Bluestone Lane – Financial District

bluestone_cupBluestone Lane’s financial district location certainly wins the award for most creative use of space. They’re occupying part of a building entrance, subdividing it in a way that allows the building to still use it as an emergency exit. You sort of have to see it to believe it. and given the dearth of quality coffee in the financial district, we certainly should not complain!

Brewing with SightGlass beans on a LaMarzocco machine, these folks pulled one of the creamiest shots I’ve had in some time, with a really broad palate and beautiful crema. The coffee is top notch.

In addition to the usual pastry menu, they offer several gluten free options. Their specialty seems to be their ‘avo smash’ an avocado sandwich on hearty bread with plenty of optional extras. Sadly, I ended up eating lunch before getting here, but the it looked great.

Decor is eclectic to say the least. It is somewhat Australian-themed, including vintage aussie beer cans, oddly juxtaposed with RC Cola cans featuring baseball players. Lots of hero shots of rugby players, perhaps from the ’70’s, and who fans would no doubt recognize (sorry).

At any rate, if you’re in the financial district looking for quality caffeine, Bluestone Lane should be near the top of your list!

Bluestone Lane
30 Broad St. (bet Beaver St. and Exchange Place)
enter on New Street between Subway sandwich shop and a shoe repair place…


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Think Coffee – 248 Mercer St.

Think Coffee has a few locations downtown. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to give the Mercer Street location a shot. The shop is quite large; there is probably room for 100 customers. They have interesting beer and wine selections as well as the coffee, although it was a bit early in the day for that sort of thing as far as I’m concerned. The coffee is available in the usual range of espresso preparations. And they have a half dozen single origins on offer which are prepared by the cup, pour over style. They also have full breakfast and lunch menus available, along with plenty of cakes and sweets.

As usual, I went for the straight espresso, and it was fantastic. A double shot pulled from the LaMarzocco machine delivered a nice, dark crema. It had a thick, but smooth mouthfeel. The flavor delivered lots of chocolate with notes of citrus layered on top; overall a great shot.

The decor of the place is fresh and well thought out with plenty of flexible seating at low marble tables, as well as a couple of bar setups against available walls. When I was there at about noon, the place was absolutely packed. One could easily confuse the back area with the Apple store – everyone had their Macbooks out working away.

Although the line was running out the door, there were plenty of staff available to keep things moving right along. The overall vibe of the place was nice and friendly, if slightly chaotic. Bulletin boards on the walls seemed remarkably well curated given the level of activity, and do a nice job of connecting with the neighborhood.

Think Coffee – worth a visit!

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Moomah – 161 Hudson St., TriBeCa

If you point yourself toward the front door of Moomah, you will probably not immediately start thinking about espresso. You’ll probably be struck by the steady flow of strollers in and out the door. Although they have fantastic coffee, and a full food menu as well, Moomah’s most obvious reason for being is as a creative play space for kids and their parents. Parents can take advantage of the low tables to work on any of the ‘do-it-together’ projects for sale on the shelves. Or they can simply leverage the crayons laid out on most of the tables to allow a few moments of adult conversation during a meal or cup of coffee. Classes are offered or the kids as well.

The formula seems not to be for everyone; I saw more than one party walk quickly out the door after venturing inside and getting a look at the tangle of strollers just inside the front door. But as an espresso junkie myself, I have to tell you that if I were parenting full time, this place would be  favorite haunt – let the kids run wild while I drink 5 of their fabulous espressos; one after the next.

And what about the espresso? All I can say is that the moms and dads and nannies are getting some high quality stuff. A dark, reddish brown crema covering the top. Acidic, thick mouthfeel too much flavor to fit into the cup. Yummy, yummy, yummy. For a place that seems to be hawking everything from food to artwork, to children’s classes to yoga, it wold be easy to understand if the espresso quality got lost in the shuffle, but trust me – it has not.

Moomah – if you’re looking for some high quality caffeine in a hectic parenting schedule, you’ll find no place better than this. And if you are just searching for great espresso and can handle a the madness of a roomful of pre-school kids, you should check this place out.

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Manhattan Espresso Cafe – 146 East 49th St.

Illy cup and a yummy pastryWhy do you drink espresso, or whatever is your coffee of choice? Do you simply need the caffeine? Are you an amateur chemist? A gadget weenie? Are you sweet on the barista at your local cafe? Are you a lapsed catholic comforted by the daily sacrament delivered by the trinity through a LaMarzocco machine? An incorrigible eavesdropper who finds the local cafe patrons delightfully chatty?

I’m not here to judge. Truth be told, more then half of those descriptions could be aptly applied to me. All I’m saying is that it’s worth being honest with yourself about it. Think it through and know what you want to get out of your cup; you’ll be much more likely to find what you’re looking for.

Of the many allures, ritual seems to me certainly high on the list. And if your coffee obsession is about ritual; if the process of getting and preparing and drinking your daily fix provides comfort and familiarity, then my guess is that you mat be aware of Illy. Their espresso beans and ground coffee are a staple in many gourmet food shops; tins of espresso coffee brought over from Italy and stacked in neat rows above the Eight O’Clock Coffee in grocery store aisles. They also make an impressive array of porcelain, with demitasse cups and saucers sporting an array of designs to rival Swatch’s watches; Illy is ready to supply the lapsed catholic with a collection of stained glass, as well as their daily eucharist.

And if you enjoy illy, you’re going to love Manhattan Espresso Cafe. They’re well stocked with Illy coffee, and are pushing it through a modern, 4 headed double boiler setup, delivering dark, consistent cups with that slightly overcooked flavor that shouts ‘Italian Roast’ to the American coffee connoisseur with a familiar, comforting voice. Espressos are served up in the many designs of Illy cups that the cafe has on hand, and for those who are interested, cups are also available for purchase, allowing you to bring a little bit of the comfort back home with you.

Manhttan Espresso Company – worship at their altar.

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Maialino – 2 Lexington Ave, at 21st St.

OK, I’ve taken a bit of time off – I’ll confess. It’s been four months; but I’ve certainly not given up on espresso, and there are several shots that I wrote up, but never posted. So it’s time to get back to it, so here we go.

Mialino is a Danny Meyer restaurant, overlooking Gramercy Park. It is a full-blown restaurant, with a full lunch and dinner menu – this is not just a coffee shop. But they certainly do take the coffee seriously, with bags of Four Barrel beans stacked high behind the LaMarzocco machine, and baristas dedicated to the task. So what the hell, I figured I’d check out the espresso. Oh yeah, and have a really fabulous, if slightly overpriced lunch while I’m at it.

I’d heard that the place does a brisk trade n coffee in the morning, so thought I might be able to stop in at lunch time for a quick shot, but it didn’t really work out that way. I turned up quite under-dressed in baggies and a t-shirt, but they were nice enough about it and gave me and my companion a decent table as there was no coffee-only line at this point.

My shot arrived quickly – before I was done studying the lunch menu, and did not fail to impress. Aroma was earthy with a hint of salt air, an was followed by a mouthful that was smoky and chocolaty with the sweetness of hard candy, and no noticeable bitterness, Mouthfeel was thick and creamy. No playing around; lots of tantalizing notes and a great texture. A well, well pulled shot.

Food was fantastic, really, and the venue itself, although slightly over the top, would have been great, but unfortunately, I was seated next to a guy who managed to kill it for me. He ordered a series of appetizers, a couple of which I tried and savored quite gratefully. But this guy was too busy – all the while, he kept his hand cupped over the mouthpiece of his phone, apparently sitting in on a conference call. But from my vatage point, it was pretty clear that he had nothing to contribute! Ah well, its sad he doesn’t even know what he missed.

Mialino – fabulous espresso, great food, could use an upgrade on the clientele – just kidding. If you’ve checked out the AM coffee scene here, please throw up a comment.

