I promise this post will be about coffee, but first, a short story.
Exactly four years ago almost to the day, my best friend came to visit me for 10 days in Italy as a college graduation present to herself. That trip has inevitably been filed away as “one of my favorite life memories/something that will be hard if not near impossible to duplicate because when are we going to be young and free and have unfettered time, money, and minimal commitments again?” We traveled through the country, made some amazing memories, ate delicious food, and of course conversation with one of the people who gets me most in this world was never dull and always uplifting.
Turns out, we would have those things four years later – and completely unexpectedly. I say unexpected because my two week trip to Italy and Greece was a trip I had originally planned with my now-ex-boyfriend. Suffice it to say, I took lemons and made limoncello in the form of two weeks in Europe with my bff. This could not be more ideal.
I’ll be on blog hiatus for the next two weeks, but before I go to the land where the cappuccino was invented, bask in the the basilicas of Rome and the Athenian acropolis, and eat ALL of the pizza/gelato/baklava/melomakarona, I felt it was appropriate to leave those of you staying in NYC (in this finally amazing weather!) with a few local places to check out, on which this certified caffeine addict and coffee snob gives her seal of approval. Ranked in descending order, because I always save my favorite for last…
Blue Bottle Coffee (450 W. 15th Street, New York, NY 10014)
A few weeks ago after visiting the Whitney Museum to check out their exhibit on art from the ’80s and the Biennial, I popped over for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up to nearby Blue Bottle Coffee on 10th Ave, a place I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Their menu is minimalist, containing the classics – a great place to get a cappuccino or a delicious, lightly-sweetened New Orleans cold brew on a hot day. While there are a few locations throughout the city, I would suggest going to their flagship location in Chelsea – that way you can take your coffee to go and enjoy a leisurely stroll on the Highline, New York’s outdoor above-ground “park” built on top of the old train tracks that used to service the lower west side of the city. I will definitely be stopping back at one point to more seriously peruse their menu and perhaps bring a book so I can check out the usptairs seating!
Bluestone Lane Cafe (30 Carmine Street, New York, NY 10014)
Okay, so I sort of have a weird relationship with Bluestone Lane. It’s a love/hate. The first time I went, I was doing the Whole30 and as such, not consuming dairy for 30 days. For a girl who loves her Greek yogurt with berries for breakfast, all things cheese, and homemade whipped cream, this was SO SAD! UGH! Anyways, my friends had all ordered macchiatos, cappuccinos, turmeric lattes, you name it – I stuck with a black iced americano. Which, normally I like, but because I couldn’t have dairy, I was definitely experiencing coffee-envy. As such, I wasn’t overly thrilled – all the more because they brought over everyone else’s drinks but left mine sitting on the counter until I had to go up and get it myself, plus they forgot to bring my friend’s order of home made potato chips. But they had potential, so I gave it another shot (not to mention the iced americano was really good quality espresso).
The second time I went, I was really excited to try out their classic coffee confections – in particular a drink called Magic. I mean, who wouldn’t want to try a drink by that name?! Plus, my boyfriend had ordered it when we went the first time and it looked divine – it was essentially a double flat white with less foam – a deliciously creamy espresso bomb. Unfortunately, when I suggested the place for a coffee date, I didn’t realize that it would close a half hour after we were set to meet – so they brought out my coffee in a to-go cup (I am not a fan of to-go cups if I am sitting in – there’s something about using a ceramic mug that is so comforting and pretty, besides the fact that it holds the integrity and warmth of the beverage better). It definitely wasn’t as well-crafted as when I saw it the first time and I could tell they were trying to rush us out. Plus the foam had kind of melted. I get it, we’ve all worked closing shifts and want to go home, but it was 5:20 when I got there and they didn’t close until 6:00.
However…I can’t deny that the quality of the coffee is good. Plus, I am always happy to see that they have ample seating – even on a mid-afternoon Saturday. For anyone who’s experienced the “let’s meet for coffee” dilemma of arriving at a place to have a chat with a friend, only to arrive and find it packed with people who look like they’re about to hunker down for literal days, hunched over laptops at a table for four, with one pitifully empty coffee cup from two hours ago, then having to turn back and find a new place to try to sit and relax for an hour – it can be incredibly annoying. Fun outing turned frustrating. This has actually happened to me many times, the worst incident being when I was trying to meet up with a friend on a snowy-turned-freezing-rain Saturday in the West Village for a cup of coffee, and got stuck wandering around aimlessly for 40 minutes outside after trying no less than five different places. We both kind of meekly gave up and “rescheduled” for a later date.
Anyways, customer-service issues aside, it’s a cute place with lots of seating in a great part of town with good coffee and even better avocado toast – so I’ll definitely be back. Third time’s a charm?
