Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

The Rise of Fake Good Coffee

11293321443_a0887ac0cd_zIt's true, as Oliver Strand writes, that the coffee scene has never been better in New York—or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Portland or basically anywhere—than it is right now. There's more superb coffee and more of it: from Budin's single storefront in Greenpoint serving exquisite Tim Wendelboe, which often tastes more of tea than coffee (for five dollars a cup because shipping from Norway is like, expensive man) to the roughly six hunded Joe locations dotting Manhattan.

Less discussed, however, is the concurrent rise of coffee shops that trade in the signs of "good coffee"* but in fact serve hot sewage. These cafes offer a small smorgasbord of beans from a variety of places around the world, perhaps with an intricately constructed origin story and a slightly overexposed, super-contrasty photo of the farmer who grew them tacked to a board on the wall; the coffee was roasted locally; they pour swirly latte art; they do pourovers; the baristas have tattoos or beards or both; a cappuccino costs four dollars. But the coffee tastes like dirt or weirdly vegetal because swan-neck kettles and artsy milk foam don't actually make anything taste good. (But damn don't they look good?) I'll even name some names: Brooklyn Roasting Company and Roasting Plant and Konditori are terrible. Locally roasted? Sure! Well roasted? Nope!

This is not at all to impugn bodega or diner coffee, which is totally great because it usually delivers exactly what it promises. But these simulacra of good coffee shops, on the other hand, promise—and charge for!—so much more. Unfortunately, the best way to sort the muck from the coffee—unless you are a coffee asshole (hi) and notice things like how clean they keep the bar or the shade of the beans—is to drink it. And then if it sucks, to hit up the Starbucks around the corner because that white mocha syrup is delicious.

*"Good coffee" here is just shorthand for a certain kind of shop that might be found on a list like this; you should drink WHATEVER coffee you like HOWEVER you prefer it, although artificial creamer is totally vile and K-Cups are ruining the planet but otherwise sip and let sip, etc.

Photo by Jeremy Keith

23 Comments / Post A Comment

I was all ready to agree with this until you named names. The coffees at those places are pretty good. They're not at the level of 9th Street Espresso, Joe, or Grumpy, but they're totally solid coffee places.

140464949@twitter (#272,928)

@Dan Blondell@twitter Funnily, BK Roasting's espresso-based drinks are pretty solid, but I've found their drip coffee is kind of a toss-up on the spectrum from "dece" to "charred poop."

geekspice ny (#273,064)

@Dan Blondell@twitter BK roasting can be meh or great, very unreliable, but Konditori should just stop. Undrinkable.

samsamsam (#272,144)

Third-ing awfulness of Brooklyn Roasting. Also adding 9th Street, Grumpy, Sweetleaf Williamsburg, Blue Bottle.

@samsamsam What coffee do you like?

samsamsam (#272,144)

@Dan Blondell@twitter Maybe I just get a bad barista every time but 9th St Espresso -the one on 10th I had a very good espresso on my first visit but the stuff at the one on 9th and Chelsea Market were downright awful. I liked Abraco but I haven't been in 3 or 4 years. Toby's I find to be dependent on the roast, their decafs are actually quite decent (in my defense my friend orders it and I try it), Verve there was one good barista when they had the popup but I don't know if it's still a thing. Counter Culture is good, it's my go-to for the mornings. I haven't been back to Sweetleaf since they first opened but I liked it – and little collins. I liked Budin but I wouldn't drink it in the morning. The parlor coffee guy is super nice and I should probably go there more often instead of Toby's/Blue Bottle. Intelligentsia is a wash, Ive only had cold brew and drip at stuptown 8th but i hear it's better than the one at the Ace Hotel. La Colombe's cold brew is a good wake-me-up but everything else is terrible. I never liked Blue Bottle – i always preferred Four Barrel and Ritual. I'm hoping to check out Linnea and St Frank's next month, but that isn't in NY.
-signed a really douchey person.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@samsamsam Linnea is great, get a waffle.

swagv (#263,624)

Fake good coffee? I just don't see it. And I travel to coffee places all over the world, let alone the U.S. And I have a Web site that rates and reviews over 1,200 of them.

That's not to say that there aren't a ton of coffeeshops slipstreaming in the wake of the standard-bearers out there. (Most of them wear the horrible term "Third Wave" like a self-congratulating badge of honor — even if it was originally coined for coffee consumers rather than to describe its purveyors.) But few of them are making the kind of rot gut coffee common to the places that often existed before them.

