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25 May 2018

The NYC Caffeine Chronicles: Midtown Manhattan Coffee Guide

During many of my first visits to New York in the 1990s and 2000s I stayed in Midtown Manhattan, and I still stay there sometimes when I'm travelling with my family, who like to be near Central Park. Back then, there wasn't much in the way of good coffee in the neighbourhood, and even after the speciality coffee scene began to develop further downtown (as my 2008 NYC coffee list suggests), Midtown seemed more resistant to this trend.


Gradually, though, spots like the Australian-influenced Culture Espresso on West 38th Street began to open up. Some didn't make it; others, like the wonderful Little Collins on Lexington Avenue, happily did. And now most of the best speciality mini-chains have Midtown branches. In fact, there are now more than enough speciality coffee shops for me to put together a guide.

I've included coffee shops located between 36th and 59th Street and because some areas still suffer from a coffee-shop dearth, I've included multiple locations for mini-chains even if I haven't visited every single branch. My favourites are marked below with an asterisk and in purple in the map (please also refer to my full NYC speciality coffee guide for more information).



* Birch Coffee
Birch Coffee has long been one of my favourite coffee shops in the Flatiron District and there are now ten branches across Manhattan. The Midtown branch — a few minutes' walk from Columbus Circle — is in a particularly useful location. The small coffee bar doesn't have much seating room but they do have fun trivia questions each day. Birch Coffee is roasted in Long Island City, and although there are no hand-brewed filter coffees on the menu, the espresso-based drinks are very well prepared.


884 Ninth Avenue bet. W. 57th & 58th St.
WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Blue Bottle Coffee
The Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee's first foray into Midtown Manhattan came with their Rockefeller coffee bar, located in the labyrinthine lower levels of Rockefeller Plaza. There's now another branch near Madison Avenue, a few blocks further east. Hand-brewed filter coffee brew bars are one of the signatures of Blue Bottle's cafés, so try to get a single-origin pourover if you have time. The espresso-based drinks are also very good, even when there's a long line of office workers waiting for their morning brew.


10 E. 53rd Street bet. Fifth & Madison Ave.
1 Rockefeller Center Concourse Level, Suite D (Midtown).
WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

* Culture Espresso
As I mentioned above, Culture Espresso was one of the first speciality coffee shops to open up in Midtown, way back in 2009. I first visited soon after they opened and although I didn't usually spend much time around West 38th Street, Culture was well worth the detour. With its Aussie-style stylings, laid-back atmosphere and top-notch coffee, the café — and its sister location two blocks south — is still a great spot for speciality coffee.


72 W. 38th Street nr Sixth Ave. Website
247 W. 36th Street bet. Seventh & Eighth Ave.
Website. Twitter.

FIKA
If you like your coffee with a cinnamon bun on the side, Swedish mini-chain FIKA is probably your cup of tea. I often visited when Midtown had a dearth of good coffee options, and still return now for the sweet treats. Note: the photo below is of their Financial District location.


41 W. 58th Street nr Sixth Ave.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Gregorys Coffee
I often describe Gregorys Coffee as having the look and feel of Starbucks but with reliably good coffee. Most branches feature an Aeropress brew bar and offer various well-chosen single-origin coffees. They often run talks and classes for customers too. There are currently 23 Manhattan coffee bars, including several useful Midtown locations. I haven't listed them all below, but you can find a full list on their website.


551 Madison Avenue nr E. 55th St.
762 Seventh Avenue nr W. 50th St.
58 W. 44th Street nr. Sixth Ave.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* Irving Farm Coffee Roasters
Although my favourite branch of Hudson Valley coffee roaster Irving Farm is the bright, laid-back café on the Lower East Side, you can't fault their circular Grand Central Station coffee bar for grandness. The coffee is high quality, with Kalita Wave pourovers produced as readily as espresso-based drinks, all served promptly despite the constant stream of under-caffeinated commuters. Like many spots in Grand Central, it's a great place for people-watching.