Culture Espresso (72 West 38th Street, New York, NY 10018)
Culture Espresso was one of the first places that I had really good coffee – almost comparable to that in Italy – in New York City. They have absolutely delicious maple flat whites, and even better chocolate chip cookies. Some day, after some more research (no complaints here), I’ll do a cookie post – but while Levain on the Upper West Side is my favorite place for chocolate peanut butter chip cookies, I’d say that Culture Espresso’s warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies are some of the best that I’ve ever had. Sadly, I don’t make it to Culture too often. For starters, I don’t work in the area anymore (thank God – I used to work in Times Square and it was a nightmare), and secondly, it reminds me of the douchey finance bro who was my first unfortunate foray into dating apps, as he was the one who turned me onto this place and their cookies. Damn you, scrapbook brain, for remembering EVERYTHING! Ah, well. Guess I should just keep going back to get chocolate chip cookies which will hopefully erase said bad memories, right?
Little Collins (667 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022)
Little Collins, an Australian coffee shop named after the eponymous bustling street in Melbourne, left me with no choice but to become one of my favorite coffee shops. Located two and a half block from my office, my boss is constantly sending me on coffee runs to LC – not in a “I’m the boss, you’re the peon, bring-me-my-coffee-in-the-pouring-rain” kind of way, but in the “I’ll treat, you pick up kind of way.” Almost every single day. I love that I’ve become a regular at a coffee shop – something I like to do in every city that I make my home, be it Florence, Malibu, or New York. The baristas are learning my name and one of them even let me skip the line on a busy day. I also love watching them work – they truly craft each drink with such care, skill, and technical knowledge – I enjoy watching them make the drinks almost as much as I enjoy the coffee itself.
And enjoy the coffee I do. Since it’s not on my dime, I never get buyer’s remorse, wherein I order the same thing at each place I go to because I know I’ll like it and it’s not a waste of money (I know, I need to loosen up a bit). So I’ve tried almost everything on the menu. My favorite is their flat white – a drink that was actually invented in Australia – but on days when I want something a little more filling I’ll go for a caffe latte.
Be prepared for lines, noise, and a fight for a free table – this slightly cramped interior waits for no one. Definitely worth it if you find yourself in midtown – I’d recommend it as a pit stop before braving the lines at nearby Ess-a-Bagel!
Irving Farm Coffee Roasters (71 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003)
The first time I went to Irving Farm Coffee Roasters was on a perfect first date with someone who will always be very special to me. We had a lovely summer picnic that lasted for hours (but flew by) in Central Park, then went over to grab a coffee afterwards (because anyone who knows me, even on a first date, will quickly learn that I am a Capital-A coffee addict). It was a wonderful cappuccino – though afterwards I thought maybe I was just basking in amazing-first-date afterglow.
Recently, I tried out Irving Farm’s flagship location near Union Square, and had a life-changing cappuccino. It was seriously one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had in New York City. The coffee was strong without tasting burnt or bitter, and there was an excellent foam-to-milk ratio (more foam than milk – cappuccinos should feel rather light, if they’re too heavy it means there’s too much milk, which weakens the taste of the coffee).
I plan on stopping by the Union Square Farmer’s Market when I get back to pick up some local lavender wine from Chateau Renaissance winery in Upstate New York when I get back – and will definitely be swinging by for my coffee.
La Colombe (270 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012)
Coming in at number one is my all-time favorite coffee shop in NYC: La Colombe. The first time I had it, I thought I had died and gone to heaven – or at least, to Italy (and more specifically, the rather-unimpressive Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence, where they make the best cappuccino I’ve ever had EVER).
Similarly to Italy, where barista snobbery and an assumed superiority of coffee is the norm, La Colombe is slightly elitist in their approach. In fact, they don’t even have a menu. It’s a coffee place for coffee lovers – you go in and you order what you want, and they assume that you have 91) enough knowledge of coffee to know exactly what you want, and (2) the money to pay for it, as they don’t even tell you the price until after you order. You won’t find any frou-frou frappuccinos or pumpkin spice lattes here. Just quality, classic coffee drinks – and a line out the door.
For better or worse (better for my happiness, worse for my wallet – this coffee is expensive!), I used to work right around the corner from La Colombe’s Soho location. Once or twice a week I would treat myself to one of their delicious cappuccinos or iced coffees – and they never disappointed. The foam was SO creamy and delicious, it almost tasted like whipped cream. The coffee-to-milk-to-foam ratio reached perfection. And not to mention, the coffee itself just tastes GOOD. Dark, strong, not burnt, not heavy – absolutely perfect. I don’t make it down to Soho or La Colombe nearly as much as I would like, but whenever I’m in the area, I always stop by and pick up a cappuccino to go.
If you find yourself on a Sunday stroll in Manhattan or in desperate need of a Monday pick-me-up after battling the MTA, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of the above coffee places. In the meantime, I’m off to catch a plane to Italy – will report back on coffee places old and new in a few weeks! ❤