An Homage to New York City’s Lost Coffee Shops

The Empire State Building in New York City, seen at dusk looking south from the top of the Rockefeller Center As I was wandering around New York City on my most recent trip, I strolled along W 20th Street in Chelsea, one time home to an old favourite, Café Grumpy, which I’d been particularly looking forward to re-visiting. On seeing the gutted interior of the now closed shop, I got to thinking about some of my other favourite NYC coffee shops which had closed over the years.

To my surprise, this turned out to be a rather long list, which led me to make this post, an homage to New York City’s lost coffee shops. Some of these were victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, while others fell foul of landlords who didn’t want to renew the lease. One is even a success story, with Café Integral closing its original location inside a clothing store to open its own coffee shop a couple of blocks away.

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The Coffee Spot is Ten!

The Coffee Spot cup, a classic white espresso cup, with a shot of espresso, pulled on my Rancilio Silvia espresso machime.It’s quite an auspicious day for the Coffee Spot: exactly 10 years ago, on Friday, 28th September 2012 (at 14.15 to be precise), I posted my first ever Coffee Spot. To mark the occasion, I’ve come to one of my favourite coffee cities, New York, although it’s also possible that I just happen to have a work-realted meeting here this week (I’ll leave it to you to decide which is true).

Ten years ago, I had no idea what I was unleashing on myself, hoping that the Coffee Spot might become a useful resource for coffee (shop) lovers and an entertaining way for me to spend (some of) my spare time. Instead, it has become an all-consuming passion which has spawned, amongst other things, a book (The Philosophy of Coffee) and gained me coffee friends all around the world.

This last two years have been very testing times for the hospitality industry and, consequently, very strange times for the Coffee Spot, although 2022 has seen things moving back to how they were, despite the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. In particular travel, and, for me, work-related travel, have opened up again, so I’m back to writing about Coffee Spots from around the world.

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Il Grifone at Prufrock

Two espressos side-by-side at Prufrock Coffee, one made with the Red Brick blend and pulled on a modern Black Eagle espresso machine and the other made using the limited edition Il Grifone blend and pulled on a vintage Faema President lever espresso machine.Today’s Coffee Spot is part Saturday Supplement and part Coffee Spot Update. Earlier this year, James Hoffmann went to Milan where he met Enrico Maltoni, who restores vintage espresso machines. One thing led to another, with James buying a 1958 Faema President lever espresso machine, which Enrico restored. Fast forward a few months and the Faema was delivered, in full working order, to London, where James had decided to install it, on a temporary basis, in the legendary Prufrock Coffee, Square Mile’s coffee shop on Leather Lane in Shoreditch.

However, James being James, there was more to it than that. Rather than use a modern blend, like Square Mile’s ubiquitous Red Brick, James and the team at Square Mile developed a limited-edition blend, Il Grifone, specifically designed for the lever espresso machine, with the option of trying it side-by-side with a shot of Red Brick, pulled on the modern Black Eagle espresso machine. All of this was explained in a video that James posted on his YouTube channel two weeks ago. As luck would have it, I was passing through London the following week, so naturally I made my way to Prufrock, my first visit there in many a year.

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The Philosophy of Coffee Goes Green!

The new cover of my book, "The Philosophy of Coffee", published by the British Library, showing the familiar line drawing of a moka pot, but now with a dark green background, while the writing and line drawing are in gold.Breaking news: my book, The Philosophy of Coffee, has gone green! No, it’s not some environmental  improvement (although if you are worried about the carbon footprint of printing and shipping physical books, it is available as a handy e-book). Rather, The Philosophy of Coffee has had a makeover. Rather than the original pale blue cover, the folks at the British Library (who publish The Philosophy of Coffee) have gone with a deeper green, which you can see in the thumbnail and in the gallery below.

I must confess that I was rather fond of the old blue cover. However, with all the new additions to the Philosophies series (which now runs to 10 titles), I was told that it wasn’t standing out on the bookshelves and I’m not going to argue with the experts. Of course, you know what that means, don’t you? Anyone who bought a copy with the blue cover is out of date and has to immediately buy a new one with the green cover. I mean, that’s how it works, doesn’t it?

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Filter Tasting Flight at Bonanza Coffee

One of the three filter coffees in the filter tasting flight at the Bonanza Coffee roastery in Kreuzberg, served in a glass carafe with the cup placed on top as a lid.When I was in Berlin last month, one of the highlights of my weekend exploration of the city’s speciality coffee scene was Bonanza Coffee Gendarmenmarkt. I spent the following day, a Sunday, strolling around Kreuzberg, arguably the birthplace of Berlin’s speciality coffee scene, where I popped by the Bonanza Coffee Roastery, which doubles as a lovely coffee shop. Well, I say “popped by”, but that understates the deliberate nature of my visit. Tucked away in a large courtyard, accessed down a long road from Adalbertstraße, the Bonanza Roastery is not somewhere you’d stumble across, or, indeed “pop by”, unless you already knew it was there.

It’s a lovely spot, quiet and sheltered, with plenty of outdoor seating and even more inside, where the coffee shop, at the front, shares the space with the roastery at the back. It was also incredibly popular and my original plan, which had been to write it up as a Coffee Spot, went out of the window almost immediately. However, I noticed something that I always love to see on the menu: a filter tasting flight. That, I thought, will make an excellent subject for a Saturday Supplement. And you know what? I was right!