135 E. 50th Street nr Lexington Ave.
89 E. 42nd Street nr Park Ave. [NB: this Grand Central station branch is temporarily closed] 
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Joe Coffee
Joe was my second New York speciality coffee discovery, back in 2007, and although the original Waverly Place branch in Greenwich Village is still my favourite, I often visit the Grand Central coffee bar on account of its handy location. According to their website, Joe were the first speciality coffee company to open up in Midtown, in 2008, so they have plenty of experience in the high-quality, high-volume coffee game. And at the time of writing, the Joe empire numbers 15 shops, so you will never be too far from a great cup of Joe while in Manhattan.


44 Grand Central Terminal nr E. 42nd St.
55 W. 40th Street nr Sixth Ave.

Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* The Jolly Goat
I'd had this Hell's Kitchen coffee shop on my list for a while but it took me some time to venture those extra few blocks west to Tenth Avenue. With coffee from Stumptown, bagels from H&H and a very warm welcome, The Jolly Goat is a lovely neighbourhood spot. There are only three seats but if you time it right, you might just nab a window seat.


515 W. 47th Street bet. Tenth & Eleventh Ave.
WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters
I love the crockery at the Philadelphia-based roastery almost as much as the coffee. They've been in the speciality coffee game for some time, and currently have eight coffee shops in New York. Their Sixth Avenue café is particularly convenient for Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. Both the espresso-based drinks and the pourovers are brewed very well indeed.


Seven Bryant Park Building, 1045 Sixth Avenue nr W. 40th St.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* Little Collins
I was delighted to come across Australian-influenced Little Collins on Lexington Avenue one day in 2013. That first visit involved a particularly well-brewed Ethiopian pourover that opened my eyes to the fact that coffee could have such powerful tea-like notes. I've been returning at least once every trip ever since. In fact, when I went to Melbourne last year, my visit to Little Collins Street almost felt like a pilgrimage. They serve cracking coffee — including proper flat whites and piccolos — and brilliant brekkie.


667 Lexington Avenue bet. E. 55th & 56th St.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Milk Bar
I added Milk Bar — whose chef Christina Tosi features in the first episode of Netflix's Chef's Table: Pastry — to my Midtown list when coffee choices in the neighbourhood were limited. But although you might come for the (famous) crack pie or birthday cake, you might well stay for the coffee, which is from Stumptown.


15 W. 56th Street bet. Fifth & Sixth Ave.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* Ninth Street Espresso
Forty-seven blocks north of the original Ninth Street Espresso in the East Village, there's another location inside the Lombardy Hotel. The sleek, monochrome café serves excellent coffee, and I often stop by for my morning coffee when I'm staying in Midtown. If you're a Ninth Street fan, you can also visit their roasting space near Chelsea Market.


109 E. 56th Street nr Park Ave.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

* Rex
A short walk from Columbus Circle, Hell's Kitchen coffee bar Rex is often busy but the staff are friendly — even when you ask them to brew three pourovers during the morning rush (#badcustomer). The coffee, from Counter Culture, is great.


864 10th Avenue nr W. 57th St.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Zibetto
I've stayed within a block or two of Zibetto on various occasions and the Italian-style espresso bar always used to be my go-to for coffee after a morning run. It remains a handy choice for fuelling a walk in Central Park or up Museum Mile.

1385 Sixth Avenue nr W. 56th St.
Website. Twitter. Instagram.

21 May 2018

Book Review: Lonely Planet's Global Coffee Tour

I couldn't have imagined a better book launch than the one I attended last week for a book about coffee and travel from my favourite travel guidebook publisher at one of my favourite coffee shops in London. The event was for Lonely Planet's Global Coffee Tour and took place at the original branch of The Gentlemen Baristas on Union Street, which I've been visiting for almost four years.


