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29 December 2012

The NYC Caffeine Chronicles: Lucid Cafe & Birch Coffee

I'm back in rainy old England now after an enjoyable last day in New York, which involved more shopping, a manicure at Bloomie Nails, a final burger and a last-minute cocktail at Ning, the rooftop bar at the Penninsula Hotel, where we didn't have time to go the night before.

When I'm staying in Midtown, I don't usually get as much chance to check out new independent espresso bars as when I'm staying further south, but I did manage to visit two new places this trip. The first was Lucid Cafe in Midtown South (Lexington & East 38th St). My standards for coffee bars in Midtown tend to be less strict than in SoHo, NoHo or NoLIta, mainly because they still aren't that common and it's always useful to have a list of good places in your repertoire to avoid a trip to Starbucks or Au Bon Pain.

Lucid Cafe, Lexington Ave.

Lucid is a lovely, tiny coffee shop, with room for about six or seven people to drink in, plus a couple of seats on the pavement for warmer climes. While I was waiting for my coffee, a couple of Aussies told the baristas it was the best coffee they had ever had in New York. Six or seven years ago, that might have true for me, but there is so much competition now that I wouldn't go that far. My double macchiato was good though, and the cafe is a nice place to hang out; it will be a useful stop-off on one of my many walks from Midtown to the Flatiron District or SoHo.

Birch Coffee in the Flatiron District

The second coffee bar was Birch Coffee, tucked away inside the eccentric Gershwin Hotel on East 27th St, between Fifth and Madison. The macchiato I had here was excellent and Birch has more room to drink / eat in than Lucid, and a bigger food menu. The sandwiches and salads all looked good, but I only had room for a pumpkin, apple and walnut muffin. On the counter, there is a trivia question and I think you were supposed to put your tip in whichever of the two jars you thought answered the question, but I'd already but my buck in the 'Missouri' jar before reading the question. Regardless, it's a nice little touch, and again, the location, just north of Madison Square Park, is a useful one to know in an area that is only just starting to attract independent espresso bars.

Tisserie in Midtown

Finally, a bonus entry. Tisserie isn't really in the same class of coffee bar as the other two--it's more of a bakery with coffee--but the coffee is pretty good too. They use Stumptown coffee and while the macchiato was only fine-to-good, I enjoyed their cappuccino and mocha more. As their NYC branch was near our hotel, we went quite a few times, not least to pick up a delicious pastry for breakfast.

Lucid Cafe. 311 Lexington Ave @ 38 St (Midtown South).
Birch Coffee. 5 East 27 St bet. Fifth & Madison (Flatiron). Website. Twitter.
Tisserie. 870 Seventh Ave bet. 55 & 56 St (Midtown). Website. Twitter.

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