So I call "b.s." on calling out a trend that isn't a trend. This sounds motivated in either a minuscule sample lot of anecdotal evidence, suspicion, paranoia, a grudge, or some combination of the four.

@swagv agreed. This is exactly the arrogance that is such a turn-off for people new to the specialty coffee industry…. So you had a bad cup of coffee, no one cares, you're not a whistle-blower or a food critic. Just go someplace else for your cup. That Barista with the beard and tattoos your bullying probably cares a lot about what he does, and I'm sure the roasters your bad-mouthing do too. Did you notice Brooklyn Coffee Roasters specialize in certified coffees and post blogs about climate change? Sound like exactly the type of company the coffee industry should embrace. — I'm at a bit of a loss as to what validates you, Matt Buchanan, to be so critical.

UncleStu (#232,509)

Honestly, there is so much BS about coffee that I had to comment.

First and foremost Starbucks is a bad joke foisted on the gullible and the wannabe. It is burnt tasting swill – even the expert tasters at Consumer Reports said so (long after I came to that conclusion on my own). But is soooo coool that to say it brands you as soooo uncooool.

I forget where I saw these, and wish I had written them myself. They sum up the Starbucks nonsense perfectly:
Whenever I go in there to buy a simple cup of coffee, they expect me to participate in the “Starbucks Experience”. And if I order my coffee “wrong”, I get corrected by some minimum-wage-twit who couldn’t articulate their way home.

They don’t sell their coffees in Small, Medium or Large. NOOOOO! They have some pretentious bullshit names like Tall (which is small), Grande and Venti. WTF? Venti is not even a word – it is a Starbucks word – look closely at the menu, they have the word Venti trademarked! They made up the fucking word! And then they train their staff to not respond to normal words like, “I would like a small cup of coffee.”

They ask me, “You mean a Tall?”

Let me see – I’m looking at three cups: a short one, a medium one and a tall one. I don’t want the tall one, I didn't bring that much money – I want the short fucker! Read my fucking lips: IT IS NOT TALL, IT IS SHORT! Goddamn – no wonder the poor bastards who work at Starbucks are dyslexic.

I can see it now – guys, let’s use the Starbucks method for sizing up our cocks. Here, some poor guy has the shortest one, but we will call it the Long cock. Then someone with a medium-sized cock is now Mondo and the guy with the big honker gets to call it Bando.

That's right – Bando. I made up that word and you have to use it or I will ignore you. And every woman/man can take pleasure in knowing that her/his man is at least Long.

And what is with these other Starbucks code words, like “With Room” or “Extra Shot”? How fucking pretentious is that? I even notice Starbucks Snobs in line practicing their order so they can whiz through all the special vernacular so, are you ready for this, they can order a cup of coffee.

and then there is this true story

Starbucks Booted Me Over A Bagel
By John Doyle, Rebecca Rosenberg and Annie Karni
New York Post – August 16, 2010

Starbucks' strange vernacular finally drove a customer nuts.

Lynne Rosenthal, a college English professor from Manhattan, said three cops forcibly ejected her from an Upper West Side Starbucks yesterday morning after she got into a dispute with a counterperson — make that barista — for refusing to place her order by the coffee chain's rules.

Rosenthal, who is in her early 60s, asked for a toasted multigrain bagel — and became enraged when the barista at the franchise, on Columbus Avenue at 86th Street, followed up by inquiring, "Do you want butter or cheese?"

"I just wanted a multigrain bagel," Rosenthal told The Post. "I refused to say 'without butter or cheese.' When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want.

"Linguistically, it's stupid, and I'm a stickler for correct English." Rosenthal admitted she had run into trouble before for refusing to employ the chain's stilted lexicon — balking at ordering a "tall" or a "venti" from the menu or specifying "no whip." Instead, she insists on making a pest of herself by ordering a "small" or "large" cup of joe.

Yesterday's breakfast-bagel tussle heated up when the barista told the prickly prof that he wouldn't serve her unless she specified whether she wanted a schmear of butter or cheese — or neither.

"I yelled, 'I want my multigrain bagel!' " Rosenthal said. "The barista said, 'You're not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!' "

But Rosenthal, on principle, refused to back down.

"I didn't even want the bagel anymore," she said. The bagel brouhaha escalated until the manager called cops, and responding officers ordered her to leave, threatening to arrest her if she went back inside, she said.

"It was very humiliating to be thrown out, and all I did was ask for a bagel," recalled Rosenthal, who said she holds a Ph.D. from Columbia. "If you don't use their language, they refuse to serve you. They don't understand what a plain multigrain bagel is."

A Starbucks employee who witnessed the incident blamed Rosenthal. "She would not answer. It was a reasonable question," the worker said. "She called [the barista] an a- -hole."

An NYPD spokesman confirmed that officers were called to the coffee shop but said he was unaware of anyone being tossed out.
It's time to grow up and stop the BS. Drink what you like and stfu.

By the way, I like my coffee very strong – just not tasting like coal.

Poubelle (#214,283)

@UncleStu Sure, Starbucks serves burnt coffee, but venti is a real word, unless you think English is the only language.

coffeenotsnob (#273,948)

@UncleStu venti means 20 in italian as in 20 ounce.

slutberry (#238,351)


I live in Montreal, which is also a coffee snob city. Recently, a coffee shop which filled me with great hope for a good brew opened across from my university. Note that it is almost impossible to get good coffee on my campus – even the closest Starbucks is several blocks away. What do we have? Tim Horton's. Tim Horton's, while crack-like in its addictive capabilities, is not coffee.

So! This new shop opened up. It had all the qualifications: cute decor, an obscure name that doesn't make much sense, lots of blonde wood and beards and tattoos. After it opened, I dropped off my CV and the weirdly intense barista said, "Would you say you LOVE coffee?" and I was like, "Um, yeah, I love coffee," and he was like "But are you PASSIONATE about coffee?" and I was like "Yes?" and I didn't get the job. But a few months later, I went for a cup of coffee and was given a cup of swill.

All of their coffee is outrageously acidic. It's like they don't even believe in fully roasting the beans. And I don't think it's on purpose. I asked for a café au lait and had to tell them how to make it. Guys. This is Montreal. You speak French. Café au lait LITERALLY MEANS "COFFEE WITH MILK". You should at least be able to figure this out. Also, they claim that everyone on the staff has to approve a blend before they will sell it, which leads me to believe that everyone on the staff also has to love sucking lemons.

So this year, I guess it's back to the $1 coffees sold in the arts building. They're not fancy, but damn, they're good.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@slutberry Myriade is pretty fantastic tho

geh (#273,091)

@slutberry I weirdly loved the Santropol coffee at the kiosk in Leacock during my McGill names. But Myriade is good. Plume, near McGill, is decent too.

slutberry (#238,351)

@geh the Santropol coffee at the kiosk is my crack. That's what I meant by the stuff sold in the arts building. SO GOOD AND YOU CAN BRING THE BIGGEST MUG YOU WANT.

slutberry (#238,351)

@geh Myriade is good, Pikolo is my favourite.

Poubelle (#214,283)

@slutberry …there is a coffee shop in Montreal where the baristas had to have café au lait explained to them.

Well, that's it. I've heard everything.

coffeenotsnob (#273,948)

@Matt Buchanan I am still trying to understand the hype on Myriade. I have tried time and time again and it's just brutal coffee. I think it's a great space but shit their coffee sucks.

coffeenotsnob (#273,948)

@slutberry that's too bad you felt his normal questions were strange. I as well ask customers what they want if they say cafe au lait. it's good manners and not everyone interprets it to be the same drink. sorry to pwn you like that.

Mama Penguino (#191,144)

From the Keurig website:

"At Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., we are passionate about our business and look for ways to be more sustainable in everything that we do. Over the past several years we have grown rapidly and today we are a leading personal beverage system company. Our growth and evolution blends a socially responsible, premium coffee roaster with a high-tech, innovative appliance maker, making our unique and powerful business model possible."

Then why, for christ's sake, are you manufacturing a product that uses so much effing packaging? If anything's going to make me go postal it's the waste generated by those machines.

Bought a $1.00 reusable plastic "mug" from Starbucks. I get it filled every morning for exactly $1.00 at the little crepe/muffin place around the corner with very, very good coffee. It's a win/win for everyone, basically.

coffeenotsnob (#273,948)

@slutberry that's too bad you felt his normal questions were strange. I as well ask customers what they want if they say cafe au lait. it's good manners and not everyone interprets it to be the same drink. sorry to pwn you like that.

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