Well, after a day like Drink Beer Day, we all could certainly use a hangover helper like National Coffee Day! There’s a lot of similarities between coffee and beer: they’re both some of the most widely consumed beverages around the world, and have stunningly long histories in any number of culinary cultures. It takes a long, arduous process to make both coffee and beer, and the different variations and minutiae in that process makes for some starkly different results. It also means that, like beer, coffee definitely has its aficionados and snobs!
The coffee bean originates in Ethiopia, and the first recorded use of the bean as a stimulant comes from 1671–though it is thought that it had been used for centuries before that. From there, it spread to the Middle East, then to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, leading to a worldwide caffeine phenomenon! The taste for coffee in our neck of the woods started during the Revolutionary War, when the act of drinking tea was considered a very British affectation (and became highly politicized). By the start of the Civil War, coffee became the preferred drink of the United States, and–as you can see from the huge number of chain coffee houses all around the city–is still a booming business!
There are a ton of factors within the coffee-making process, from plant to coffee cup: the coffee “berries” are picked, the beans (or the seeds) are separated from the pods and dried, then roasted; then the beans are ground, water is passed through the grounds (which are inedible) through a number of methods, and boom–you have coffee. And every process, even where you get those coffee berries, makes a different variety of coffee! There are a huge number of grades for the quality of coffee beans, different types of grind, even different ways you can add the water to make the actual drink. It is way more than your local Starbucks barista will ever know.
So instead of entrusting your morning cup o’ joe to the green smocks, why don’t you try a coffee made by someone in the city who really knows their beans? The climate of New York State isn’t agreeable for coffee plants–Hawaii is the only state that grows them, and most of the beans we get come from Brazil and Southeast Asia–but there are coffee masters out there in the city that can brew you an amazing cup that will surpass any java coming out of a Starbucks. Try the tiny East Village enclave of Abraço, an espresso bar that goes the extra mile and roasts their own beans in-house. Pre-roasted beans last much longer than raw coffee beans, so you know that whatever beans Abraço has on hand, they’re going to be super fresh. They also make each coffee as it’s ordered–which means that drip coffee is prepared by the cup, and not the carafe. This makes a fresh, smooth experience, whether you’re ordering a fancy cappuccino (that includes little designs in the foam to prove the quality of the froth) or just your morning pick-me-up. Their espresso can just not be beat, and may just be the best in more than just the city–Abraço has been celebrated by coffee lovers all over the world, from the nationally-published Food & Wine Magazine to the Sydney Times-Herald. The coffee shop is small, with barely any place to sit (let alone a free wi-fi hotspot), and the ambiance is limited to the paper coffee cups you receive your drink in, but that’s the charm of the place: you know that your coffee is being made by an expert hand, from grind to foam, and when you take your first whiff of the steam it smells like pure flavor–not like a corporation.
86 E 7th St (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
“The lack of space, or chairs, allows you to focus on the perfect cup of coffee at Abraco’s Espresso Bar in the East Village. In the tiny but cheerful bar, famous barista and co-owner Jamie McCormick grinds and brews each cup of coffee to order. Of course, these are no ordinary beans – they come from North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee. And if the coffee wasn’t treat enough, owner-baker Elizabeth Quijada offers up sweets and savories made from fresh, local ingredients. A latte and slice of olive oil cake may just be the perfect start to a day.”–Food & Wine Magazine
“ABRAÇO There’s barely room enough for six standing adults, never mind the dozen or more who can crowd in during prime time. And yet in this cramped space the baristas turn out some of the city’s best cappuccinos and drip coffee.”–The New York Times
“Places like Abraço (“embrace” in Portuguese) don’t just pop up out of nowhere. This one traces its lineage back to San Francisco, where partner Jamie McCormick gained a following pulling shots at Blue Bottle Coffee Co., a micro-roaster known for brewing each cup of drip coffee to order. It’s this Bay Area pedigree, this ingredient-fetishizing DNA, that sets Abraço apart, and not just in terms of the rich, nuanced drinks that issue from McCormick’s La Marzocco espresso machine.”–New York Magazine
“It would be difficult to call Abraço a coffee house, let alone a shop. While it is about the size of a small closet, Abraço is home to the finest espresso equipment in the industry. Don’t let the stacked New York Greek take-out coffee cups, hanging aluminum pots, and scratched plexiglass display cases graffitied with the day’s specials fool you: this place serves serious coffee. Underneath the hodgepodge of baking accessories are individual clay drip pots and brown sacks of Arabica beans all of which surround the space’s centerpiece: the luxurious Florentine La Marzocco espresso machine accurate to 0.1 degrees Celsius. These guys know how to pull espresso.”–A Life Worth Eating
“As one of the best coffee shops NYC has to offer, Abraco Espresso Bar provides a sweet, savory taste without sacrificing the strength of the coffee. Using a Melitta filter to ground and prepare drip coffee, you are delivered a refreshing acidic taste with full-bodied flavor, and not an ounce of bitterness. Abraco Coffee NYC products are highly regarded as being similar to authentic Italian coffee blends.”–NYC Tourist
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“They use quality beans, brew the coffee perfectly and add the perfect balance of milk to our lattes. My only complaint is that Abraco is very popular and very slooooooow, because they clearly take great care with every customer. The result is phenomenal, but it can be tricky if you’ve got a waiting toddler. The place is so tiny that I imagine there isn’t much they can do to speed things along, but that’s ok: this is coffee that’s entirely worth the wait.”–Julie B.
