It’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