Food insiders are as excited to talk about coffee bars as they are restaurants: The quality has gotten that good. Here, the classic and new places around the country with the most fanatical devotees.
New York City
Jonathan Rubinstein was one of the originals on the New York City coffee scene when he opened his first café in 2003 with a luxe La Marzocco espresso machine, carefully sourced beans and expertly trained baristas. Since then, he has expanded beyond the first Waverly Place spot with three more, including one in Grand Central Terminal. All occasionally sell batches of cupcakes hand-baked by comedian Amy Sedaris.
Since its start eight years ago in the college town of Ithaca, New York, Gimme! Coffee has grown to include six coffee bars across the state. The Lansing location is in a ’40s gas station on the Cayuga wine trail; the newest branch is on Manhattan’s Mott Street. In addition to the “Leftist” house espresso, a blend of beans from Indonesia, India and South America, Gimme! makes drip coffee using a rotating selection of locally roasted beans, also available by the pound.
At Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s new spot just off Mint Plaza, owner James Freeman brews coffee with a custom-siphon system using freshly roasted beans—his claim to fame for the past six years. The café also serves simple food, such as perfectly poached eggs on toast.
Since it opened in 1999, Stumptown’s espresso has become the gold standard, thanks to owner Duane Sorenson. This winter, he’ll expand to an eighth location in Manhattan—but it just wouldn’t be Stumptown without locally roasted beans, so he’s establishing a facility in Brooklyn.
Owner Craig Min, who has been selling beans wholesale since 1997, has a serene new café in Silver Lake with over-the-top waiter service: A barista heats water at the table, then mixes it with ground coffee using two glass globes. The menu, created by chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence restaurant, includes a quirky Asian BLT with pork belly, arugula and black bean sauce.
Low-key Intelligentsia is one of the most respected coffee roasters in the country. Coffee buyer Geoff Watts, a pioneer in the direct-trade coffee movement when Intelligentsia launched in 1995, was among the first to seek individual growers, cutting out middlemen. Intelligentsia now has four outposts; the newest is in Los Angeles.
Housed in an old bank, the year-old Bloc 11 has flawless espresso, brewed with a lime-green La Marzocco machine, and delicious sandwiches, like the Safe Haven with artichoke hearts and goat cheese. The former vaults are now seating areas.
New York City
The line can stretch out the door at this new, practically postage stamp–size East Village café, where charismatic partner Jamie McCormick greets almost everyone by name, and brews coffee straight into each mug. Chef and partner Elizabeth Quijada makes an excellent rustic pain perdu—a thick slice of custardy toast folded around ricotta.
Chapel Hill, NC
The 3Cups philosophy that everything it sells should be easily replicated at home means no fancy espresso drinks at this three-year-old café, due to reopen in a larger space in October. Instead, the focus is on simple drip and French press coffee made with some of the finest single-origin beans from nearby Counter Culture Coffee. The café also sells great tea and biodynamic wine.
Melody Harwell brought serious coffee to Oklahoma City when she opened Coffee Slingers in a renovated car dealership in March. She’s such a stickler for quality that she insists all of the cappuccinos be served exactly the same way, in seven-ounce ceramic mugs, and she’ll only make coffee with a French press using single-origin beans.