“Best cappuccino in the neighborhood (it’s not just the Counter Culture beans, it’s the baristas) and a line of beautiful East Villagers out the door every morning. You can’t stay long because there’s only a standing thin table strip outside, and two stools inside, but most people still choose to have their coffee for here, sipping out of dainty cups and nibbling on olive oil cakes or pain perdu, or whatever other sweet treat featured in the glass case, watching their neighbors wake up and get ready for the day. This is the beauty of living in New York.”–Minette Y.
And while New Yorkers do take great pride in their coffee, one of the best and most celebrated cups of joe around is a West-Coast import. And no, I’m not talking about that West Coast import. Blue Bottle Coffee Co. comes to us from San Francisco, where the trend of in-house coffee bean roasting began. Blue Bottle’s bottom-line mission is to serve coffee whose beans have been roasted no longer than 48 hours before the cup of joe hits your lips, guaranteeing you a smooth, mellow flavor with tons of real coffee taste. Blue Bottle Coffee also uses only organic, pesticide-free beans that have been grown in the traditional way–which, although it generates a smaller yield, makes a much better tasting bean. Blue Bottle is serious both about the quality of their product and the way they prepare it for you: their website has a separate section that describes in detail exactly how each process is executed, to make sure that you know just what’s going into your cup. That kind of dedication to great coffee can be seen in any of their fine brews, but the most popular around these parts (especially during the summer months) is their New Orleans-style iced coffee. “New Orleans-style” means that it’s cold-brewed, which makes for a mellower flavor, and isn’t diluted by melting ice or turned bitter by leaving it in a fridge all day–two pitfalls to hot-brewed iced coffee. Have it best with some sugar and milk to even out the flavor and make this a sweet treat. Even in the quickly-cooling temperatures outside, one can never go wrong with a well-brewed cup of iced coffee.
Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
160 Berry St (between 6th St & 5th St), Williamsburg
“Before this Williamsburg coffee bar and roastery came along, the only place in New York where you could find San Francisco’s famed Blue Bottle Coffee was at Gramercy Tavern. Now caffeine fanatics can sample the company’s shots of espresso and cups of joe—made to order from freshly roasted, mostly organic beans—without dropping a wad of cash on a dinner. Iced-coffee fans in particular should take note: Five contraptions from Japan slowly cold-drip Kyoto-style brew, while those who like to add milk should consider the stronger New Orleans-style preparation, fortified with chicory.”–Time Out New York
“The New York location of this San Francisco-based coffee roaster and brewer is like heaven for coffee dorks. People go absolutely nuts for their super-smooth New Orleans-style iced coffee, the espresso drinks, and the pour-cover coffee, which is ground a la minute. But even if you don’t care about single origin/third wave-whatever, Blue Bottle is just a cool place to visit. They’ve got some of the most stylish coffee gadgets and merch for sale, and it’s always fun to peek at what’s going on in the industrial roasting facility in the back. Blue Bottle also has the hands-down hottest barista staff in NYC.”–Eater
“The other kind of iced coffee that’s produced raves for Blue Bottle’s taste from people who aren’t obsessive coffee drinkers is their “New Orleans.” It’s their cold-brewed coffee, served over ice, with a splash of milk and a pinch of sugar. It’s $4, and it is, for coffee, pretty great. The body’s rich, buttery, but not heavy and really well balanced. The acidity isn’t overwhelmed by the added sugar or the milk, but certainly has the harsh edges of your average cup of coffee rounded off to a fairly perfect degree. It’s a pretty refreshing, smooth, remarkable cup of iced coffee. Maybe one of the best cups of iced coffee you’re ever going to have.”–The Village Voice
“After having an iced coffee just about daily for the last month, I can easily say the best was Blue Bottle’s New Orleans –style iced coffee from Ferry Plaza (the small Bay Area chain has seven other outlets, including one in Brooklyn). The cold-brewed liquid happiness is a much richer, smoother version of the chicory-laced coffee at the famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. This one is dark but not too acidic or harsh, with a buttery finish. It’s definitely on the dessert end of the iced coffee spectrum—served over ice chunks with some sugar and a good wrist’s worth of milk—but not enough to drown out the dark, deep, chicory flavors underneath.”–Serious Eats
“The coffee is a little bitter and a lot sweet. It has a bit of simple syrup and more than a healthy splash of whole milk, so it’s slightly reminiscent of an indulgent coffee ice cream. At $4 a pop, it’s not it’s not an every day sort of coffee for me, but if you love iced coffee and are looking for a treat, this is for you.”–Midtown Lunch
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“One of the best coffee shops from San Francisco imported to New York, in a neighborhood which is so cool that people like me shouldn’t be let in without a cool chaperone. Blue Bottle has great coffee. You should especially explore the pour-over options (i.e., coffee ground into a filter, and hot water “poured-over” it to filter through into your mug) which the baristas handle lovingly. Other shops (Stumptown, and various places I know in Brooklyn) pull equally good espresso. The pour-over and Japanese siphon options (I didn’t try this, but I saw the telltale beakers on display) are where Blue Bottle sets itself apart.”–Raffi M.
