Café Grumpy, Nolita

The Cafe Grumpy logo from the bottom of the menu on the wall of the Nolita branch.Café Grumpy has become my favourite New York City coffee shop/roastery chain, particularly since I discovered the Lower East Side location a few minutes’ walk from my usual hotel. So I was delighted when I met up with Simon and Gemma, fellow coffee aficionados who I know from Instagram, and they told me about a new branch of Café Grumpy, conveniently located just around the corner from their hotel in Little Italy.

Located on Mott Street, Café Grumpy opened in the early summer, 2016, several months after my last visit to New York, so I didn’t feel too bad about not having known about it. It’s in an area already rich with coffee, just a couple of blocks down from another favourite, Gimme! Coffee, around the corner from old friends, Caffé Roma, and one street from the lovely Café Integral.

In keeping with the Café Grumpy philosophy, all the branches, no matter how large or small, carry the same full coffee offering, with the house-blend, Heartbreaker, joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso, while on pour-over, there are multiple single-origins, plus decaf, supplemented by bulk-brew for those in a hurry. There’s also a range of tea, plus a selection of cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.

September 2022: sadly Café Grumpy has had to close its Nolita location. Café Grumpy itself is still going strong with 10 New York City locations, another in New Jersey and one more in Miami.

  • On Mott Street, in New York's Little Italy, stands Cafe Grumpy, hidden in plain sight...
  • Inside it's long and thin, with the counter at the front, seating beyond it at the back.
  • The counter is set back a little from the door, and runs along the right-hand wall...
  • ... while opposite it are a pair of benches flanking some retail shelves.
  • The view back towards the door...
  • ... and the view the other way towards the seating at the back. Nice tiles.
  • There's not much seating, just these four two-person tables on the left...
  • ... and a small, L-shaped bar and another table on the right.
  • The table, up against the exposed brick wall on the right. I loved the floorboards too.
  • The bar, meanwhile, is by the only window at the back, and overlooks the counter.
  • The view back towards the front of Cafe Grumpy.
  • There's not a lot of natural light, so these light-fittings come in very handy!
  • I was fascinated by the exposed brick at the back and the hints of previous structures.
  • There are some interesting works of modern art on the wall at the back...
  • ... while the front is adorned with some Cafe Grumpy posters.
  • There are some retail shelves inset into the wall opposite the counter...
  • ... while more shelves, selling merchandising & coffee kit, are just to the right of the door.
  • Such a grumpy couple of shelves.
  • The counter greets you as you enter, the till on the cut-off corner.
  • The menu, meanwhile, is on the wall behind the counter...
  • ... although there's another menu, with the list of coffees, on the counter by the till.
  • Normally this would be full of cakes and pastries, but I was there at the end of the day.
  • The coffee-making part of the operation stretches off down the counter...
  • ... where pride of place goes to the Synesso espresso machine in Cafe Grumpy colours.
  • It's nicely positioned: you can stand by the till and watch while your coffee is made.
  • Details of the current single-origin espresso are on the side of the grinder.
  • Filter, meanwhile, is largely dealt with on the wall behind the counter.
  • During my viist, there were four single-origins on offer, one of which was a decaf.
  • I went for the Malacara B El Salvador at the barista's recommendation.
  • The coffee was really fresh: look at it bloom after the first pour.
  • Cafe Grumpy employs an interesting technique with its Kalita Wave filters.
  • There's a single, continuous pour, straight into the centre of the filter.
  • There's also no stirring or agitation, either during the pour or afterwards.
  • The coffee is just left to filter through, which it quickly does...
  • ... and then it's ready to serve.
  • The coffee is made straight into the mug it's served in.
  • Playing with reflections in my coffee, which is where I'll leave you.
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Branches of Café Grumpy, as I’ve discovered, come in all sizes, from the large (Chelsea) to the tiny (Lower East Side). However, with the exception of the Fashion District branch, all those that I’ve visited have one (physical) thing in common: they’re all long and thin. In this respect, the Nolita branch is no exception. It has a very narrow street frontage, just a pair of half-glass double doors, flanked by a pair of tall, thin windows, which, it turns out, provide the interior with the majority of its natural light. If anything Café Grumpy is slightly taller than it is wide, which gives it a wonderfully high ceiling.

Inside, the coffee shop stretches out ahead of you, the counter at the front and the majority of the seating beyond it at the back. Immediately to the right of the door, there’s a set of retail shelves, then comes the counter, long and thin like Café Grumpy, with the short side, which faces the door, holding the pastries and cakes. The till is on the corner, then, along the long side, comes the grinders and espresso machine, a delightful two-group Synesso done out in bright, Café Grumpy orange.

To the left of the door, there’s a chiller cabinet, which is followed by a small takeaway station, then comes a pair of short benches. These flank another set of retail shelves which are built into the wall opposite the counter. The remainder of the seating is at the back, beyond the counter, which is where the flooring changes from some lovely tiling to some equally lovely wooden floorboards. On the left, there’s a single, thin pillar supporting the ceiling, followed by a row of four round two-person tables. Meanwhile, on the right, there’s an L-shaped bar which starts off overlooking the counter, then runs along the right-hand wall where there’s a single, frosted glass window, which provides the only natural light at the back of the building. Finally, beyond this is another two-person round table, and that’s it.

If you’ve ever been to a Café Grumpy, then the coffee offering will be familiar. There’s the ever-present Heartbreaker seasonal blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin espresso on the second grinder. During my visit this was a Cerro de Oro from Palencia in Guatemala. There’s also a decaf espresso on the third grinder. If you want filter coffee, then bear in mind that Café Grumpy has long been a pioneer of the pour-over, offering a range of single-origins, one of which is also a decaf. These are the same across all the shops, with a new coffee coming onto the menu every month or so.

While I was there, the choices were a Honduran coffee, plus two from El Salvador, while the decaf was from Peru, giving the whole menu a Central/South American feel (the Heartbreaker lets the side down in this respect, being a blend of Colombian and Ethiopian beans). At the barista’s recommendation, I had the Malacara B, one of the two El Salvador offerings, through the Kalita Wave. This is exclusive to Café Grumpy and is of the rare Yellow Bourbon variety. I found it a lovely, smooth, fruity coffee which evolved nicely as it cooled, the coffee’s sweetness coming through as the temperature dropped.

177 MOTT STREET • NEW YORK • NY 10012 • USA +1 212 226 6810
Monday 07:00 – 19:30 Roaster Café Grumpy (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:30 Seating Tables, Benches, Bar
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:30 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:30 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:30 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 07:30 – 19:30 Wifi No
Sunday 07:30 – 19:30 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 25th February 2018

You can also see what I made of Café Grumpy’s Chelsea, Lower East Side and Fashion District locations, as well as the original in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of New York City’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City.

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