After enjoying a natural Ethiopian pourover coffee courtesy of The Gents and watching a latte art demo with one of the baristas, I talked with some of the friendly Lonely Planet team, including editor Karyn Noble, an Australian in London who was as delighted as I was to discover The GBs, which features in Global Coffee Tour, of course. I also got the chance to browse through the book, which is organised by continent and country and includes numerous coffee-shop recommendations, ordering tips (if I ever make it to Ethiopia — and I hope I will — I know now to say: "Nē buna ibakiwo ifeligalehu") and insights into coffee production, café culture and home-brewing.



It was a good sign when I opened the book at random on the Hungary section and came up with several coffee-shop suggestions to add to my list of cafés to visit when I go to Budapest next month. And I've already visited 23 of the listed countries on four continents, which meant I could compare their suggestions against some of my own lists. I concluded that the recommendations are very well curated, with some really great speciality coffee spots in cities from Paris and Mexico City, to Melbourne and Saigon. One thing I particularly like is that rather than just listing cafés throughout the world that will serve a high-quality but identikit flat white, the guide includes locations that will give you a real taste for the local coffee culture. There's a coffee plantation in Costa Rica, for example (not the farm I visited), while in Tokyo, the wonderful and historical Café de l'Ambra, features in the guide.


Lonely Planet's guides are usually my first port of call when I'm planning a trip (unless the region's guide happens to be very out of date), and I find the inclusion of cafés and coffee shops convenient for key sights in their 'pocket' city guide range very useful. Global Coffee Tour flips that around: several coffee shops are presented for each city, along with a few suggestions for other things to do nearby. This is perfect for people like me, who often plan their travels around the coffee (NB: I always do a lot of research when seeking out a city's best coffee spots), but feel like it would be a waste to visit a new city without seeing anything but the coffee scene. So if you're visiting Tim Wendelboe in Oslo (and you should), you'll know to visit the Munchmuseet and take dinner at Markveien Mat & Vinhus when you're all coffeed out.


The book has lots of photos and it's enjoyable both to browse for coffee-destination inspiration and to search for places for a specific trip. Colombia, Nicaragua and Ethiopia jumped even higher up my travel wish list. One small point for anyone hoping to visit Supercrown in NYC: alas, the wonderful Bushwick coffee shop and roastery has now closed. The only trouble now is that there are even more coffee destinations for me to visit. #coffeebloggerproblems

Disclaimer: Global Coffee Tour was published by Lonely Planet in May 2018. I received a free copy at the launch. The decision to write a review was mine and all opinions here are my own.

8 May 2018

The Oxford Caffeine Chronicles: Ratio Café

When I was back in Oxford over the Easter weekend, as usual, I tried to visit a couple of my favourite coffee shops — on that occasion, Colombia Coffee Roasters and Jericho Coffee Traders. But then when my parents and I went for a pre-cinema pizza at Franco Manca, I realised that a new speciality coffee shop had opened recently on George Street. I spent a regrettably large amount of time in the rowdy bars and chain restaurants of George Street as a teenager and although the street's character has changed a little since then, it was still a pleasant surprise to find a new coffee possibility. Unfortunately, as it was the evening, Ratio Cafe was closed and wouldn't be open again until after the Easter bank holiday.



But I found myself visiting my parents in Oxford again at the end of April and this time, I headed straight from the X90 bus stop on the High Street to Ratio Café, down the unlovely — but more pleasant than it once was — Cornmarket Street. On my first failed visit, I had been particularly excited by the single-origin V60 pourover options (lovers of speciality tea also seemed to be particularly well-catered-for). I found out later, however, that the 'senior coffee room (SCR)' — an acronym that plays nicely on Oxford's 'gown' side — is located in the basement and at the moment, has shorter opening hours while the staff get fully trained up. Although I was disappointed not to try a pourover coffee, it's definitely a good sign that Ratio are waiting until more staff are trained up rather than serving potentially underwhelming hand-brewed filter coffee. (NB: I photographed the SCR menu below on my first visit and opening hours may no longer apply.)



After chatting to the friendly, knowledgeable barista, I ordered a piccolo. The coffee is from Round Hill Roastery, a favourite of mine, and Ratio serve an exclusive El Salvador variety from Finca El Aguila. All of the usual espresso-based drinks are on the menu — I didn't notice at the time that both cortados and piccolos are listed, the former 10p cheaper than the latter. There is also a batch-brew filter coffee and various teas.



