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.
As an avid espresso finder, I have traveled around the city finding my favorite cappuccinos, macchiatos, cortados, and lattes. Each borough has always rewarded me with amazing cups of jittery happiness, but then I’m usually hungry for a snack to go with my cuppa.
But when I look at the glass counter for a sweet treat to pick out, all I usually see are chocolate croissants, sugar covered pound cakes, huge chocolate muffins, and the bigger-than-your-head cookies. As a health-focused consumer of foods, what am I supposed to eat at these places? Am I supposed to stick with the cantaloupe and pineapple filled fruit cups every time?
Chalait in the West Village offers some other options.
I like to study around NYU quite a bit, and one time I popped into a very bright and very minimalist decorated coffee shop called Chalait, and I’m so glad I did. As I walk in I do see the croissants and muffins in a small shelf, but then I look up and see a huge menu of healthy options, as well as some shelves on the side of the store bursting with raw bites, quinoa salads, and chia puddings.
I sighed with happiness, ordered, and sat down waiting for deliciousness to come to me.
Chalait offers different kinds of “toasts”, whether it be avocado, sunrise, or plain Nutella. I ordered the muesli toast with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, and agave for that morning. I couldn’t even believe that what I was eating had ZERO preservatives, and was made of such pure ingredients. They even spent so much time meticulously plating each dish to keep the dishes looking as beautiful as their latte art.
Aside from their toasts, each of which I tried every time I visited here, Chalait also has many raw snacks, and one of my favorites is the Tangy Pineapple and Cocoa Banana Bites. They are completely raw, vegan, and gluten free, and best of all, guilt-free!
These are just a few of the many delicious and healthy options you can pair with your favorite espresso at Chalait, and I definitely will be returning next week to try something new! While every coffee-shop may not have raw brownie bites and chia puddings, you can always find something guilt-free to go with your coffee. If not, enjoy your well-made cortado and grab a snack from the bodega next door!
A brave dessert aficionado’s pursuit of all things fried, glazed, and sugary.
When you first move to New York, your first thought isn’t usually about food. It’s about finding an (reasonably priced) apartment, taking advantage of the cultural meccas, or visiting the famous sights before it becomes socially unacceptable to act like a tourist, and you’re too jaded with the frantic sight-seeing. You scope out a sufficient local café where you can become a regular, and drink black coffee like a grumpy New Yorker.
When I moved to New York, my first thought was, “Where can I find the food?”, and more specifically, “Where are the doughnuts?” I love food in all forms, but I have a special place in my heart for desserts, especially doughnuts. They’re the queen of basic desserts: acceptably eaten at any time of day, easily manipulated to fit any palate or diet (think vegan, paleo, or gluten free), and perfectly portable.
Coming from Massachusetts, I am accustomed to two types of doughnuts.
The slightly stale, typically flavored doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts, which you can buy at the chain on every corner (there were seven in my town alone, and several more in the near vicinity).
The quintessential New England doughnut: the apple cider doughnut, best enjoyed hot out of the fryer and coated generously in sugar. This doughnut is a staple of apple picking and pumpkin patches; the constant companion of hayrides and cool fall mornings.
But I expected New York to be different, and I was right. This is the homeland for all foods ordinary and obscure. There’s representation from every culture and country, good, bad, and just plain ridiculous. And of course, in a city well known for it’s cozy cafes and excessive coffee consumption, I knew there would be a strong selection of coffee’s best friend, the doughnut.
I started my NYC doughnut journey with the pinnacle of doughnut bastardization, the cronut. For those of you who live under a rock, let me welcome you to the extreme of an already excessive dessert. French pastry chef Dominique Ansel developed his infamous cronut in 2013, and as the name suggests, it is the lovechild of a croissant and doughnut. But that’s barely scratching the surface.
What makes a cronut different than a simple fried croissant dough is the way the dough is handled. The dough is laminated, which is what causes the flaky croissant layers, and proofed, so the dough rises before it is fried. After the dough is fried in grapeseed oil, the cronut is rolled in flavored sugar, filled with ganache, and topped with a glaze and decoration. It is an extensive, laborious process, with high risk and low reward.
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.
Finally, Spring has arrived! The upturn in the weather has created a perfect excuse to ditch that winter coat and to venture out into the streets once again. Today I went to the Essex Street Market, which was a quaint little old school market down in the Lower East Side. Although a little far from the Columbia area, it’s easily accessible once you get onto the F train from 14th Street. The distance put me off a little, especially on a lazy and rainy Friday like this, but boy was I glad I made the trip.
Essex Street Market may not seem particularly interesting on the surface, and certainly lacks the glamor and sparkle of more well-known markets like Chelsea or Smorgasburg. But that’s just how I like it. It’s small, cramped but not crowded. It has a certain old-school charm. There are, in addition to the fresh produce stalls (which are pretty inexpensive), other speciality shops that sell anything from cheese to baked goods and coffee. Artisan but unpretentious.
I walked one round around the small market before deciding to check out this little eatery at the far corner, called Shopsin’s General Store. It was nondescript and you would have pegged it for a normal market diner place that sells greasy bacon and limp fries, but what I got was probably the best thing I had in New York, ever! The place is tiny and the menu is intimidating with its lack of pictures and tiny words squeezed onto two sides of a laminated piece of paper. The waiters won’t recommend you anything and if you ask them to, they’d say “my friend, we don’t recommend here”. I decided to go for pancakes, because why not?
I had no idea what I was in for. The pancakes came in a large tin cup, leaving me with no idea how to eat them. But when you decide to just dig in, that’s where the fun starts. Underneath the topmost pancake lie four mind-smashing, gut-busting layers of culinary awesomeness. Like rummaging through a treasure chest, you will find delicately tangy ricotta cheese, creamy scrambled eggs, and a crispy bacon “marmalade”, all wedged in between four PEANUT BUTTER CHIP pancakes that were remarkably fluffy and slightly crisp at the edges. For condiments, your personal bottle of maple syrup, and six (!) types of hot sauce to choose from. Sweet, sticky, savoury, spicy, and downright sinful. As Meghan Trainor would say, every inch of it is perfect from the bottom to the top!
The best thing for me was that I completely stumbled upon it. Not knowing that Shopsin’s is somewhat of a Lower East Side institution, I was glad that my food radar led me to this great place that I can now recommend to my friends. It’s not your friendly mom and pop place. It’s an eatery with an attitude. They do not accept parties of more than four, nor do they offer takeout, according to a Yelp review. If you’re up for some banter, the chef will ask you from his tiny kitchen, and the owner of the place walks around chatting with his patrons.
The eatery is only open five days a week (Wed-Sun) and only open for 5 hours from Wednesday to Saturday, and 4 hours on Sunday. And although it wasn’t cheap (my order was $24, before tax and tip), it is something special and worth absolutely every cent.
After that wonderful meal, I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything else in the market, even though everything else looked fantastic. There were tantalising bagels and beautiful baguettes, shops selling speciality sauces, cheap produce and fresh seafood. I decided I might end off my visit with some coffee from the Porto Rico Importing Co., which according to the website, has been operating since 1907!
The bottom line, the Essex Street Market is not one of the top things on any tourist’s list of New York attractions, but is, in my opinion, a true New York gem. It harkens back to an earlier era when prices were cheaper and businesses competed on the quality of their food, and not how well they dress it up, or whether they have a 10% discount if you check in on instagram. It may be small and a little far for Columbia students living near campus, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort, and is an absolute must if you find yourself in the Lower East Side or near Greenwich Village.
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.
The colder weather is not making life easy for this aspiring street food blogger, but thankfully there are indoor markets, such as the Chelsea Market on 15th and 9th Avenue, which is the focus of this post. Chelsea Market, according to Wikipedia, is located in the building that used to house the National Biscuit Company, which incidentally, invented the Oreo cookie, which can only be a good thing.
I visited Chelsea Market two years ago in the summer of 2012, just as the hipster movement was becoming mainstream. I remember being very taken in by the grungy, underground feel of the place, with it being a former factory and all. I was very much looking forward to pay another visit to the place and see what had changed and what didn’t. Also, having the benefit of having more disposable income the second time around, I was hoping to try more food than I did the last time.
The first thing you notice when you enter is that the Market is actually a lot smaller than you would think. There is a walkway from the entrance at 9th Av, that leads through the building. When you exit at 10th Avenue, there are restaurants, shops and bars on both sides. I decided I had to check out this European bakery, called Amy’s Bread, where I laid eyes on a Ham and Swiss quiche. They say that real men don’t eat quiche, but that’s not true. Everybody eats quiche, real men admit they do. When I was in Nice, France in April this year I was having one for breakfast every day for the three days I was there, from this little bakery on the corner of the road, with a very nice French lady eager to speak to us in English.
The ham and swiss quiche looked promising and it did certainly smell good when served up. While I liked the filling, I felt that the pastry to filling ratio was a little too high for me, and, the bottom of the quiche was a little burnt, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the filling was good.
