Initially, I was going to title this topic to mimic the DC one, which is Independent Coffee Houses. However, I did not feel quite right doing such because some of the coffee shops that I visited were indeed, independent, but had several locations, despite being independent. So, it is just being titled Coffee Houses. For the record, though, I am using the term coffee shop in these reviews.
My coffee journey started with some research, stumbling upon the NYT-compiled New York's Best Coffee map. It is also available as an app. I used the app the most because you can use it offline and it still gives you the address plus a little description of the place. The research ended upon finding the app because my method was haphazard at best: see where I am; see where I am on the app's map; see where the closest coffee shop is; and get there somehow.
I started off quite late this past Saturday, in desperate search of coffee because I missed my morning cup. Caffeine deprivation is one of the worst feelings in the world, but so is having coffee at around 5:00-6:00pm, simply due to the fact that most of your average coffee shops have had the coffee sitting in a brewer or urn for a few hours too long. It is also the best time to see if it is a good coffee shop, especially if they offer pour overs, presses or if the drip was recently brewed.
The shops will not be in alphabetical order, since I wanted to provide a timeline more than a list. But they will be grouped by location for convenience-sake. Here goes:
Ninth Street Espresso - Chelsea Market - (two additional locations in East Village). Cash Only. By its moniker, I should have asked the barista to pull an espresso. Even on a Saturday at 6:00pm, the market was bustling and there was a line six persons deep. But, I also knew I wasn't going to fall asleep at a decent hour if I had a shot. So, I opted for their coffee. Verdict: go with an espresso. While the coffee blend was nice, the coffee temperature had cooled down to a drinkable level, making me think the coffee was not brewed at an optimal temperature. It was alright, with fruity notes, but not memorable. It could be that I was cranky, too.
Beans are locally-roasted, using a special Alphabet City blend created with the Dallis Bros. Coffee company (Ozone Park, NY). 1lb bag available for $14.00 in-store or online at the Dallis Bros.' site.
Cafe Grumpy - Chelsea - (three additional locations: LES, Park Point and Greenpoint). Read bottom Think Coffee review before reading up here to keep with timeline. Cafe Grumpy holds near and dear to my heart because this place is where I first had my coffee awakening about five years ago. I guess it's the heart of the staff and their careful training that brews up an excellent cup of joe which leaves you nothing but a satisfied "ahhhhh." When they had only the Chelsea location, I know that they started out using Counter Culture beans, but since September 2009, they have invested in their own Grumpy Roastery, churning out fine roasts and blends. I knew I wanted to start out my Sunday morning here. I kind of ruined it by ordering Iced Coffee, but gosh darn! it was such a rich way to start out my day. Redemption. Iced coffee was of unknown blend/origin, but it was mildly acidic, flavorful, smooth, and without a bitter aftertaste. I also do not know if it was cold-brewed or concentrated.
Beans are locally-roasted at their Greenpoint roastery. Available for sale starting at $16.00 in-store or online.
Doughnut Plant - Chelsea - (multiple locations in NYC). Cheater's review alert: I only smelled the coffee here. No tastes. BUT, it made me intrigued enough to purchase a bag, along with several doughnuts (tasty!). I do like how they have a dedicated barista who focuses on foams and creating a nice cup of cappuccino for their customers.
Beans are semi-locally-roasted (Jersey City, NJ) by Kobricks Coffee. Only two varieties plus decaf are available for sale in-store, but the roaster's online site offers much more. Online sales start at $12.50, but it was a bit more expensive at the doughnut shop.
PORTS Coffee * Tea Co. A small coffee shop right across from the Chelsea Hotel and a stone's throw from Doughnut Plant. Pretty good hotel to stay at, if you ask me. PORTS really has no room to sit and enjoy a cup inside, as it is teeny-tiny, but there is a cute little bench option to chill on outside. They use Stumptown Coffee Roasters as their provider and I love how their default "drip" is really from a french press. PORTS has a small espresso machine and loyal customers. At 10:00am, they had a five person queue, with me being the fifth. I purchased a small drip for $2 and wish they had given me something stronger. I don't think I've tried Stumptown before, but if this was a representation, well, I know these roasters can do better! My cup was a tad weak on the flavor profile. I felt the grounds weren't saturated enough and pressed too soon, at least by a minute or so. Not a good way to end my trip before hopping on Amtrak, but it was a good experience and feel overall.
Greenwich Village/Chelsea border
Think Coffee - Greenwich Village? - (multiple locations in NYC and Seoul, Korea). Unsatisfied with my coffee from NSE, I thought I would try this place next, since it was near where I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner (8th Avenue and 14th Street), hoping to make up for the quick gulp of a small, but decent cup of coffee. I wish I was happier here, but the only happiness I derived was from the decor. This place looked like an old-fashioned soda shoppe, complete with metal ceiling tiles, in its heyday. I had a decent conversation with one of the staff members, but my frustration grew when the person couldn't tell me which roaster provided their beans. Only that their beans came from multiple roasters, unless you were going to order a single origin pour over, to which you were directed to a little sign that provided that information. I do know that Maryland's Ceremony is one of the roasters. Their website provided more information than staff. Coffee was warmer here than NSE, but it was also more bitter and tasted like it sat a bit. Pollution by sugar & cream could not save it. At around 7:20pm, half a cup was tossed. Boo.
Cafe Grumpy (goodeats)