Williamsburg, Brooklyn Tour de Caffeine (aka “That Time That I Had 1 Espresso, 1 Turkish Coffee, 1 Piccolo, Plus Devoción in 1 Day” Post)

I drink much more tea than coffee — always and forever. I’d just rather not require coffee to jumpstart my day every morning, needing caffeine to coax my consciousness to return to reality. …Which also means I’m woefully behind the curve in exploring the neighborhood’s beans scene. And so, in the name of “research” for an upcoming article, I hit four hotspots in one afternoon.

Parlor Cafe

First up: Parlor Coffee, located in the back room of Persons of Interest barber shop, is a super tiny space that gets crowded quickly, which basically means one barista, one espresso machine, one cash box and anyone else. The barber shop; the gleaming steel of the Speedster espresso machine; the two guys hanging out in said tiny space talking music and records; Parlor Coffee couldn’t have been staged better. The barista’s methodical process was impeccable; the espresso grounds are weighed out on a digital scale — down to the precise gram. Serious business.

A tiny stamped cup was handed to me. I took a sip. Zoom! 0 to 60 in three seconds. That espresso was so strong, evening thinking about it now, it makes my arm hairs stand on point. I wonder: Is this what it’s like to have a proper straight razor shave?

Scene Two: As of December 2015, Williamsburg now has an outpost for all things Turkish:  Lions Milk, a charming storefront that’s equal parts Mediterranean marketplace (with a great selection of imported food sundries) and cafe, serving a selection of sandwiches, pastries, beverages and a proper Turkish coffee, naturally.

I’m going to preface my mini expose on Turkish coffee with statements that I now know to be true: One does not drink Turkish coffee in a hurry. To have a Turkish coffee is to have an experience — the polar opposite of a quick caffeine fix. To have a Turkish coffee is a calming, earthy, murky, contemplative experience, served in a tiny porcelain cup with matching saucer, accompanied by tiny treats: Turkish Delights, or gelatinous, sugar dusted cubes of which there are both sweet and savory varieties. And when you finally unearth the sediment on the bottom, that is when you take the final bite of your final Turkish Delight and momentarily close your eyes and give thanks.

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Scene three: First thought, “Where is this place?” Looking for the new kid on the block of a street that I claim to know so well, I felt a bit like a tourist in my own backyard. Set back from the street a down a few steps, Sweatshop is the kind of place I suspect one discovers rather than seeks out (and probably prefers it that way). A self-proclaimed “Melbourne style coffee and creative space built inside an active design studio and incubator,” the next destination on my caffeinated crawl is just feels different — if warmly indifferent, in that unstudied cool Brooklyn kind of way.

I thought that I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. Until I had no idea of what I was getting into: that disarming Aussie/minimal/neon signage/succulent plant/Brooklyn vibe, all fitted black t-shirts, casually unkempt facial hair, a menu of “espresso / filter / bevies / brekkie / waffles” (appropriately subtitled for Americans). Ahhhh… I’ll have the piccolo (“short strong latte” the subtitle read). And then the man in the black t-shirt with the not quite beard-ish facial hair proceeded to craft for me probably the best caffeinated beverage that I’ve ever had in my entire life — and I felt super fine.

Last stop, the epicenter of beans, from which so much of Williamsburg’s coffee scene emanates: Devoción (“devotion” en espanol). But don’t take it from me, let’s go to the source: “Our coffee beans are sourced from farms we hand-select deep in Colombia’s most inaccessible zones.” Harvested, air-shipped, roasted on site in Brooklyn, hand-packaged and hand-delivered to many of the neighborhood’s other coffee destinations — “Farm to Cup in 10 days” — that’s Devoción.

It’s an impressive feat, although perhaps the end result lost on this relative coffee novice, who still prefers hers with milk and sugar? And sure, while I can taste the difference in the flavor profiles of different beans, would I be able to tell the difference between beans freshly roasted, less than 15 days old, versus a month or two or 12? That’s next level coffee consumption.

Blue Bottle, Toby’s Estate Coffee, Black Tree, Konditori, Oslo Coffee Roasters, Gimme! Coffee, Vittoria Caffe — the list goes on and on. It would take a week or three to explore all of the caffeinated fixes in the neighborhood. So is this post comprehensive? Not by any means. A solid stamp of approval? Absolutely. Williamsburg’s beans scene definitely has some game.

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Uh Oh, Here Comes Trouble (aka the “Argo Tea First Look” Post)

What’s this … Argo Tea, open? Oh sweet mother of tea, I’m in trouble now.

