The sale and taste of coffee in NYC has charted an inglorious and irregular path in NYC. Initially in the !8th Century it tasted awful but was prohibitally expensive so only the rich got to know how dreadful it tasted. Then gradually it became a cheaper and more common drink in the 1880′s and 1890′s as better supplies helped people get used to the idea of ‘good’ coffee.
But the quality took a nosedive after World War 11 as lower quality beans became the norm until better quality beans started to be grown closer to home in Central America. Then Starbucks got going in the 1970′s and in the 1980′s they introduced espresso and opened their first NYC store at 86th and Broadway.
The huge growth in small cafes offering superb coffee, with proprietors often roasting their own beans selling their own blends of ground coffee and employing highly skilled baristas really only took off around the beginning of the 21st Century and has galloped ahead over the last 5 years so that NYC now has 1,830 coffee shops with a new one coming online about every 3 days.
However getting good coffee into every corner of NYC has not been easy. With the huge real estate development going on right now, people wanting to set up coffee shops in newly developed areas were being priced out of the market in Midtown because rents were so high. However real estate moguls quickly realised they had to do something and have started to lure proven performers in serving great coffee to set up in their brand new shimmering towers of glass. Those moguls want to bring some Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan cool to what they offer so now they are welcoming the coffee cafes with open arms and cheap rents.
The current state of play is that there are still people selling coffee in NYC made with the drip method but few coffee aficionados would dream of drinking it. Infusion and gravitational methods of brewing have their admireres and expert practitioners but all the action these days is focussed in two areas.
The first is the roast. Yes it’s important where you get your beans but how you roast them is super important and there’s huge competition to be the best at it. Then the second focus is espresso and the art of being an exceptional barista. Small but excellent coffee shops who were hanging on by their fingernails 5-7 years ago trying to acclimatize New Yorkers to good coffee are now replicating themselves all over the place while trying to retain the same neighborhood ambience which got them their start in the first place, See the video for the interview with the proprietor of JOE’s and you’ll get the idea.
And what about Starbucks these days? The continuing spread of the franchise all over NYC wpould suggest there’s a loyal clientele and a 2 tiered coffee drinking culture in NYC. Those who like their coffee hot and in weird flavors, pumpkin spice anyone? And then there’s the aficionados who will discuss different roasting methods and brewing techniques for hours. But bottom line there is now no one in NYC is who isn’t a coffee drinker. (Oh perhaps a few weird tea drinkers who are transplants from England). It’s even more of a NYC thing than pizza or cheescake. For heavens sake, who in NYC starts the day without a coffee?