There is a recipe in this post. I promise. To read about my year of drinking an absurd amount of espresso, read on. To skip to the recipe, scroll away, my friends.
(Of course, we weren’t completely pleased with their choices, as some incredible shops were noticeably absent, and there were THREE shops in Midtown . . . but we attacked the list regardless.)
Allison likes to switch up her order–ranging from iced lattes to cortados to cold brews. I stick to the same order every time: espresso. Call me hardcore, but I love the hit of a well-done espresso. I like being able to truly taste the quality of the shop’s roasting. Some espresso is too bitter and harsh and needs a bit of simple syrup (or honey because I’m “one of those vegans”–go ahead and berate me in the comments; I can handle your lambasting), while others are strong but mellow, perfectly sippable on their own.
Typical: Allison’s cortado, my espresso
My favorites? Well, I’m so glad you asked. 🙂
For me, a huge part of the coffee shop experience is simply the ambiance and decor. If it’s a cozy space to be in, I will love it, no matter what the espresso tastes like. (Thankfully, none of these shops had espresso that I would label “bad.” How could they make the list otherwise?)
10. Sit & Wonder in Prospect Heights (Brooklyn)
This little shop had beautiful blue cups and saucers, as well as many bearded men wearing flannel and vintage hats. I love me a hipster hangout.
9. Variety Coffee in Bushwick (Brooklyn)
This Bushwick gem (which I had not heard of before the challenge, despite living in the area for most of my NY life) was open and airy, unlike most coffee shops in New York. As in, you can comfortably walk from one side of the shop to the other without hitting anyone in the head with your backpack or squeezing between two tiny tables. They even had vanilla-flavored syrup that was made in house. Cool.
Fun fact: I wrote this post from this coffee shop because now I’m a Brooklyn resident and I go here on the regular.
8. Culture Espresso in Midtown (Manhattan)
I could have sat in this bright, charming spot forever. Despite being in Midtown (i.e. hell on earth), this shop was calm and just tucked away enough to not receive a ton of foot traffic. (Let’s be honest: most people in Midtown are going to Starbucks and Dunkin.) What really made me love this place was the wallpaper. I’m a sucker for gorgeous wallpaper.
7. Everyman Espresso in Soho (Manhattan)
This spot was tucked away right off Canal Street, making it feel more like Chinatown than Soho. This place had limited seating, but FULL GLASSES of sparkling water (not pictured) like it was no big deal. Plus, it had the friendliest baristas. Hands down.
6. Propellor Coffee Co. in Greenpoint (Brooklyn)
This coffee shop is a pain to get to (curse that G train!), but well worth the struggle. If I recall correctly, they also had their own house-flavored vanilla syrup (like vanilla beans floating in simple syrup). But what really set this place apart was the vintage charm. Look at that spoon! And the music. When they started playing “Check Yo Self” by Ice Cube, I almost imploded.
5. The Hungry Ghost in Fort Greene (Brooklyn)
The Hungry Ghost has a few locations in Brooklyn, and I love all of them. This was my first time at this specific location, and all I have to say is: LOOK AT THAT FLOOR.
4. Fort Defiance in Red Hook (Brooklyn)
This was our last spot on the challenge, mostly because we were procrastinating hardcore. If I thought Greenpoint was difficult to get to, then Red Hook felt nearly impossible. It is inaccessible by train and requires a long, tedious bus ride. Allison and I arrived in a miserably crabby state, muttering about how this coffee better be [expletive] incredible.
It was. Also, those tables can only be described as magical.
3. The Daily Press in Bed-Stuy (Brooklyn)
MILES from the part of Bed-Stuy I once called home, this coffee shop was one of the coziest shops I’ve ever been in. Right off the A train, this place gives complementary sparkling water with their espresso, and, most importantly, THEY HAVE A PATIO in the back! (We still sat inside because it was still winter. But it’s the thought that counts.)
2. Irving Farm in the Upper West Side (Manhattan)
Some of the stops were just memorable experiences. Irving Farm in the Upper West Side had outdoor seating, and we were there on the first beautiful day of spring. I’m a sucker for sitting in sidewalk seating. It’s such a New York feeling, like, “Look at me, I’m just sitting around in my carefully chosen spring outfit, indulging in life’s luxuries!” Also, look at that crema! That was some delicious espresso (despite being decaf because it was my second espresso of the day–woops) AND a great, friendly staff.
Okay, I lied before. Irving Farm had the friendliest staff. And I’m not just saying that because they complimented our outfits. (But maybe I am.) Regardless, Everyman Espresso was a very close second.
1. Sweetleaf in Long Island City (Queens)
Notice that my top four places all served their espresso with complementary sparkling water, which I think should be mandatory. It’s a common European practice to help prevent dehydration, but also to cleanse the palate between each intense sip of espresso. It truly heightens the experience. The places that offered a glass of sparkling water were consistently my favorite spots. In fact, I became so hooked that I would often fork over the extra $3 to buy a Pellegrino to accompany my espresso if it weren’t offered automatically. And losing those $3 makes me resentful, and that’s bad business. Right? 🙂
Anyway, Sweetleaf had it all. Ample seating, chill music, vintage seating and decor, vegan and gluten-free and “regular” baked goods and sandwiches, and multiple rooms for different purposes. There was a library, a music room with records (if I remember correctly), and then the front, general seating pictured here. Oh, and of COURSE it had sparkling water. 😉
You can see both of our pictures from all 30 stops by searching the hashtag #yearofcaffeine on Instagram. Give us some likes! Feed our egos! 🙂
And eventually, I ran out of creative ways to take pictures of espresso, so this happened:
P.S. What coffee shops do I love that should have made the list?
- Little Skips in Bushwick (Brooklyn) – no idea how this didn’t make the list.
- Toby’s Estate Coffee in multiple locations – Do you see that drink in Allison’s hand? That’s an “espresso julep.” Think ‘mint julep’ + iced latte. Also, the espresso is amazing and comes with sparkling water.
- Birch Coffee in multiple locations (not my picture) – has nobody at Thrillest ever had a Birch Coffee? Really?!?!
- 12 Corners in Chinatown (Manhattan) – quality coffee in Chinatown? C’mon.
- Konditori in multiple locations (photos below)
Now for that recipe I promised you.
One of my favorite coffee shops that didn’t make the list is Konditori. It has several locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. They have many specialties, but my two favorites are the Swedish Tonic (espresso + tonic water, over ice):
…and their homemade flavored syrups.
During the winter, they had flavors like Cardamom Honey, Mocha Orange Peel, Maple, and Coconut. I don’t normally add syrups/flavors to my drinks, but I simply could not resist sampling these concoctions. My favorite, hands down, was the coconut. So this next recipe is inspired by my beloved Iced Coconut Americano from Konditori.
What you'll need:
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (I use Country Choice Organic)
- between 1/4 and 1/2 cup pureed or grated zucchini or yellow squash* (optional, but recommended)
- 1/4 cup coconut-based or coconut-flavored yogurt
- splash of milk of choice (coconut recommended)
- 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules (adjust to preferences)
- 1 tsp (or more) maple syrup (I omitted)
- shaved or shredded coconut for topping (I toasted mine)
How to make it:
- Mix all ingredients except shaved coconut in a mason jar or other type of Tupperware (anything with a lid).
- Add more liquid if necessary. It depends on the thickness of your yogurt and how much pureed zucchini you are using. I only needed to add a couple tablespoons of coconut milk.
- Do a taste test and adjust coffee and sweetener to your preferences.
- Cover and leave in fridge for a few hours or overnight.
- In the morning, top with coconut and possibly more yogurt. I recommend eating this cold (yogurt tastes unpleasantly sour when reheated--even nondairy types!).
Just an FYI:
*I prefer yellow squash because it doesn't leave green streaks.
I was fortunate enough to have access to **the absolute best** nondairy yogurt I’ve ever had (it was $9 ON SALE and worth every penny). It’s called Anita’s Creamline and it’s made locally in Brooklyn, so unfortunately, I cannot recommend this as a feasible option for most of you. BUT if you’re in the NYC area, you simply must try this at least once (these are the locations it is currently available). It tastes like coconut. It tastes like yogurt. And most importantly, it did NOT taste like chemicals. It had the consistency of greek yogurt. It was the first time as a vegan that I wasn’t underwhelmed by a nondairy yogurt.
Bonus: each serving contains a mere 1 g of sugar. What?! Awesome. I wish I could afford to buy this weekly.