Here I was, just last Tuesday drinking in oversized photos of such luscious tea beverages as Earl Grey Vanilla Crème and Tea Sangria (check out the menu here, and see the photo below) and wondering how long I’d have to wait.

In fact, I needed only wait until Friday — the pictures came down to reveal an airy, modern tea shop; smiling baristas chat with customers about the rewards program (it’s one of those accumulate points for free tea deals) and rave about the seasonal ValenTea Passion — an herbal blend of passion fruit and hibiscus flowers that’s being rationed out in 2 oz. samples — or, perhaps, one of the tea time appropriate finger sandwiches.

Long tubes of loose tea along the back wall look to be arranged by color, when in fact it’s a gradation of tea type: black teas fade into green teas, which fade into herbal and other exotic tea types.

Up close, they’re beautiful: Giant, dried balls of jasmine tea (a personal favorite); a Masala chai flecked with dried ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla; a genmaicha — green tea blended with roasted brown rice — that, blended with some steamed milk and a caramel flavor shot “tastes just like caramel corn,” promises a barista.

(FYI: The staff is perhaps overly friendly here by New York standards — but they are also full of useful information.)

Free sample alert: Tea Sangria on ice

“Hmm… Two free hours of wifi with tea purchase, you say?”

There’s a spot at that oversized communal table that’s got my name on it — the only problem I foresee is once the word’s out it’ll be hard to get a seat. On Day Two, which also happens to be an early Saturday evening, the table was already covered in laptops and newspapers.

Argo Tea may have taken its sweet time getting here — after opening 15 locations in Chicago, the brand has finally expanded to New York — but it looks like it’s settling in quickly.

Argo Tea, 949 Broadway, at 22nd Street, 646-755-7262. Additional locations opening at NYU and Columbus circle presently.

Breakfast: Double-Cupping at the Deli (Sshhh…)

I wonder how much overhead at the large, bustling delis of Midtown go phototowards hot and cold cups, plasticware, those little shitty tri-fold napkins, salt and pepper packets, coffee and tea accouterments and other condiment packets? And what sort of hit do the delis take because of people like me who are constantly pocketing a little extra to stash away in office desk drawers?

One of my moves is to double-cup my hot tea. I have to sneak it past the ladies who would rather I just have a single cup and put the cup of hot liquid in a small paper bag — a ridiculous idea  to begin with. Plus, in turn, I use those two cups to make about a week’s worth of tea in the office. (I don’t add milk, that would be gross.) It’s $1.50 well spent.

At the end of the day I don’t feel so bad … I’ll be back soon enough to pay $1 for a 12 oz. soda, $1 for what is ordinarily a $0.50-cent bag of Wise chips, and then some.

Breakfast: Honest Tea, Just “a Tad Sweet”

Gonna make this one short and just “a tad sweet.” If you identify with any or all of the following statements: 

photoa.) ever drink tea, hot or iced
b.) prefer diet (i.e. “no cal” or “low cal”) drinks
c.) think most bottled beverages that aren’t diet taste too syrup-y sweet
d.) have a personal vendetta with high-fructose corn syrup
e.) get bored with drinking H2O all the time
f.) have a soft spot for companies with sustainable initiatives

You will like Honest Tea. Lightly-sweetened iced tea (“a tad sweet” is one of their mottos), only 35 calories per bottle, no high fructose corn syrup in sight, started by a couple of business school geeks with a soft spot for sustainability, Honest Tea’s a good egg.

TIP: I love that they posted their original business plan on their website; check the “1998” segment of the “Honest Tea” link above. 

Breakfast: Ginger Soothes the Soul, I’m Convinced

photoGinger soothes the soul, I’m convinced.

One of these little packets of ginger honey crystals by Prince of Peace, dissolved into piping hot water, with a couple of lemon wedges, and I’m refortified to fight this cold that’s lurking. Touche.

Breakfast: The Hojicha Green Tea Mystery Train

Isn’t “light caffine” and “green tea” a bit of a paradox?

photo       I mean if we’re comparing apples to apples, green tea certainly is not the tea drinker’s half-caff. So why list “light caffine” as the third bullet point front-and-center on the packaging unless Mighty Leaf is advertising the fact that they’ve actually gone in and lightly decaffinated the tea? Therein lies they travesty, at least in my view, tired already before the day’s begun, chugging away on the Long Island Rail Road before the clock’s even struck 8 a.m.