Talking about coffee in Brooklyn? That is one of our favorite things to do at Local Expeditions because we love our coffee as much as our best friend. Everyone’s life journey to the caffeine buzz is different. It started for me when I was a kid staring at my parents enjoying their after-dinner cup of coffee at my aunt’s house. They made the coffee look SO good. After years watching this post-dinner ritual, some adult asked me if I wanted a taste—with the warning I probably wouldn’t like it. They were right.
The next time I tried coffee was out of sheer and utter desperation. I was in Missoula, Montana, in graduate school and found the only way to keep up with the coursework was to literally stay up all night working, several nights a week, all semester long.
It never occurred to me to buy a coffee maker, but rather I thought my only option was to pour hot water over instant coffee, drink it quickly, and hold it down till the wave of nausea passed from the nasty taste.
This was in the late 1980’s and I thought, “That’s as good as it gets.” What I didn’t know was coffee/café culture had been underway for years and was currently alive and well in Seattle. Consequently, Italian made espresso machines had started making their way east, through the Pacific Northwest and into this Montana college town.
My very first latte was served to me in Missoula at Butterfly Herbs. My friend Kathleen who worked there suggested this beverage to me. This was radically different from the instant coffee—and though is still had a “coffee taste” it somehow tasted good! And the tentative sipping dragged out the consumption of the latte, which slowly revealed the mood-elevating effects of the caffeine. A coffee addict was born.
Fast forward to my move to New York City in the early-90’s. I didn’t think of myself as a coffee addict, but it was apparently quite obvious to all my friends who had already transplanted to NYC. I received repeated warnings from multiple people that NYC wasn’t like Missoula—you couldn’t just grab a latte anywhere, anytime. Unless you were in a fancy Italian restaurant, or deep in Brooklyn in an Italian neighborhood, I was going to be SOL. Except for ONE place in Manhattan, the Big Cup, located in Chelsea.
By 1995 the mainstream “latte” had hit NYC. Independent cafes flourished, particularly in the East Village. Then Starbucks began opening stores in Manhattan. The Big Cup closed. Other independent cafes opened, and closed, and opened. A few of those have managed to survive even to this day.
Then shortly after the turn of the century the artisanal coffee movement was founded. A handful of young enthusiastic coffee entrepreneurs began to open small, independent coffee houses, predominantly in Brooklyn. Local roasting companies began popping up and now you can find a roasting plant right in the back room of many local cafes!
So whether you already live in one of the five boroughs, or are visiting NYC, I would love to share my top three favorite North Brooklyn cafes with you!
Supercrown has the strongest, richest, yet smoothest coffee I’ve ever tasted. And their roasting plant is in-house so you can enjoy the amped up aroma of coffee while you are having a coffee. The drink everyone has been talking about is their coffee milkshake made with Van Leeuwen Sweet Cream, espresso and espresso grinds. You can also have tea, lemonade, individual pour-overs, light snacks and pastries. A beautiful atmosphere to enjoy a beverage in, you can find Supercrown in Bushwick at 8 Wilson Avenue. (Closest train is the L to Morgan Avenue.)
Café Grumpy. First of all, their grumpy faced logo says it all—all about how I feel before my first cup of coffee. Though Café Grumpy has several locations throughout NYC, my favorite is the original location in Greenpoint at 193 Meserole Avenue. (Closest trains are the G to Nassau Avenue or the G to Greenpoint Avenue.) Their coffee is outstanding, their roasting plant is next door, and the best part for me is sitting in their cozy café slightly off-the-beaten Brooklyn neighborhood path.
I must admit I like borderline freakishly small café spaces with a slightly punky/beatnik atmosphere. So if you like to sit elbow-to-elbow writing angry thoughts in your journal or reading a hard copy of “The New York Times” (it’s delivered daily) then Strangeways is your place. Located on the boarder of Bushwick and Ridgewood at 87 St. Nicholas Avenue, they serve up some lovely latte art and use Fourbarrel coffee from San Francisco and Lofted Coffee (roasted in Brooklyn). And the cheese scallion scones they sell are the perfect morning snack with your first cup of joe. (Closest trains to Strangeways is the L to Jefferson Street or the L to DeKalb Street.)
Tune in again for more tips about the best coffee experiences to be had in Brooklyn!
~By Local Expeditions team member Lisa Haas