to how it had a year before. The name had changed, to Northerly Coffee, but stepping inside, everything looked very familiarly, right down to the sleek La Marzocco Strada on the counter at the back. It was the same warm, welcoming oasis of calm that I remember. There have been changes, however, and I was fortunate enough to run into Matt, the owner, who, over coffee, filled me in on the full story.
In true Coffee Spot fashion, I do most things backwards. So, naturally, my first experience of Sweetleaf was the wonderful Williamsburg branch which I visited this time last year. On my return to New York, I was determined to rectify this with a visit to the original over in Queens. So, hot off the bus from Wayne, New Jersey, I jumped on the metro, crossing under the East River to emerge, in sparkling sunshine, just a few blocks from my destination
The Williamsburg branch is a lovely spot, with an amazing interior. However, the original, housed in a 19th century building and furnished with antiques imported from Paris, goes one (or perhaps two) better. I particularly liked the tin ceiling, which dates from the 1800s. There are plenty of seating options, including a laptop room to the right, comfy chairs to the left, bar-stools at the counter and the Record Room right at back, past the counter.
The coffee’s just as good as the interior, Sweetleaf roasting everything in-house and offering the Slap Shot blend (50% Peru, 50% Colombian micro lots) and decaf on espresso, plus the obligatory bulk-brew (no individual hand-pour at the moment). There’s also cake, baked on site.
Welcome to the second part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. I’m currently in America, doing a loop (of sorts) around the east coast. I started off last week, flying into Newark, spending a couple of day in New York then heading down to Philadelphia, all of which was covered in Part I. Part II covers Philadelphia, Washington DC and a brief return to New York, while Part III will deal with my return to New England.
We start with this, my third visit to Philadelphia. I first went there in 2014, at the behest of my friend Greg, who writes Coffee Guru App. I met Greg in New York in 2013, over a brief coffee at the Ace Hotel, where he told me all about the Philadelphia coffee scene.
As a result of that conversation, Greg convinced me to visit Philadelphia the following year. Initially, I was a little sceptical, suspecting home-town bias, although, in fairness, Greg knows what he’s taking about when it comes to speciality coffee. Suffice to say that it didn’t take very long for me to be converted and I’ve been back each year since then. Philly has a great, and very underrated, coffee scene (as well as being a great, and very underrated, city). You can see what I got up to as follows: