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(This was originally posted on my Blogger site, ‘The Jottings of Jaxter’, on August 2nd, 2010 after our June trip.)

As part of our trip to NYC in June we decided to have a coffee ‘theme’ and seek out some of the small espresso bars in the city.  The New York Times had run an article earlier in the year (March 2010) entitled ‘New York is Finally Taking Its Coffee Seriously ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/dining/10coffee.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&h – it may need you to register before you can open the link – it’s free though).  It caught our eye and decided to select some of the places listed and went off in search of what New York feels espresso should be.

Some of the places we chose didn’t meet up to our expectations – too small, no seating, and in some cases just too ‘hip and trendy’ for us middle aged Brits (places where the baristas were far more interested in having fun with their colleagues, chatting to each other, not really acknowledging customers, carrying on a conversation about something really interesting (to them) while they filled my order – I don’t like to feel I’m more of a by-product of their fun place of work rather than a reason they’re there…).

This photo of Mike sums up what we were looking for on our search … somewhere to relax, enjoy really good espresso and decompress – ok, decompress and caffeine may appear to be a contradiction but it works for us….! We went out each day, with reading books, as well as in my case my notebook ready for any jottings Jaxter felt like making, hoping to find somewhere to settle down and do our thing…

At Third Rail Coffee we found it – and that’s where the photo was taken 🙂 www.thirdrailcoffee.com.

Located on W 3rd and Sullivan Street in SoHo, they offer a small, perfectly formed haven of tranquility, and despite the 110% concentration that goes into the creation of every cup of heaven,  (my cortado was complete with its beautifully feathered thick milk foam) you’re left with an overall feeling of serenity.  We sat in the window, perfect for people watching both inside and out.

The NY Times article says Third Rail Coffee punches above its weight. It’s one of the city’s smallest coffee bars, and its most focused. The owners, Humberto Ricardo and Rita McCaffrey, offer at least two different espresso blends (each needs its own grinder, a commitment of capital and counter space), single-origin coffee in a Chemex and a full range of espresso drinks. The cortado is memorable.’ Yes, it certainly is!

Culture Espresso www.cultureespresso.com also fitted the bill nicely.  It turned out to be just a couple of streets away from our hotel (72 West 38th, just off 6th) and was a real find.

It hadn’t been on our shortlist of ones to try, (the blurb in the article was very brief) but we are so pleased we did.It may not be on one of the prettiest streets but it more than makes up for it on the inside! It was a very late find – the day before we came home – but we know where it is for our next trip!

And then there was Jittery Joeswww.jitteryjoes.com.

Now their NYC store turned out to be located in the ground floor lobby of a large office  building on East 54th between 2nd and 3rd. If you decide to go there, don’t be put off by it’s location – it may not have its own ceiling, and it may feel a little like an impromptu film set ready to be taken down and packed away never to be seen again, but it does great coffee!

It was hot hot hot in the Big Apple during our visit, and with this in mind I had an iced Americano, ready to add lots of half and half to take away any unwelcome bitterness but much to my surpise I didn’t need any!  It was thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly refreshing!  Mike had his usual espresso, and whilst it was way too strong for me (I soon found out that this wasn’t specific to them – it’s the NYC way of making espresso – espresso strength = ristretto strength…or even stronger than that in some places!) he said it was great! It has a small seating area and we happily whiled away half an hour there, watching the baristas work and their customers coming and going.

We loved this sign – and having witnessed this so much at home in the UK look forwards to seeing it appear in our coffee shops!

Having looked at their website, it’s a shame they don’t have a ‘proper’ store in the Big Apple – we could have gotten carried away with merchandise purchases (or should I say their merchandise would have been carried away by us LOL!).  The NY Times article says ‘Based in Athens, Ga., it opened its first New York branch in the gloomy lobby of a fashion business school in Midtown East — it’s a makeshift setting and the beans are dark roast; the baristas are talented.’ Yes, they most certainly are!!!  Whilst it wasn’t what we expected, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and somewhere we’d visit again if we were in that part of town.

The last place we visited on our coffee tour (on our last full day actually) was Stumptown Coffee, which is situated at the Ace Hotel www.stumptowncoffee.com/locations/nyc-ace.

I decided to try an espresso con panna rather than my usual cortado… which in some ways was a mistake.  Their espresso hits you straight between the eyes – almost daring you to drink it, and when you do….wowzer!

The article says… ‘With its travertine floors, walnut bar and natty staff, this is a striking setting for a cappuccino. The drink is up to the surroundings. Cold-brewed iced coffee tastes as bright and fruity as berries steeped in water, while a shot of espresso is so sweet and plush you’ll wish it lasted longer.’ I’m not sure whether I’d say sweet but hey!  I’m not THAT much of an espresso connossieur…but I doubt I’m brave enough to have it again without a certain amount of milk in it….!.  It is an exceptionally trendy place though – baristas wearing the ubiquitous flat caps or other such fashionable head coverings seen at pretty much all the places we visited, and full of beautiful, young, trendy people on both sides of the counter, with a dose of tourists for good measure.  There’s no seating without going into the hotel lobby, however you can stand at the long narrow counter in front of the window and gaze at the world passing by, which of course we did!

I wanted to put this into my blog almost as a counterpoint to the others in here – there was no seating, the coffee was waaaay to strong for me, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable there (far too many beautiful people 🙂 ), but out of the rest of the places we visited apart from Third Rail, Jittery Joes and Culture Espresso, it best fit what I think the NY Times article was trying to highlight – New York is definitely taking its coffee SERIOUSLY – almost TOO seriously for me.  Espresso for me is a pleasure, something to be savoured, appreciated and most of all enjoyed, not something that overwhelms my tastebuds.  The glass of water that accompanies my espresso is to cleanse my palate (as well as to counteract the inevitable dehydrating effect caffeine has on the body),  it’s not meant to be a necessity aid in diluting the extremely strong aftertaste, nor should I be seeking out more several glasses of water after I’ve finished that one.  Having said that, and in an aim to give some perspective to what my taste buds were going through, at the time of our trip I’d just almost totally given up milk, which meant giving up my beloved lattes and moving to cortados and the occasional espresso – perhaps if I had still been drinking those, I might have appreciated the intensity in a more diluted environment.  Having said that, I had no problems with espressos at home… even those made by the most traditional and talented Italian baristas…

Who knows…maybe I’m just an uneducated Brit with an inability to appreciate art when I drink it 😉