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.
May 2017: I’ve just learnt that Café Integral has shut its coffee bar in American Two Shot. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up. If you are in the area, then Café Integral now has its own coffee shop around the corner at 149 Elizabeth Street.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Café Integral is across the block from Gasoline Alley on New York’s Grand Street, on the edge of Little Italy. Located inside the American Two Shot Clothing store, it’s somewhat anonymous, the counter sufficiently far inside the store that you can’t really see it from the street. Instead, the only clue is the A-board, or, if you’re lucky, a customer sitting on one of the two benches in front of the windows, drinking their coffee.
The storefront is all glass, with two windows and a glass door on the right. The front of American Two Shot is dedicated to clothing, but never fear: head down the right-hand side (straight ahead from the door) and you’ll find a corridor leading towards the back of the store. The counter, which constitutes Café Integral, is down here on the left. In this respect, it reminds me of Manchester’s Fig + Sparrow, although unlike Fig + Sparrow, where the coffee shop really is right at the back, American Two Shot continues beyond the counter, opening out into a bright, airy space with yet more clothing.
The counter’s a handsome, wooden affair, running lengthways along the corridor’s left-hand wall. The espresso machine, a neat, two-group La Marzocco Strada with transparent side-panels, faces you at the top of the counter. A couple of bar stools let you sit and chat with the barista, while you watch the Strada at work. Alternatively, keep going, past the till and the cakes, where you’ll find a generous brew-bar at the counter’s far end. I sat here, on one of three bar stools, to watch my pour-over being made.
This was the El Puma, made in a single-serve Kalita Wave, using a recipe of 23g of coffee to 300ml of water. Unusually for America, this was served how it should be, in a glass jug, cup on the side. An added bonus was the glass of water. The coffee was excellent, well-balanced, with plenty of body and more than holding its own as it cooled, even tasting great when cold.
Chatting with the barista, Adam, I learned it was his last week, but he was still as dedicated as they come, weighing all his shots and making notes in a coffee log book. He offered me a sample of the bulk-brewed El Bosque, a much brighter, fruitier coffee than the El Puma. The considerable contrast between the two gives lie to the simple notion that you can characterise a coffee solely by its country of origin. I also tried the espresso, which was, like the El Bosque, bright and fruity. The initial hit was a little too much for me, but it mellowed somewhat on the second and third mouthfuls.
While I was there, the owner’s mother came in and I discovered some of Café Integral’s back story. The family was originally from Nicaragua, but moved to America in the 1990s, first to Florida, then to New York City. The idea for Café Integral stemmed from a frustration of not being able to find good Nicaraguan coffee in New York. Knowing the excellence of the coffee, the family used their connections back home to start importing micro-lots from specific farms own by family and friends, with the son, César, doing all the roasting. Café Integral opened its doors towards the end of 2012, finding the perfect home inside American Two Shot, which opened at the same time. The owners are friends of the Vega family and had always wanted to have a coffee shop inside their store.
Read more of the Vega family’s story in this article in Barista magazine.
|135 GRAND STREET • NEW YORK • NY 10013 • USA|
|Monday||08:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Café Integral (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 18:00||Seating||Bar Stools (counter), Bench (outside)|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 18:00||Food||Cakes|
|Thursday||08:00 – 18:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||08:00 – 18:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||12:00 – 18:00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||12:00 – 18:00||Power||No|
|Chain||National (sort of)||Visits||17th February 2016|
If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, 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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