Mid-afternoon on an unseasonably cold Saturday in term time and there wasn't much seating available but I found a small table at the long that runs the length of the wall. I also ordered a chocolate and hazelnut cookie to keep me going, and it was very tasty. My piccolo arrived, but I had hardly even taken a sip before the barista whisked it away and made me another one with less foam. The second coffee was very good indeed and I appreciated the attention and the service — especially in such a new establishment.



With elegant, minimalist interiors and was a lively ambiance — the customers a mix of laptop-bearing students, tourists and locals — Ratio was a lovely place to spend time. I look forward to returning again to visit the 'SCR' once it's fully up and running. In the meantime, if you have time to kill while waiting for a bus at Oxford's Gloucester Green bus station, you'd be much better off walking five minutes along George Street and seeking refreshments at Ratio Café.



Ratio Café. 4 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AF. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

For more Oxford speciality coffee suggestions, please check out my Oxford coffee guide and Oxford coffee map.




4 May 2018

New York Speciality Coffee Update — Spring 2018

Just over a year ago, I created a comprehensive guide to all of my favourite speciality coffee shops in New York City. Since then, a couple have sadly closed, but on my recent visit to New York, I managed to visit 11 new-to-me coffee shops. The two themes of this trip turned out to be: beautiful design and coffee spots that serve more than coffee. I've posted more coffee photos from this, and other, NYC trip on Flickr.

I was staying in Midtown this time, close to Central Park, and took the opportunity to explore some of the coffee shops in the neighbourhood — once a speciality coffee desert, but now not a bad location for a coffee lover to stay. I will be putting together a separate Midtown Manhattan coffee guide soon, but in the meantime, here are the coffee spots I visited last month.

Midtown
Birch Coffee
The original branch of Birch Coffee in the Flatiron District has been a favourite of mine for years now. I hadn't quite realised how much the company had grown, though, and its New York coffee shops have now reached double figures. The Ninth Avenue branch near Columbus Circle was conveniently located for me to get a coffee to keep me going on my subway ride down to Brooklyn. The coffee shop is small with just a trio of seats in the window but the coffee menu punches above its weight, with a variety of espresso-based drinks and four single-origin coffees available as a V60 pourover. The coffees are roasted in small batches in Long Island City.


I ordered a macchiato to go and whipped out the mini KeepCup I bought at London Coffee Festival for precisely this purpose. The coffee tasted great, the barista was friendly and I always love the tip-jar trivia questions all of the Birch Coffees offer.


884 Ninth Avenue bet. W. 57th & 58th St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Blue Bottle Coffee
Another of the speciality coffee 'mini-chains' that has expanded deeper into Midtown is Blue Bottle Coffee. I first discovered the Chelsea location in 2012, and have also visited the Rockfeller branch a number of times, as well as their Bushwick roastery. The Midtown East branch (the address is on 53rd Street between Fifth and Madison, but it's part of the ground floor of an office building and located closer to the 52nd Street entrance). As it was so close to my hotel, I went a couple of times, taking a post-run macchiato each time. There is, of course, a brew bar too for single-origin pourovers. Sadly, they were long since sold out of Port of Mokha coffee.


10 E. 53rd Street bet. Fifth & Madison Ave. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

The Jolly Goat
I sometimes forget how wide the east–west blocks in Hell's Kitchen — the Midtown neighbourhood that spans 34th to 59th Street, west of Eighth Avenue — until I desperately in need of coffee and have to walk all the way over to Eleventh Avenue from Sixth. The Jolly Goat is worth the walk, however, with well-brewed Stumptown coffees that will soon make even the grumpiest customer as jolly as the animals tended by Kaldi the goatherd. Located on a quiet stretch of 47th Street, the coffee shop has a trio of seats in the window that make for some excellent people-watching. They also serve bagels from H&H and a few other breakfast items too.


