Monday, November 11, 2013

Craving a cozy cappuccino

Toby's Estate Coffee Flatiron  |  "Craving a cozy cappuccino"  |
{ Toby's Estate Flatiron Espresso Bar  |  NYC }
I've long enjoyed a nice cup of coffee—never black, always with milk. Sometimes hot, other times, cold. It used to be coffee + skim milk + raw sugar. Now it's pared down to just coffee + whole milk (frothed). Cafè au lait, cafè con leche, cappuccino. As long as the coffee/espresso is deep, dark, and fragrant and the milk is warm and pillowy, I'm happy.

NYC is a mecca for coffee. There was the Italian invasion years ago, the Swedish one in the last few, but more recently, it's all about local Brooklynites harvesting and roasting their own beans and creating homey, techy, Mac-happy cafès around the city in industrial spaces-turned-chic-lofty-salons or the influx of Australians and their flat whites and laid-back, "it's all good, mate" vibes.

Lately, I've made it my mission to try as many of them as I can.

The agency I worked for in Soho offered a company account at the local La Colombe, a big-windowed space overlooking Lafayette Street (which you saw here, along with your first little glimpse of me) from a Philadelphia-based coffee roaster that serves their drinks and nibblies in and on beautiful Deruta plateware (pretty, right?). Since I can't say no to coffee on the house (or on the studio, as it were), I was fairly loyal to them. The baristas there were lovely and knew that I always had a cappuccino, except for the dark cold months of winter when I was forced to seek solace in a comforting mocha.

But, there were times I strayed up the street to Gasoline Alley, a teensy, triangular (adorable) Australian spot right on the border of Soho, with a bicycle hanging from their rafters, just because. Their cappuccinos were slightly better than La Colombe's to me—I think the milk they used was richer and their espresso never seemed to go bitter (which sometimes happened at La Colombe, but perhaps I only noticed because I generally drank L.C.'s every day). It also helped that they served home-brewed kombucha (from their kitchen in Brooklyn, naturally) and Mast Bros. chocolate, making a trip up to see them the perfect treat.

Now that I'm in a new neighborhood during prime coffee drinking time, some days of the week at least, I had to find my new go-to cafè. The first obvious choice was the Swedish gents at FIKA, which I learned before can be quite pricey, but I couldn't deny the convenience since now that I'm in the Flatiron area, two locations were very close by.

After one afternoon stroll over, though, I realized that my affinity for all things Swedish didn't necessarily extend to my wallet—at least not on a daily basis. I know I'm a New Yorker and I shouldn't be shocked by outrageous prices anymore, but I just can't do $4.50 a day for a cappuccino (and mind you, these are authentic beverages, none of that venti / grande nonsense, so that's $4.50 for a few thimblefuls of goodness).

Next I tried Pushcart Coffee a few blocks away past Gramercy Park. There were some pros: a decent stroll from the office made for a proper afternoon break, there was certainly a neighborhood feel to the place, they use Perka (a digital loyalty card which pleases my efficiency / sustainability-minded heart), and the very good cappuccinos were $3.75. But, it wasn't quite pretty enough to become my usual place. When I take an afternoon pause from the computer it's for some fresh air, a chance to get the blood flowing again and something good to eat or drink. But it's also to turn my eyes from pixels to prettiness. I need to soak my vision (not just my appetite) with something elegant and delightful, too.

And then, THEN, nirvana.

Toby's Estate Coffee Flatiron  |  "Craving a cozy cappuccino"  |
{ Toby's Estate Flatiron Espresso Bar  |  NYC }
Toby's Estate is a specialty coffee roaster from Australia that entered the US market last year with a glorious-looking space in Brooklyn (naturally) that was one part cafè, one part lounge, one part roasting facility. For their first foray into Manhattan, they partnered with Club Monaco to open a small outpost connected to the retailer's 5th Avenue location, but with a separate street entrance. You can enter the coffee shop from the street and walk through to Club Monaco, but first you pass through a pop-up type (but permanent) outshoot of the iconic Strand book store (which also features a fancypants florist).

I haven't ever shopped at Club Monaco, but their aesthetic pairs so perfectly with a sleek book store and an even sleeker coffee shop that I get why it works. This is now a thing in NYC, by the way, retailers bringing in restaurants or cafès to broaden a customer's shopping experience.

Not only is the place lovely, in shades of white and gray, with a gorgeous espresso machine (creamy porcelain and warm walnut wood, sigh, perfection), beautiful pendant lights and feathery greenery perching on the mirrored bar, but the coffee? Delicious. And, reasonably priced (at $3.50 for a cappuccino), plus they, too, do that digital loyalty program.

The evaluation phase was fun, but I think I'm done—at least for a bit. So if you're ever in town and want to meet for a coffee, now you know a place I'll never say no to.

One year ago: Cuspids & Today's trio


  1. I will take a good cappuccino any many options for you guys.


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