Sometimes we are in such a frenzy to discover the next big thing that we miss the gems right in front of our faces. In the spirit of counting one's blessings and appreciating the tried-and-true, I paid a visit yesterday to the original super-specialty coffee shop of New York City, Ninth Street Espresso.
These days it seems a new specialty coffee shop pops up in New York City every week. I have a hard time keeping up with it all, and I do this stuff for a living. Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely thrilled to witness the changes that have taken place in the last three years. But it wasn't so long ago that the only place to get a true American style super-specialty espresso beverage in the whole city was this little outpost in the East Village. Owner Ken Nye's been doing things righer and longer than just about anyone else you can name.
In fact, my traveling companion is a huge coffee lover, and she'd never even been to the original Ninth Street Espresso. There was a time that I made pilgramages out to this place, but lately I've been negligent, seeing as there are so many quality joints that aren't 50 city blocks off the closest subway line like Ninth Street is. But I realized I was cheating myself, and so both of us made the trek in the fine early September evening weather.
A few months ago, I actually got to see up close part of the development of Ninth Street's signature Alphabet City blend. When Ken Nye made the switch to Intelligentsia, Kyle Glanville and the boys out in Los Angeles sent us several candidate component beans, along with suggested blend percentages. David Latourell and I then spent time in the lab in SoHo pulling shots and tasting them and tweaking these blends. Ken himself then came in and directed us further and the end result was the return of "Alphabet City," a sweet, drinkable, chocolatey and nutty coffee that Ken likes to call "Snickers in a cup."
Yesterday evening I was an especially hard-to-please customer because I was just off a five hour day of tasting some pretty gnarly coffee. The last thing I needed was more coffee compounds on my tongue. But I have to tell you: my shot was sweet, drinkable, fruity, and chocolate candy-like. As was my friend's.
Afterwards, across the street drinking sangria at Esperanto, I remarked that it's amazing that such an intense beverage as espresso can be so smooth and drinkable when done right. But Ninth Street does it reliably right.
The shop on 9th and C has also, incidentally, undergone a minor remodel. The tables are long community tables now, and the whole place looks cleaner and crisper, with better lighting and paint. But the overall aesthetic is unchanged: simple black and white, no frills, no BS.
In fact, I can't think of a better description of Ninth Street than this picture of the machine area as seen from the customer's eye view. A simple, no-frills Marzocco, a classic grinder, a clean countertop, and their simple coffee cup logo. It embodies what this place is about: great espresso, clean and simple. I'll be sure to make the gap between my next visits much shorter.