The Manhattan Coffee Pilgrimage: Espresso
I’ve decided that while cortados/cappuccinos are my favorite sit-down drinks, macchiatos are made for coffee tasting. There’s not enough milk to mask the taste of the espresso, but just enough to taste the quality of the milk and the steaming technique.
Joe: the Art of Coffee (514 Columbus Ave): thank you, THANK you for bringing good coffee to the Upper West Side!
- Roasters: Ecco specifically for Joe
- Ordered: a cortado (5 oz). Other than not being quite hot enough, it was really damn good. It was served in a ceramic mug (as opposed to the traditional glass), but the espresso was mellow and sweet, with an underlying acidity.
Cafe Ost (441 E. 12th Street)
Out of all the cafes I went to, only Ost seemed to value the idea of sitting down and enjoying a cup. A number of articles have recently been published attacking those of us who prefer working or relaxing in cafes, and I stand by what I’ve always said: I go to cafes just as much for the atmosphere as I do for the coffee (although clearly, I’m willing to compromise and drink my espresso standing up the way they do in Italy if it’s worth it). I drank at the bar, but the overall vibe was laid back and cozy, ideal for cloudy days and warm sweaters. Ost also offers German and Eastern European food; their hamentaschen looked delectable.
- Roaster: Intelligentsia. Black Cat espresso blend. ‘Nuff said. Milk: Battenkill Valley Creamery. Regular coffee is French press.
- Ordered: Macchiato that was to die for: the milk was velvety (never airy), and there were so many layers of flavor going on in the espresso itself. Because the initial sweetness of the milk was so comforting, it was almost jarring when the sharp coffee zing hit the back of my throat.
Stumptown Coffee (in the Ace Hotel: 18 W. 29th street)
Last year, when I was in Portland, my favorite city in the U.S., I tasted Stumptown for the first time. Stumptown only very recently became available in Chicago, and even then, it was only drip coffee, no espresso. Thank god that New York, being New York, has an Ace Hotel-Stumptown branch. Stumptown is the epitome of hipsterdom, as is the Ace. Can you tell?
- Roaster: Do I even need to say?
- Ordered: Luckily, I was with two other people, allowing for more taste testing. My macchiato was superb– probably the best I had in the city. Like espresso often does, it had a slight salinity, without being acidic at all. The aroma was very “roasty,” and the coffee was rich and bitter in the best possible sense. I love Stumptown’s macchiatos because they’re really more like mini cortados, without too much foam.
Abraço (86 E. 7th street)
Is it their goal to be as elusive as possible? The place doesn’t even have a phone, for God’s sake. Due to several terrible twists of fate, it took three or four visits tofinally find the place open. The fourth time, I literally begged the barista, “You don’t understand… I literally came down here just for this!” to which she responded that they had already turned off the espresso machines. The enigma surrounding the cafe, which is really more like a storefront, makes sense: without a single seat to be seen, it really is a cult. Just imagine a conglomeration of hipsters spilling out onto the street, sipping espresso and munching olive shortbread.
- Roaster: recently made the transition from Counter Culture to roasting their own in Brooklyn!
- Ordered: the best cortado of my entire life. This is not an exaggeration. I think I died and went to heaven. It was hot bordering on scorching, just the way I like it. The flavors of the coffee were literally dancing on my tongue; I tasted honey and cherries, with a hint of almond. It was sweet and licorice-like, and I’ve never had such delicately steamed milk. Plus, the glass is a nice touch. Abraco is touted as having amazing cortados, and now I understand why.
My final destination made for a nice ending to a lengthy, caffeine-filled pilgrimage. I reached my Manhattan Mecca, and its name is Abraco.