Monday, May 10, 2010

New York coffee break: Joe's

Mention the words "New York" and "coffee chain" in the same sentence and serious coffee drinkers will shudder, expecting weak, watery drinks or, worse, coffee disguised with sugary syrups.

But Joe's, a boutique coffee chain of five stores, is different. This is a company that treats coffee seriously. First, the beans are sourced from Ecco Caffe, an artisan coffee roasting company based in California. Second, coffee classes, including espresso fundamentals, milk steaming techniques and a cupping series, are offered at Joe's University (13th Street, Waverly Place and Columbus Ave stores). Private classes and home visits are also available.

Joe's opened as Joe the Art of Coffee in 2003 but renamed itself to plain Joe last year. It also opened its fifth store, on the Upper West Side, "bringing serious coffee to an underserved neighborhood", according to the New York Times, which nominated Joe's as one of its 10 outstanding coffee bars that "not only produce extraordinary coffee at the highest standards, but also do so with consistency day after day."

The Upper West Side store is at 514 Columbus Ave (West 85th Street).

It is small but has a great vibe and makes good use of the limited space available - a tiny office alcove is hidden behind one of the blackboards behind the counter, reached by a small pull-up ladder. About a dozen people can be seated at the tiny tables, just big enough for a laptop and a coffee cup. There's also two park benches out the front that adds some extra seating - best on warm days only. Central Park is also nearby if, like us, you find Joe's is filled to capacity when you visit.

Coffee is made with a house blend or single origin blends are available. The house blend makes an excellent cafe latte - a nutty aroma gives way to a smooth and creamy drink that slips down effortlessly. Despite the coffees being larger than Australia - the smallest one is served in a 12oz cup - there is still a strong caffeine taste and the espresso is not overwhelmed by too much milk.

Our second visit to Joe's was at 11am on Sunday and we had to join a queue stretching out the door. Parents with prams, babies and dogs dominated the park benches out the front and there was barely room to move inside, which was crammed with joggers from nearby Central Park fuelling up after a run. But the baristas worked overtime and, despite there being at least 10 people ahead of us, we waited only 10 minutes for our coffee, which was just as excellent as our first cup.

Another Joe's outlet is in the Graybar Passage of the Grand Central Terminal (89 East 42nd Street). It is a tiny little shop that serves take-away only, but the quality across Joe's stores is consistent and our coffee from this store also hit the spot.

Joe's can be found at five locations:
514 Columbus Avenue (West 85th Street), Upper West Side
89 East 42nd Street (Grand Central Terminal)
141 Waverly Place (Sixth Avenue), Greenwich Village
9 East 13th Street (University Place), Greenwich Village
405 West 23rd Street (Ninth Avenue), Chelsea
See for more information.

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