This article on my top coffee shops in New York is the first of a series I will be doing on NYC. Long overdue, I know, but here we are.
Like London, coffee is huge in New York – like, colossal. I sometimes muse that if New York were to be a drink, it would be an iced latte (as would I, funnily enough). Coffee culture democratically services the needs of many: City workers, the laptop brigade, tourists, locals who pop into their neighbourhood coffee shop for their daily fix, and more. For me, coffee shops are a temporary sanctuary: rarely functional, I like to enjoy an experience with my coffee, and settle down for a bit to read or work (I’d fall into the laptop brigade here, sorry). Coffee shops are also perfect for people watching – and New York is fabulous for that.
There are of course the standard and ubiquitous coffee chains which appear across New York like a violent rash, most notably Starbucks, which can be found literally on almost every corner, and Dunkin Donuts (whose iced caramel latte will always have a soft spot in my heart). Please don’t inflict that on yourself – buy independent and drink better.
Superior coffee and coffee shop environments are easily found in New York. I actively seek out new ones to try out every time I’m there. In the past couple of years, I have got a stable of favourites which I have to return to whenever I’m in town, and recent discoveries which I’d happily revisit to see if they were as good as the first time.
Here is my list of my favourite top five coffee shops in New York. This in no way claims to be the definitive list of the best coffee shops in NYC (it’s New York for goodness’ sake), but the places I know and absolutely love.
For reference, I like quieter coffee shops where I can easily find a seat, the atmosphere is good and more than functional, and the coffee is great, of course. It’s a welcome bonus if they serve good food to go with the coffee. All of my recommendations below tick these boxes, and some tick that food bonus box too.
I’d also recommend checking out the list of coffee shops in YTravel’s blog post here. We share some favourites, and they have a few more not on my list. It’s either because I haven’t checked them out yet, or because they didn’t really cut the mustard for me. Still a useful additional reference, though.
Top Five Coffee Shops in New York
High Line Hotel, 180 10th Avenue, W20th Street, New York 10011
I had to think hard before I shared this one, because it is one of my absolute favourite spots in New York, if not the world. Located in the fabulous lobby of the High Line Hotel in Chelsea, it is the only branch of Intelligentsia in New York, and doesn’t feel like a coffee shop at all – more like a beautiful old house where you can relax and enjoy great coffee. It has everything a great coffee ‘shop’ should have: excellent coffee (using Chicago-based Intelligentsia beans); wonderful atmosphere – think drawing room vibes with leather sofas, dark wooden furniture, and a typewriter on one of the tables; and friendly staff. It does get busy at times and there is limited seating inside, but you will probably find a seat in their pretty patio garden in the back.
There’s not much by way of food (they have a small selection of Mah-ze-Dahr baked goods), but you can bring your own cake and snacks and enjoy with the coffee. You can happily sit here for a while and work or read or just escape the New York rush outside, because it really does feel like you’re a million miles away from the craziness here.
2. The Butcher’s Daughter Bakery & Market, Williamsburg
271 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
I discovered this on my most recent trip to New York, because this coffee bar is brand spanking new (well, as of May this year), and I am madly in love with it. I spent most of my summer trip making trips across the Williamsburg Bridge to get here. The Butcher’s Daughter is primarily a plant-based restaurant, with dishes like no-meat burgers and hemp seed banana bread (if you like that kind of thing). They call themselves a ‘vegetarian slaughterhouse’, and it’s no surprise it was born in LA. Although they have three sites in New York (Nolita, West Village, and Williamsburg), only the Williamsburg one has a separate coffee shop, and it is the business.
The setting is one of the best I’ve seen in a coffee shop – think washed white walls, exposed brickwork, lots of natural wood and reclaimed furniture, like the beach in furniture form – and it is the ideal place to sit and enjoy a delicious coffee. Their choice of beans rotate – when I was there it had just switched from Devocion to Partners – and the coffees are a good size and pretty farking good. You can always get a (pretty expensive, if you ask me) pressed juice or smoothie instead, and they have a full breakfast/brunch menu with in-house baked bread if you fancy some food (and the main restaurant next door). I’m already dreaming of going back to this place when I’m back in the spring.
3. Blank Slate, NoMad
121 Madison Avenue, New York 10016
I discovered Blank Slate as I was walking somewhere else, and am so glad I did. This place is a rather cute brunch café on the long, lacklustre stretch of midtown Madison Avenue (they have another location in midtown on 50th and 2nd Av). They serve Devocion coffee and it’s very good, and have a decent, well-priced brunch and lunch menu. I enjoyed my mushroom scramble, and the salads looked decent. The staff are friendly, and outside the peak times of lunch, it’s fairly easy to find a seat to sit and eat/read/watch people out of the corner of your eye. It’s also helpfully open until 7pm (the Midtown one is open until 9pm) so you can linger for longer.
