NYC has always been chock full of java drinkers—the ubiquitous blue-and-white to-go cups available at every corner bodega attest to the city’s caffeine addiction—but the brew that filled those paper cups was all too often weak and bitter, more a coffee-flavored infusion than an actual cup of joe. Recently a handful of independently owned, serious-minded coffee shops have opened their doors in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Today, New York’s coffee landscape couldn’t be more robust: serious coffee bars that roast in-house using top-quality beans and then brew those beans with precision and dedication abound. Whether your tastes skew toward bright-tasting light roasts or you prefer a muddy dark coffee, you don’t have to travel far to find an excellent partner for your morning bagel. Here are a handful of our favorite coffee bars in the city.
1. Ninth Street Espresso, East Village
One of the early-comers to the craft coffee game, Ninth Street Espresso opened in 2001 and is still going strong as a favored destination for NYC coffee purists. Featuring Brooklyn-roasted beans that hold court on an ever-changing menu of blends, Ninth Street’s comfortable, minimally decorated space encourages a laser-like focus on what’s in the cup, though the silvery tin ceiling overhead might catch the eye once it’s properly and thoroughly caffeinated.
2. Abraço Espresso, East Village
The name of this tiny coffee bar means “hug” in Portuguese, and you might very well unintentionally embrace a stranger as you squeeze into the space. It barely accommodates six people. The accidental physical contact is a small price to pay for the reward of excellent espresso drinks and bold, brewed-to-order drip coffee from Blue Bottle-trained baristo Jamie McCormick, plus excellent tapas-style plates and baked goods from chef/partner Liz Quijada, formerly of nearby vegan bakery Babycakes.
3. Birch Coffee, Flatiron
Roasted in Long Island City and brewed fresh at six locations daily, Birch’s coffee runs the gamut from bright, clean-tasting light roast from Honduras to chocolatey dark beans from Burundi. Its smooth, earthy Filtron-brewed cold brew is particularly popular among iced coffee devotees. The Flatiron location features huge plate glass windows, exposed brick beams and particularly extensive lending library.
4. Third Rail, Greenwich Village
If espresso drinks are your thing, then Third Rail is for you, featuring at least two blends on offer all roasted by renowned North Carolina roaster Counter Culture and often single-origin. When going the steamed-milk route, opt for the cortado—half velvety coffee, half rich, foamy dairy—and belly up to Third Rail’s original location if you can: it’s tiny but charming, featuring a handsome dark wood counter loaded with thick, chewy bars from Outlaw Granola.
5. Box Kite, East Village
Coffee bar by day, serious tasting-menu restaurant by night — this sliver of a storefront deftly proves the truism that the city never sleeps—not even its coffee shops. Box Kite’s seasonally changing menu of beans are sourced from small, hands-on roasters such as Grand Rapids’ Madcap and San Francisco’s Ritual. The aesthetics the tiled six-seater bar extends to its coffee presentation: its “one and one” is a shot of espresso, a milky macchiato and a small glass of sparkling water, served with an adorable—and tasty—housemade graham cracker.
6. Café Grumpy, Chelsea
When it opened on a quiet Greenpoint street in 2005, Café Grumpy was one of first coffee companies to bring serious, thoughtfully brewed joe to Brooklyn. City dwellers can also get a taste of the Brooklyn-roasted beans at one of Grumpy’s four Manhattan locations; of those, the Chelsea shop is our favorite. Housed inside a beautiful 20th Street brownstone, the café’s bright orange walls project a decidedly un-grumpy vibe, and on warm days the shady back garden is the perfect spot to enjoy an icy glass of Grumpy’s turbo-strength cold brew.
7. Bluebird Coffee Shop, East Village
Bluebird Coffee Shop expertly roasts Counter Culture bean to make wake-me-up beverages like the bright, lemony Ethiopian Espresso Apollo, wonderful blended with creamy milk. The shop’s homey wood and brick accents cafe belie the seriousness of its coffee.
8. Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Greenwich Village
The widely respected coffee micro-chain, born and bred in Portland, Ore., revealed this lavishly renovated storefront in 2013. Stumptown’s second NYC location, it features scream Portland with coffered ceilings, a wood bar made of walnut and hand-screened wallpaper where a dedicated brew bar offers a range of fresh-roasted beans prepared in a French press, ceramic V60, or the new-fangled Aeropress, which extracts rich coffee flavor in just 30 seconds.
9. Intelligentsia, Chelsea
Founded in Chicago in 1995, Intelligentsia is one of the country’s oldest and most widely celebrated coffee chains. Serving seasonal Direct Trade coffees sourced from some of the globe’s most expert coffee-growing nations, Intelligentsia brews beans with a variety of methods, from single-cup V60 pour-overs to chemistry-set-looking siphon brews, which come out delicate and almost tea-like. Its sole NYC location is a small zinc-topped bar nestled inside the stylish lobby of the High Line Hotel. Get your coffee to go and stroll along the gorgeously renovated elevated park.
10. Bluestone Lane, West Village
Some New Yorkers might remember a time before the great flat white invasion of circa-2012, but with the recent influx of Australian cafés here, that period now seems remote. Melbourne is home to a dynamic and professional coffee scene, and along with fellow Aussie shops Little Collins, Two Hands and Toby’s Estate, multi-location Bluestone Lane reps the Down Under culture with style. In the West Village, Bluestone’s largest location occupies a busy corner and boasts sidewalk seating plus an all-day menu of Aussie favorites like avocado toast with tahini, feta and sunflower sprouts.