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Improving the Coffee Gator Espresso Machine, Part II

Pulling a shot on Amanda's Coffee Gator espresso machine using her Hario V60 scales (to weigh and time the shot) and with a Tupperwear lid so that I can position the Cafe Grumpy cup right under the portafilter.Last month I wrote about Amanda’s new Coffee Gator espresso machine, which she’d bought for under $150. Although it far exceeded my expectations and consistently makes good espresso, I found almost everything else about the Coffee Gator to be intensely annoying, particularly after spending the last five years using my Sage Barista Express. As a result, as soon as I began using the Coffee Gator, I started to think of ways that I could improve the experience, which in turn has led to this series of posts.

In Part I, I wrote about a couple of cheap accessories (a dosing funnel and a proper tamper), which improve the workflow during preparation. Today’s post is focussed on improving the experience of pulling shots and is all about how you can weigh shots with the Coffee Gator. Depending on what equipment you already have, this can be a no-cost option. That said, even if you don’t have any scales, these days, high-quality coffee scales are easily affordable, and I strongly recommend that you get some.

The third and final post in the series will look at the pros and cons of upgrading the Coffee Gator’s pressurised basket, which you might want to consider.

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Improving the Coffee Gator Espresso Machine, Part I

The original Coffee Gator portaflter and pressurised basket, along with two accessories that Amanda bought to improve the Coffee Gator experience: a proper tamper and a dosing funnel.Last week I wrote about Amanda’s new Coffee Gator espresso machine, which she’d bought for under $150. I was fully expecting to be disappointed, but to my surprise, it made consistently good espresso, far surpassing my expectations. However, after years of being spoilt when it comes to home espresso, including spending the last five years using a Sage Barista Express, I found almost everything about the Coffee Gator, other than the quality of the espresso, to be intensely annoying.

As a machine to prep, use and clean up afterwards, it is incredibly frustrating. This is largely an inevitable consequence of making a machine that can sell for under $150, but as soon as I began using it, I started to think of ways I could improve the experience, which is the subject of this series of posts. I present some potential improvements, including simple accessories and some workarounds to allow you to weigh and time  shots in real time (depending on your scales).

This post, Part I, considers two simple and cheap accessories which can improve the workflow during preparation. I also talk about an alternative to the Coffee Gator’s pressurised basket, which I’ll cover in detail in Part III.

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Making Coffee at Home: Vacuum Canisters Revisited

My new Soulhand vacuum canister, complete with coffee beans, looking very pretty in the sun. Please don't store it in direct sunlight though!Welcome to the latest instalment in my Making Coffee at Home series, which takes another look at storing coffee beans in vacuum canisters. At the start of the year, I received the gift of a vacuum canister from Soulhand (a company which also gifted me a gooseneck kettle the year before). Vacuum canisters, as the name suggests, work by removing (almost) all the air from the canister, which, in theory, keeps coffee fresh for longer than storing it in an airtight container.

My initial post about the Soulhand vacuum canister was written not long after I received it. I covered the principles behind vacuum canisters and the Soulhand vacuum canister itself, including what it was like to use. I also did some simple comparisons between beans that were stored in the canister and those kept in an airtight container (my usual practice for storing beans). Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive, largely because over the short timescales involved (a week), I wouldn’t have expected the coffee to go stale. However, at the end of the post, I explained that I’d set up an experiment to see what difference storing beans in a vacuum canister makes over a longer period of time…

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Helping Ukraine Through Coffee

The familiar Coffee Spot cup, superimposed on the flag of Ukraine.With war currently raging in Ukraine, people are wondering what they can do to help. An obvious way is to donate to the many charities offering direct support and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to Ukrainian refuges. However, I wanted to look at some additional ways of helping, specifically those that involve coffee.

One option is to buy your coffee from a UK roaster offering to make donations linked to each sale, perhaps the most (in)famous of which is Dark Arts Coffee’s Russian Warship Go Fuck Yourself, a naturally-processed El Salvadorian coffee. For each box sold, Dark Arts will make a £2 donation to help support the victims and refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. In a similar vein, Dear Green Coffee will donate £1 for every sale of its Goosedubbs blend, the money going to a variety of Ukrainian aid charities.

Another option is to offer direct support to Ukraine’s own speciality coffee industry. It’s something I’ve been considering for a while, partly inspired by an article in Sprudge, looking at how the war has impacted coffee businesses throughout Ukraine, as well as by stories about booking Airbnbs as a way of getting money directly to people in Ukraine.

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Making Coffee at Home: Soulhand Vacuum Canister

My new Soulhand vacuum canister, complete with coffee beans, looking very pretty in the sun. Please don't store it in direct sunlight though!Welcome to the latest instalment in my Making Coffee at Home series, which is all about storing coffee beans at home. Other than a post about keeping coffee beans in the freezer, it’s not something that I’ve written much about. Coffee’s twin enemies, when it comes to freshness, are air and light, so the standard advice, once you have opened a bag of coffee, is to store the beans in an airtight container away from directly sunlight.

Typically, I’ll put around 80 grams of beans into an airtight container, storing the rest in the original bag (which, if it’s not resealable, I’ll pop into a larger container) in the cupboard. This means I’m not exposing the bulk of the coffee to fresh air every time I open the bag/container.

However, there is an alternative, which prompted me to the write this post. A couple of weeks ago, the folks at Soulhand offered me a vacuum canister. It’s something I’ve been thinking about getting for a while, so naturally, I jumped at the chance. Vacuum canisters, as the name suggests, work by removing (almost) all the air from the canister, which, in theory keeps the coffee fresh for longer.

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