The NoMad location also has a separate, sister tearoom next door called Blank Slate Tea. It’s more tea-focused (and does not serve coffee apart from cold brew), has a light bites menu consisting of salads and sandwiches, and is very pink (Instagram candy, I suspect), but also an option if you’re looking to sit and sip.
22 West 25th Street, New York 10010 – 239 Centre Street, New York 10013 – 211 W Broadway New York 10013
Maman is a bit of a New York institution. It’s famous for its pretty damn delicious chocolate chip cookies – think chunky discs of gooey chocolate held together by some cookie dough, warmed to order – but I love almost everything about them. They serve a full, French-ish menu (it’s actually lots of tartines, sandwiches, and salads), with a delicious bakery (I personally love the pistachio cake), and great coffee. To top it off, the atmosphere is lovely, and the staff friendly. If you don’t fancy coffee, the hot chocolate is also very good, as is the matcha latte. The Midtown branch is, as you might expect, quite rushed and a bit of a pedestrian zone, but the Centre Street and Tribeca locations are much cosier, albeit still busy.
28 Greenwich Avenue, New York 10011
Ah, Mah ze Dahr. It’s perhaps no coincidence that some of my favourite coffee shops are actually fantastic bakeries which serve great coffee, and Mah ze Dahr is no exception. A Greenwich Village institution (there is steady footfall throughout the day, many of them locals), ‘maz ze dahr’ is Urdu for ‘delicious’ – an homage to baker and owner Umber Ahmad’s Pakistani heritage – and is entirely appropriate for one of the best bakeries in New York City.
The brioche doughnuts are brilliant (this is from a non-doughnut lover), as are the cakes – the Devil’s Food Cake is a steep $7 but worth it for the dense, silken chocolate richness. They serve La Colombe coffee, and my iced lattes have been excellent (and the hot chocolate is also pretty good). Best of all, the setting is quiet, tasteful, and a perfect place to relax as you enjoy your coffee and cake, and wonder how much the handbag on the arm of that Greenwich Village local who just walked in costs.
Some other worthy coffee shop mentions…
69 Grand St. (at Wythe), Brooklyn, New York 11249
This speciality coffee icon had to get a mention because it is such a beautiful space: a huge square room filled with natural light thanks to the large skylight, and tasteful decor (lots of real foliage and large leather sofas). However, it gets extremely busy, and the laptop brigade settle on the tables for hours. It is also a trendy place to just chill and have coffee y’know, so there are plenty of ‘Grammers taking photos. Come prepared to get a takeaway or hang around with a mild look of impatience until somebody leaves.
The coffee is excellent, and as you may have noticed from the above, Devocion provide beans to numerous other coffee shops in New York. If you just want the coffee and can forego the space, you can enjoy their coffee elsewhere (like Blank Slate). You could also try one of their other branches in downtown Brooklyn or in Manhattan (Flatiron and NoMad).
Various locations across Manhattan, but my favourite is 400 Lafayette, New York 10003
La Colombe is a speciality coffee giant in New York, to the point of being almost mainstream. It has a national presence, and have several locations in New York City. They roast and use their own beans, which are decent. They are also home to the famous draft latte: the iced latte served on tap, with an aerated foam throughout. The oat draft latte is like a milkshake, but to be honest I think their straight-up iced lattes are better. There is no wifi in any of the stores, but there is plenty of interesting people-watching, especially in my favourite branch in NoHo on Lafayette.
52 Prince Street, New York 10012
McNally Jackson is actually an independent bookstore in downtown Manhattan (Nolita), with a small coffee shop inside. I have included this probably more out of sentimental fondness than a reasoned assessment that this is a restful place to get coffee. It is in fact very busy, not least because it is located in the heart of Nolita just a couple of minutes from SoHo’s shops on Broadway. At moments, it almost looks a little grotty.
Nevertheless, there’s something about being surrounded by books and bohemian types that is very New York (well, that is how I felt when I first came here). This coffee shop also asserts that books are more important than wifi or plugs because it has neither of those, which is probably sensible. The coffee here is fine, but more than anything it’s the atmosphere I like (although it’s a little anomalous from my favourite ‘type’): it is busy, there is solid people-watching to be done, and if you’re not distracted by the absence of wi-fi, you can actually be productive.