515 W. 47th Street bet. Tenth & Eleventh Ave. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

REX
Further north into Hell's Kitchen is REX, a coffee bar located on Tenth Avenue, a couple of blocks west of Columbus Circle. We went on a busy Friday morning and although there is some seating, the coffee shop was completely full. We decided to get our pourovers to go — between us sampling both the Colombian Cueva de los Llanos and the Ethiopian Micheta from Counter Culture. I thought the former was particularly good, and making three good pourovers at once while also dealing with a queue of customers is no mean feat. There seemed to be lots of regulars there, making it a wonderful little neighbourhood spot.


864 Tenth Avenue nr W. 57th St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Flatiron
Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen
I've always loved the Flatiron district (parts of which — those North of Madison Square Park — are now sometimes dubbed NoMad) and it is also an exciting neighbourhood for speciality coffee. I had several coffee shops in the area on my list and made it to three. Blank Slate, a spacious and attractively decorated coffee shop and all-day eatery, lies a few blocks north of Madison Square Park. Etch-a-Sketches adorn the walls, in case you really do need to find a way to return to the titular blank slate.



Although the brunch menu looked excellent — and late morning on a Sunday, there were very few free seats — I had a date with an Impossible Burger and so stuck to the coffee, which comes from Colombia-via-Brooklyn roaster Devoción. Espresso shots are pulled on the Faema E61. I ordered a cortado, which I promised to drink at the counter until a server found me a seat in the window — kudos to the barista who managed to find me again! The coffee tasted great and I loved the Madison Avenue people-watching. And if you're more of a tea drinker, Blank Slate also have a stylish speciality tea café right next door.


121 Madison Avenue nr E. 30th St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Paper Coffee
It's not bad going to land at JFK at 1 pm and be drinking an excellent Camber Coffee pourover at Paper Coffee, a cool but relaxed coffee bar in the lobby of the MADE Hotel, by 4:30 pm. After a transatlantic flight, I was in urgent need of caffeination and after checking into my (less cool) hotel, marched down Sixth Avenue to 29th Street. Most of the seating is around a large wooden table that backs onto the coffee bar, and I was keenly eyeing up the Kinto ceramics.



The espresso comes from Devoción — they must have some kind of Flatiron connection! — and they also serve two single-origin pourovers from the guest roaster of the month. I tried the Rwandan Shyira from Camber Coffee, which had really sweet, juicy pomegranate notes. The friendly barista also let me smell the next month's guest roaster — an Ethiopian from Slate Coffee (based, like Camber, in Washington State) — which wasn't quite dialled in yet. He brewed me a sample anyway and it smelled fantastic, and tasted very nice too. Unfortunately, I didn't get chance to go back to try the fully dialled-in brew. Finally, if you're at Paper in the evening, they have some lovely-sounding barista cocktails — and I don't just mean your average espresso martini.


44 W. 29th Street bet 6th Ave. & Broadway. Website. Instagram.

Patent Coffee
Speaking of coffee bars that also serve cocktails, the newly opened Patent Coffee, two blocks south from Paper Coffee on 27th Street, was an excellent find. With minimalist decor accented with orange flowers throughout the shop, including in Chemex 'vases', and a few seats at the edge, Patent looks like a fairly typical — if beautifully designed — coffee shop. Their coffee is roasted in Brooklyn and there were three single-origins on offer when I visited: a Colombian for espresso, a different Colombian on batch-brew and a Lugmapata from Ecuador available as a Kalita Wave pourover.



The coffee was really well-brewed and I couldn't resist picking up a white chocolate cookie too. The friendly baristas also gave me a sample of the batch brew while I waited, which was great. I'm not sure how much longer they will be doing this, but during my visit, there was a daily $2 cappuccino happy hour from 10:30 to 11:30 am — a nice touch! Late in the afternoon, though, the coffee shop closes and the cocktail bar hidden through a door behind the coffee menu opens up. I did not have time to visit the speakeasy but hope to do so next time.