I then wandered into this seafood hall called the Lobster Place, a brightly-lit, ridiculously crowded place stocked with the freshest looking seafood and a very tempting sushi bar. As I entered I saw Japanese tourists carrying plates of the largest, reddest looking lobsters I had ever seen – and boy did they look good. Unfortunately, I do not have THAT much disposable income, so I settled for a chowder, which was supposed to be quite good. I was going to go for the classic New England clam chowder, but I saw a scallop and bacon and a lobster bisque option. I went for the scallop and bacon, and I was really glad with that choice. The chowder was so flavorful – salty with the sea and enriched by a glorious bacon back note. I would highly recommend doing that if you’re on a budget, or perhaps try the lobster bisque that I saw other folks making a beeline for.
Lastly, I decided I needed a burger to wash it all down, and went to Friedman’s Lunch for a takeaway burger. A proper beef burger with fries would be the best way to end the day. I had the Friedman’s burger, medium rare, which was cooked to perfection. Many times you don’t get a perfectly cooked burger, dark and caramelized on the outside, soft and pink inside, but Friedman’s did it just right. You’re allowed other toppings as well: lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, cheese, mushrooms and avocado. I settled for the veggies, Swiss cheese and bacon (again), which I believe you can’t go wrong with anyway. The fries were very well-cooked, but I had too much to eat by then that I unfortunately couldn’t finish them all. If I were to be critical, I would say the patty needed a good twist of seasoning, which was a shame, because the actual cooking of the patty was spot on and the buns perfectly toasted. But, hey, everyone’s a critic.
Perhaps I don’t sound too enthusiastic about Chelsea Market, which is true, because Chelsea Market left me pining for London’s famous Borough Market, which I miss greatly, with its cooked food and produce stands run by people from all over the world. Chelsea Market is not too expensive, and dishes out quite decent grub, but lacks a certain market vibe – it feels more like a decked-out hipster food hall than a bona fide market, and I admit I am being harsh here. I guess it’s an expectations problem. What impressed me at Chelsea Market, though, were the grocery shops, specifically BuonItalia and the Manhattan Fruit Exchange. BuonItalia especially was great, selling every type of pasta you could imagine and lots of types of cheese and other Italian goodies, for reasonable prices as well. Definitely worth a trip just to take a look at what they have available. Also impressive, coffee from ninth street espresso, which was aromatic, full, proper coffee that, at $2.50, was a decent price for your standard pour.
What Chelsea Market does well though, is reflect what New York is. They’ve fit a mind-boggling, almost overwhelming array of shops and variety of cuisines in what is a very small area. You can get almost anything you might want here, everything will seem expensive, but if you look hard enough you could find a good deal. There will be hits and misses, bored-looking hipsters, tourists in New Balance sneakers and mums with kids in tow, it will be hustle and bustle but if you take your time to scratch beneath the surface you just might unearth some gems.
Espresso took root in the early 1900s, when Luigi Bezzera patented a machine that consisted of an upright, gas-heated boiler that used steam pressure to force hot water through ground coffee held in clampable filters. This steam-pressure based design is still widely used today in espresso machines for the home market. The original intent was to prepare coffee more quickly, by the cup, on demand. Hence the name, espresso, as the beverage was prepared “expressly” for the customer – but that still doesn’t mean call it expresso.
Desidero Pavoni acquired the patent from Bezzera in 1903 and brought the machine through the rest of Europe. He created the first commercially-produced espresso machine, the Ideale, in 1905. But these machines were far from cranking out the lattes we know today. Due to steam contamination, high temperatures, and low pressure, the coffee lacked crema and tended to taste burnt. Essentially, espresso was prized for its speed and convenience, rather than its taste.
The espresso revolution came in 1947, after the coffee shortages of World War II. Achille Gaggia, a bar owner with a passion for coffee, registered a new patent with a lever operated piston.
In fact, today the act of making espresso is often referred to as “pulling a shot,” because of Gaggia’s machine, which required pulling down on the lever attached to a spring-loaded piston. The piston meant that extraction now resulted in the emulsion of oils and colloids to create a mousse, or crema, on top of the espresso. Today we recognize crema as one of the defining traits of espresso, but at the time, Gaggia renamed his new beverage caffè crema for the specific purpose of differentiating it from the existing espresso.
These developments led to the growth of the Italian coffee industry and the rise of the Italian coffee bar. However, beyond Italy’s borders, espresso was far from being known as a quality beverage thanks to poor quality blends. In the 1980s, all that changed with the second espresso revolution.
In 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association of America formed, and campaigned to raise standards rebranded espresso as a gourmet product. They encouraged gourmet retailers to promote espresso by serving it in stores. The idea was to allow customers to sample espresso, but they soon found out that using espresso as a base for other beverages like lattes added greatly to its appeal.
From there, a perfect storm took hold as Seattle, the home of Microsoft, boomed, and the later spread of laptops and wi-fi built the culture of the coffee shop, a model that Starbucks branded and reproduced across the world.