Best Places for Coffee in New York City

Image from Premshree Pillai,
Flickr (Creative Commons license).
Looking for an amazing cup of coffee, cappuccino, latte, or espresso in Manhattan? Here's a quick run-down of my four favorites.

Cafe Grumpy, Chelsea
224 West 20th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan
The tiny and nearly unmarked Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea (there are other locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, too) is my favorite coffee shop in New York City for atmosphere and espresso drinks and coffee. It's on a sleepy side street rather than an avenue, bringing a quiet calm and neighborhood feel. Small hand-written signs inside the cafe will tell you no laptops are allowed, as it would go against the grain of the environment they're trying to maintain. Strong and rich espresso marks the cappuccinos and lattes. Thoughtfulness and patience go into each cup. And the serving sizes remain on the small European size, which I feel is necessary when dealing with fairly strong coffee. It can be a pain to nab a table, as Cafe Grumpy is almost always full, but it's worth waiting for a seat, as the atmosphere is half the draw.

Fika Espresso Bar
Image from the blog Perfectly Pitched.
407 Park Avenue South (at 28th Street), Manhattan
Fika makes my favorite cappuccino in New York City, period. A lot of people disagree, saying Fika's espresso is not strong enough, and while I agree that it's not the strongest espresso Manhattan has to offer, coffee drinks with more punch tend to get muddy and compromise the flavor. Fika has balance, and that in itself is an under-appreciated art. Like Cafe Grumpy, Fika has a few locations, but the one I know best and like best is on Park Avenue (I had a bad experience at the one in midtown; it smelled like burnt popcorn). For atmosphere, I like Grumpy more, but for espresso drinks, Fika trumps Grumpy in balance and flavor. Fika, a Swedish word that can be used both as a noun and a verb to mean "little coffee break," lives up to its Scandinavian heritage by offering one of my favorite little chocoalte treats: the chokladbollar, a rich chocolate cake shaped like a golf ball and rolled in coconut flakes.

Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 6th Avenue (at 56th Street), Manhattan
This tiny Italian espresso bar in midtown served me one of the best espressos of my life, and I will forever hold it in my heart for that. I have been meaning to go back and eat a miniature cannoli with bright flecks of orange peel for ages. Zibetto's Italian nature is true to form. Most patrons drinks while standing at a thin marble bar, and you pay the bill at the end, after you've finished your coffee. Zibetto is not open late, but it's an excellent stop on a wintry day while shopping.

There is very good restaurant coffee to be hand in the city, and then there is Van Daag. I ordered an iced coffee during brunch one day at this Dutch/Northern European restaurant, took one sip, and declared it a crime if anyone at the table, including my mother, tried to put even one drop of sugar or milk in it. I normally take my coffee with milk, and I typically like a pinch of sugar in espresso, so it is a rare moment indeed when coffee pushes forth with a complexity so divine that I can't bear to see it adulterated. While Vandaag operates as a full restaurant, a bar serves coffee and pastries in the morning and afternoon before it becomes an alcohol bar at night, so it does work when you need a 30-minute pop-in for coffee. It's also one of the most beautifully designed restaurants in my opinion, although I am partial to the simplicity and straight lines that mark Norther European design.

A best-of list for coffee in New York really would not be complete without these few other incredible spots:
Blue Bottle Coffee (Brooklyn)
Birch Coffee
Stumptown at The Ace Hotel
Joe the Art of Coffee
Gimme! Coffee