49 W. 27th Street nr 6th Ave. Website. Instagram.


Chelsea
Intelligentsia
Just as soon as I managed to visit Chicago-based roaster Intelligentsia's second New York City location, inside in the Herald Square Urban Outfitters, they closed it down. And somehow, despite my frequent visits to the High Line, it has taken me another three years to make it to the original — and only remaining — NYC location inside the super-cool High Line Hotel. It was a sunny, and sometimes even warm, day and after clocking up many miles walking around Manhattan on my last day, I ended up in the cool, calm lobby of the High Line Hotel.


I ordered a cortado from the barista working at the beautiful, tiled coffee bar, and took a seat on one of the comfy sofas. The drink was well-brewed and looked rather nice next to the vintage typewriter on the marble coffee table. Although it is a *few* minutes' walk from the High Line, it's definitely worth the short detour, especially if you're an Intelligentsia aficionado.


180 10th Avenue bet. W. 20th & 21st St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Little Italy
Nickel & Diner
When you think of the words 'New York diner', what comes to mind? I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be Nickel & Diner, an ultra-modern, ultra-stylish take on the concept. From the building's facade, to the Kees van der Westen espresso machine on the counter, to the highly Instagrammable booths, a lot of thought has gone into design at Nickel & Diner.



I arrived too late for lunch (a menu filled with contemporary twists on classic diner fare) and too early for dinner, but just in time for coffee. The coffee comes from Brooklyn-based roaster Nobletree (read on for more information) and my cortado was well prepared. And after a hectic day of walking tours and shopping, I welcomed the peaceful respite in such a beautiful spot. The food and cocktail menus are such that I'm sure I will be making a return visit during a mealtime next time I'm in the city.


1 Howard Street nr Center St. Website. TwitterInstagram.


Brooklyn
Golda
Well worth the long-ish subway ride from Midtown (hence the need for the Birch coffee I mentioned above), Golda is a small but beautifully designed café and coffee spot in the Bed-Stuy neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Currently open until 5:00 pm every day, they will soon start serving dinner too, but the Middle-Eastern-influenced all-day food menu is tempting enough as it is. Worried about having to queue, I arrived relatively early on a Saturday morning to find sun streaming in through the windows and several empty seats at the counter.




The coffee is from Brooklyn-based Parlor Coffee and after I had taken a moment to admire (and photograph) the coffee menu, I ordered a cortado. It looked great and tasted even better — bravo to the barista. The locally produced Calyer Ceramics cups lovely too. Although the pastries looked excellent, I decided to treat myself to a big breakfast, ordering the chicken-sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, with kashkaval cheese, mast-o-khiar (a yoghurt and cucumber dip) and pickled chilis. This was both tasty and filling. Combined with the warm welcome I received from the friendly staff, this made for a thoroughly enjoyable visit. Unfortunately, it was a little too early in the day to visit the cherry blossoms in the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden.



504 Franklin Avenue nr Fulton St. Website. Instagram.

Nobletree
Last but not least, comes Nobletree. After sampling their coffee at Nickel & Diner, I wanted to visit one of their own locations and happened upon the newly opened DeKalb Market Hall on my way from Golda to Brooklyn Heights. Nobletree have a concession inside the large, subterranean food market, which I visited, although they will soon be opening a cafe on the ground floor (they also have a location in the Financial District).


There was a big queue at Nobletree on the Saturday I visited — it was the only speciality coffee vendor I found within the market hall. They serve espresso-based drinks from the Modbar unit on the counter and batch-brew filter coffee. As I'd reached my milk quotient for the day, I ordered the day's single-origin espresso, which was a fruity Brazilian. My mini KeepCup caused a bit of confusion in the line-up (mainly because I hadn't realised only single-use cups were available), but the espresso tasted good, even if the poor lighting and neon colours of the cup rendered it unphotographable.

DeKalb Market Hall, 445 Albee Square West. Website.

For more New York speciality coffee recommendations, please see my guide; I've also included below an updated version of my New York speciality coffee map: