Now that finals are upon us, I decided to try a coffee shop closer to campus so that I wouldn’t spend too much time away from my work. I wish I had known ahead of time that Irving Farms’ location on W. 79th St is the perfect place to study. The second I walked in, I noticed the comforting and trendy atmosphere as well as the multitude of tables. Unlike most coffee shops in Manhattan, which are extremely cramped, Irving Farms’ location on the Upper West Side is massive. This location has both a front room and a back room, each of which are larger than most New York coffee shops. Though it was quite crowded, I was still able to find a table because the shop was so large. I encountered numerous students who definitely had made Irving Farms their frequent coffee shop because they had come prepared with all of their studying materials.
In addition to the multitude of coffee options available, there is also a menu for those looking to have a meal while enjoying their coffee. I decided to take advantage of both. I ordered a medium vanilla latte and a caprese sandwich with Narragansett fresh mozzarella, slow- roasted tomatoes, and homemade seasonal pesto on a ciabatta. My latte was probably the best latte I have had in a long time. The sandwich was also delicious, but nothing out of the ordinary. Though both my latte and sandwich tasted delicious, honestly, they did not compliment each other. I still enjoyed both, but I would have enjoyed them more if I had tried each separately.
I definitely plan on going back to Irving Farms and next time, I will be sure to bring studying materials with me. It is definitely the perfect place to study during exams if you are looking for a calming atmosphere that isn’t too crowded (the exact opposite of Butler). I also look forward to trying another one of their many other locations in Manhattan. I would recommend this coffee shop to anyone looking for good coffee and/or food as well as students looking for a nice spot to study.
Nestled in the heart of the Garment District is an adorable little coffee shop that goes by the name of Culture Espresso. I would argue that the culture itself comes from the artistry in the coffee being served along with the decor.
This picture does not do the coffee shop justice. Inside, it felt like a little oasis in the middle of Manhattan, somehow away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. While I sat looking out the window drinking my coffee, I felt, for just a little while, that I was no longer a part of the stressful and fast paced world of New York. Sitting looking out the window, I was just an onlooker, not a participant. Finally I had a break.
I decided to be boring this time around and order my usual drink, but there was something slightly different about this vanilla latte compared to most. The vanilla syrup that Culture Espresso uses is homemade, along with their maple syrup. I wish I could say that I tasted a difference between their homemade syrup and any run of the mill syrup that most coffee shops use, but I could not.
My latte definitely looked like a one of a kind masterpiece, but it did not taste like one. The espresso in my latte was very flavorful, but it was overshadowed by the amount of milk that was added to it. I honestly tasted the milk more than I tasted the espresso, which was very upsetting, especially considering I am not a big fan of milk to begin with.
I also ordered a chocolate chip cookie with my latte. I was hoping it would taste better than it looked, but sadly it did not overall. The cookie was very hard and crunchy, which is not something I ever want in a chocolate chip cookie. One redeeming factor was that the chocolate chips were melted inside the cookie, giving it a molten center, similar to that of a chocolate lava cake (my favorite dessert).
Ultimately, I would not recommend this coffee shop from my experience, but it does have excellent reviews, which make me want to give it another try at some point.
Just down the street from the Flatiron Building (Fifth Avenue between 20th and 21st St) is a tiny coffee shop nestled in between two clothing stores, Club Monaco and the Loft. Before walking inside, you would never guess that the two clothing stores were actually part of Toby’s Estate itself. Although the espresso bar is extremely tiny, it is a very open space because, in addition to the two clothing stores, it is also connected to a Strand Bookstore/Club Monaco partnership. What better than a chance to read and shop for books while enjoying your morning (or afternoon or nighttime) coffee?
When it was time for me to order, I figured I should try their version of my usual order but was surprised when I couldn’t find it. I am normally very boring when it comes to my coffee order and almost always get a vanilla latte. This time around, I was forced to try something new (definitely a good thing in this case). I asked the cashier for his recommendation and he suggested their maple sage latte; it sounded good so I figured, why not?
Although I was upset to see that the medium latte I had just paid $4.50 for was so tiny, I was pleasantly surprised by both the presentation (isn’t it pretty?) and also the flavor of the latte. It was probably one of the best lattes I have ever had due to the quality of the espresso itself and the maple sage flavoring. This flavor seemed to enhance the very taste of the espresso, making it the perfect choice.
Considering I went to the espresso bar around four o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday, it was surprisingly busy, unlike the Starbucks around the corner. As a result, I would say that this is a favorite spot for many and now also me. I will definitely be coming back to have another maple sage latte or maybe something new again.
For those who don’t normally venture down to this area of Manhattan, Toby’s Estate actually has three other locations, each of which are very diversified but of course all share the same amazing quality. They have one location in Brooklyn, and the other two are in Manhattan: Midtown East and the West Village. None of the other locations are connected to bookstores, which definitely sets this location apart from the rest.
Long considered the ‘coffee shop desert’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side now boasts coffee and pastries to rival the Stumptown’s of Flatiron and the Blue Bottles of Brooklyn. The uniting appeal in the coffee shop explosion of recent years lies in owners’ singular commitments to both quality and happiness.
This week my NYC coffee-shop scavenger hunt led me to the UWS’s very own Irving Farm Coffee Roasters. Although they originally opened downtown in 1996, the UWS location is currently their biggest. This neighborhood staple on 79th draws customers from up and down Broadway, and it’s common to see Columbia students making the 1 train pilgrimage down to escape the campus bubble.
Apart from the range of milk-inclusive drinks – Irving Farm is well-known for their latte art – they have rotating espressos, pour-overs, and drips. I went for the House Blend, and it did not disappoint. The coffee is creamy and comforting, medium strength, and tastes almost as if it was French-pressed. No standout flavor, but then again, the idea is to create a cohesive blend rather than showcase one or two particular notes. To go with their brews, the café has an extensive food menu ranging from Mediterranean-style appetizer platters to pressed croissants to both hot and cold sandwiches, all made to order (the salad of the young woman next to me is big enough to feed at least 3 people, for the record). For the libation-minded, they also serve draught beer and even have a $6 happy hour deal.
Irving Farm’s baked goods are supplied by a variety of bakeries, Ovenly and The Good Batch among them (you may have tasted Ovenly’s pastries before – they supply the Joe’s in NoCo with cookies and scones). I ordered the innovative Pistachio Agave cookie (pictured), which may not be worth the nearly $4 price tag if you’re trying to quench some hunger pangs (it’s only 1 inch big!), but definitely delivered in the taste department. Thanks to the softening effect of the agave syrup, the overall texture is chewy and the aftertaste is nutty and flavorful, though some more discerning tastebuds may find it too sweet.
The hourglass-shaped Kalita pour-over containers stand 3 in a line, ready for coffee action. It’s amazing how aesthetically pleasing coffee-making equipment can be; I think I could furnish an entire apartment with just Chemexes and turn it into an art deco masterpiece. I’m telling you, La Marzocco coffee tables are going to be the next big thing.
The rest of the décor is pleasantly unpretentious: exposed brick walls and nearly-bare lightbulbs are mediated by a bar made of stacked-wood patterning reminiscent of Jenga, and photos of various coffee plantations line the walls. It’s obvious you’re not in SoHo or the West Village anymore – the décor is more classic than grunge, and the clientele represents the UWS rather well, with a hearty mix of ages and urban social groups. The level of socializing is notable, too; Irving Farm doesn’t offer wi-fi, meaning actual human-to-human conversation drowns out the sound of computer keyboards and the turning of magazine pages. *insert lament about 21st century tech ruining our social lives*
The little things count at Irving Farm – the baristas are (generally) smiling, the flowers on the communal table are real, and iced drinks are served in mason jars. They’re serious about their coffee, but the atmosphere is just playful and warm enough to create the perfect nook for rainy days. If it’s sunny out, I recommend trying to snag a spot at the counter by the window or go for the patio, which, like the coffee shop itself, is a half-floor below street level and so provides a nice little alcove from which to people-watch and savor a mason jar full of iced deliciousness.
Welcome to Chasing Joe, a new blog about coffee and coffeeshops in New York City and beyond.
It’s rather fitting that my first blog post is about the zenith of all things coffee: CoffeeCon NYC, the Big Apple version of a new consumer coffee conference (say that three times fast) with events around the country. CoffeeCon has been around since 2012 and has only grown, with thousands of coffee enthusiasts attending the day-long conference that includes tastings, workshops, and panels covering everything from advanced brewing methods (some of the most complicated ones are also vintage – see the picture for brewing with an old-fashioned siphon) to latte art. Author Kevin Sinnott founded the conference with the goal of attracting people who love coffee, regardless of their level of knowledge or expertise – CoffeeCon is a learning affair, and anyone who’s ever taken a sip of joe and said “Aahhh..” is welcome.
On March 7, caffeine appreciators gathered at Broad Street Ballroom to hear talks from coffee legends such as Oren Bloostein, founder of Oren’s Daily Roast, an independent NYC roasting haven since 1986 (and beloved Morningside Heights staple for those Columbia affiliates among you). The invigorating aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeated the main hall and the sound of grinders rose above the chatter, competing only with the trickle of streams of boiling water being poured diligently into Chemexes. Trend note: Chemex seemed to be the favorite brewing method of at least half of the exhibitors, and I don’t blame them – it’s a beautiful vessel, and more importantly, it produces smooth, balanced coffee that doesn’t taste watered down.
Point of advice: if you ever plan to attend a CoffeeCon and roll out of bed in desperate need of a morning caffeine boost to get yourself to the event, resist the urge to do so. Part of CoffeeCon’s appeal is the variety of coffee shops that come from as far as Boston to present their best beans and blends, and even if the tasting cups hold just a few ounces, you’ll likely be jittery by the time you get to your third exhibition table. Add in the sugar rush provided by coffee companions such as gourmet chocolates from Li-Lac and cookies from Ovenly, and you’ve got yourself all the components of the least balanced – but New York-typical – breakfast ever.
In attendance were Brooklyn favorites Café Grumpy and Toby’s Estate as well as other city-wide shops like La Colombe and Blue Bottle. Colombian, Ethiopian, and Kenyan beans were the most popularly used, with some Costa Rican blends mixed in and further Caribbean flavor provided by Blue Mountain Coffee from Jamaica.
My personal favorite (disclaimer: I like strong coffee) was a blend called After Dark by Booskerdoo, a roaster from New Jersey that mainly conducts business online. The beans themselves were nearly black and glowed with the oils that had been extracted during the roasting process, and the coffee itself was smoky and utterly satisfying. Never heard a coffee described as smoky? Neither have I, which is why Booskerdoo deserves praise for roasting the beans to a point at which they retain a smoky flavor but don’t taste burnt.
Manhattan favorite Blue Bottle Coffee chose to leave the status quo at the door, bringing only their cold brew, which is sold in small cartons (such as those usually used for chocolate milk) and comes pre-mixed with milk, making it hard to believe that you’re actually consuming caffeine.
Another innovative move came from Cafflano, makers of an all-in-one coffee maker that is no bigger than a Nalgene bottle and comes with a hand grinder, a stainless steel filter that does not require changing, and a special pour spout that ensures no water is spilled out of the small container. Although this kind of machine is a feat in itself, the Cafflano exhibitors seemed to be proudest of the fact that the coffeemaker is TSA-approved for hand luggage, allowing you to take your favorite coffee with you wherever you go. Frankly, if I’m visiting another place, I would spend the entire journey on Yelp looking up new coffeeshops to try, but hey – to each their own bean!
Keep checking back for reviews of NYC coffee options, one café at a time.