“I was psyched after an afternoon of brunching and shopping in Williamsburg to find this BB location! Capping off our hipster afternoon, we waited in line for a solid 20 mins, while I insisted that it would be worth the wait. Finally, a New Orleans iced coffee in hand, we walked to a counter and sipped. Amazingness. Just as I’d remembered (if not better) – rich, slightly sweet and completely refreshing. Thinking about it makes my mouth water. Mmm. Treats here are good too but honestly just the coffee here makes it worth it. If you haven’t been here, go now!!”–Jenn E.
But I can’t talk about some of the best coffee in New York without mentioning one of the most famous coffee places in the city…which isn’t even a “place.” The MUD coffee truck began in 2001 as a backlash against the widespread corporatization of coffee in New York–Lewis Black’s joke that there’s a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks was, as we all know, based in deep truth. Three Starbucks within a block of one another, if you counted the one inside the Astor Place Barnes & Noble. So Greg Northrop and Nina Barrott decided to make a locally-owned, customer service-driven coffee endeavor to fight the system. Making it within a food truck was a part of their grassroots spirit (and allowed them to sell the coffee directly outside of the Starbucks) and a pioneering force in the food truck revolution. The coffee itself has gotten mixed reviews–a half-caf skinny soy mocha frappuccino this is not–but it’s the spirit of the MUD truck, not to mention its affordable prices, that keep people coming back for more. The truck’s gotten so popular that they’ve even got themselves a brick-and-mortar shop on East 9th Street, The Mudspot, which also serves brunch, wine, and craft beers all day until midnight–so you can keep your MUD mojo going all day long.
The MUD Truck
“If you ever stood in line for cups of joe at the big orange Mud Truck parked around town, you know their coffee is first-rate. But if you prefer you sit and drink, you can always visit their charming East Village cafe for their famous iced mud mocha.”–CBS New York
“The Chai Latte ($3.00/ $4.00) was better. Creamy and frothy with hints of cinnamon, this drink was delicately sweet and not all that spicy. Don’t go to the MUD Truck if you want an intense ginger-and-cardamom experience, but if it’s a wet day and you’re looking for something warm and comforting, look no further.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Mud truck is one of the older guys on the block in the E. Village as far as two trends are concerned: anti-Starbucks coffee offerings and food trucks. Even though fresh-faced competitors have arrived in both categories, I still love the mud truck. The coffee is really reasonably priced for the quality. Ordering from a truck is perfect for getting coffee in NYC. You pay, you grab, you run. I especially like their espresso. It’s bright, just slightly acidic with a little bit of lemoniness to it. It’s best on its own as a double shot to savor, The Mud Mocha is also a great deal- it’s a mocha with their drip coffee but it’s significantly better than a certain green mermaid’s espresso across the street.”–Steve B.
“If you see the orange truck, I highly recommend stopping by and grabbing a cup of coffee from them. I love their normal Mud or Mud Mocha but some days a Latte fits my mood. Every order has been great, highly caffeinated, and consistent. The staff has always been chill without being aloof. When I’ve stopped by with my dog in the mornings, they’ll often have a treat they’ll toss out of the truck for him. I’ll take my out of town guest there too as we’re getting coffee to start the day. They’ve been a hit with everyone.”–Robert S.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!