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Cafe Grumpy – 224 West 20th St., Chelsea – August 24

Cafe Grumpy looms large in the pantheon of NYC cafe culture. It’s been reported as the place where Howard Schultz first sampled a cup of ‘Clover’ brewed coffee, and was so impressed with it that he decided to purchase the manufacturer of the Clover, monopolizing future production for Starbucks, and ensuring that no other independent cafes would be able to buy these wonderful machines for themselves.

One could probably build any number of B school case studies around this tale, all worthy of study. But to me, the key fact here is that the founder of the Coffee Equipment Company (maker of the Cover) got much of his coffee knowledge while working for Ideo on an assignment for (wait for it) Starbucks, the output of which project was tossed. With this in mind, Howard Schultz paying Ideo to educate a designer and then years later paying him millions to keep his coffee maker out of the hands of potential competitors seems to me a fabulous example lesson in how NOT to manage a design project. But I suppose I’m getting slightly off topic. I’m supposed to be writing about espresso and cafes….

Grumpy sits on a quiet section of West 20th St. in Chelsea, sharing a block with NYC’s 10th Precinct. As patrons grab the door handle, they are admonished; ‘Please no laptop use’. But it’s unclear what the point of the admonition is. If they’re trying to get customers to be more social, or to not treat the cafe as an office, it’s not working. Inside, although no one was using a laptop that I saw, almost everyone had their head buried in a smartphone, working away at e-mail or browsing the web, and no one seemed in any hurry to leave the place when their cups were empty. The few without devices in hand were reading newspapers – equally relaxed and disengaged. Almost zero interaction among the patrons, and very little between patrons and baristas.

Grumpy’s owners explained their thoughts on the social dynamic that they are trying to create to the New York Times (the subject of an earlier post), but their small sign on the door seems a crude attempt to change the atmosphere. Until they change the layout and furniture, it seems that Grumpy will remain a coffee bar where you’ll be able to comfortably linger.

And with the quality of espresso they are serving, linger you should. The barista pulled my shot through Grumpy’s Synesso machine, and delivered me a cup with bright citrus notes in front followed by berries, and finishing into some caramel for a lingering finish. Truly a great shot, exploding with flavors. On the day I was there, there were no ‘guest’ espressos on offer, only their standard blend, but it was truly great. And of course, they have the Clover machine to deliver great brewed coffee if that it what you’re looking for.

Cafe Grumpy – don’t worry about the laptop ban – just bring in your iPhone, and enjoy an extraordinary cup

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Demitasse Cafe – Sandy Hook CT – August 21

Driving East on I-84 heading to New York is never much fun. There does not seem to be any time of day when the traffic could be called ‘good’. But on a summer Sunday, when weekly beach rentals are turning over, you’re guaranteed a bit of misery.

Breaking up a drive like this may not be the purpose for which espresso was created, but it is certainly a purpose to which it is well suited. So I was pretty excited to find the Demitasse Cafe quickly after leaving 84 for a bathroom break. This place is located on a picturesque spot on the riverside, and adjacent to a nice, small park. More or less a perfect contrast to sitting in the car on a crowded highway.

The cafe serves their own blend of beans roasted by Willoughby’s (seems to be the same owner of both the cafe and the roaster), pulled though a La Spazielle machine. Results were pretty good; rich and full, though slightly bitter flavor. The finish was a little thin; but overall a good shot.

As or the scene at Demitasse, there were just a couple of customers inside when I arrived, apparently finishing off their coffee and pastries quietly while the folks behind the counter discussed their schedules for the upcoming week. At one of the tables out back a couple enjoyed the great views while taking advantage of the cafe’s WiFi – two laptops both working hard.

My own preference was for the outdoor option. On a day like the one I visited, and after logging a couple of hours behind the wheel, the space and the views were the perfect accompaniment to my espresso.

Demitasse cafe – grab an espresso and enjoy the scenery.

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