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6 October 2013

The NYC Caffeine Chronicles: Excellent espresso in Midtown?

I managed to squeeze in a few visits to new-to-me espresso bars while I was in New York, as well as revisiting some old favourites. It helped that our Houston Street hotel was within stumbling distance of some of the city's best coffee, but more surprising was the discovery of a couple of new places in Midtown that score highly on the coffee index.

The first is Little Collins, an Aussie implant (named for a Melbourne Street) on Lexington Avenue near 56th Street. Most of the customers are from the nearby offices and the queue is often out of the door, but they are pretty efficient. The café is very narrow inside and there are only a handful of spots to perch or, if you are especially lucky, sit. I was sorry I had eaten both breakfast and lunch because the "brekkie" (including a PBJ with coconut flakes or a "convict" — Vegemite on toast) and the lunchtime sandwiches sounded yummy.



I was also sorry that I'd exceeded my day's milk intake when I saw the gorgeous ModBar espresso machine, which is built into the bar, like a beer tap. Stunning.


I could hardly complain when my pourover (posh brew-to-order filter coffee, innit) arrived. I chose the Ethiopian coffee and it was lemony, light and delicious. In fact, I almost wondered if it was really just a very strong and very tasty tea. As it was 28 degrees outside, it was refreshing and just what I needed. I still want to go back and sample the espresso, though.


Gregorys Coffee, on the other hand, is a mini-empire of coffee shops that has sprung up since my last visit, mainly around Midtown and especially in touristy areas. I decided to go to the Herald Square branch on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 31st Street and inside, it felt like walking into a particularly branch of Starbucks, from the design to the décor and even the atmosphere.



But then you notice a whole series of single-origin espressos on the menu and the Aeropress brew bar and you realise you certainly aren't in Starbucks anymore, Toto. I ordered an Aeropress brew with a single-origin Honduras coffee. "Would you like a shot of espresso while you wait for an extra 75 cents?" asked the barista. Is the Pope Catholic? The filter-coffee-with-a-shot-of-espresso is, I learned, called a hit and run and is a great idea.



The espresso was impressive and although the Aeropress brew itself wasn't as good as Little Collins' pourover, it was still very tasty. Besides, in New York, it's pretty rare to find an Aeropress at all. Hence the helpful signs Gregorys posts around the store. I might borrow their explanation next time someone asks me when I'm using mine in the office kitchen. They also have free wifi, good quality nibbles and cupping sessions. It's a great concept and I really hope it succeeds.



Little Collins. 667 Lexington Avenue bet. 55th & 56th Street (Midtown East). Website. Twitter.
Gregorys Coffee. 874 Sixth Avenue @ 31st Street (Midtown South). Other branches. Twitter.

More of my New York coffee recommendations.

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