Not entirely unlike my recent reviews of Chicago espresso, one of the upcoming articles in the works for TheShot concerns my largely unsuccessful quest for quality espresso in New York City earlier this year.
Without giving too much away in advance, in it I lament why a city that could economically support the upper eschelon of just about anything — a city with a deeply entrenched heritage of fine food and Italian culture — could be such an absolute wasteland when it came to quality espresso. The better places required a trip to Brooklyn, and even they were nothing special when compared with San Francisco’s modest standards. Meanwhile, any place in Manhattan that once earned accolades for its espresso seemed to shut its doors within a year or two of opening.
A glimpse into why this might be comes from Michael Idov’s recent article for Slate: Bitter Brew – I opened a charming neighborhood coffee shop. Then it destroyed my life.
Sadly, the economics of high rent real estate and other employer costs are a large factor why espresso is in such a sad state of affairs in New York City. With the proliferation of convenient competitors and a consuming public that’s too often blissfully ignorant of (or indifferent to) what differentiates a good cup from a bad one, the odds are heavily stacked against any coffee idealist hoping to survive in Manhattan’s cutthroat retail environment.
But I think it’s more than just the New York City consumers that lack discriminating coffee tastes. When Michael Idov writes, “Vienna roast from Vienna! It’s lighter and sweeter than bitter Italian espresso—no need to drown it in milk!,” he illustrates a wealth of intention. But he also clearly demonstrates common ignorance about what constitutes a true espresso, Italian or otherwise. That kind of poverty of thought only comes from a culture that has been beaten down for decades to accept only the most philistine notions of quality standards.
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