A New York Times article appeared this week with the bold headline “Has Coffee Gotten Too Fancy?” Perhaps, and it’s true that even simple lattes, the workhorse of every coffee shop’s menu, can be found in varying degrees of fanciness. By now, it’s practically a given that the milk will be high-quality and local — Battenkill Valley Creamery is officially everywhere — and the espresso will be fair-trade, organic, or sourced to some other exacting standard. When pulled, it won’t taste too prickly, too dry, too sour, or otherwise pervasively bitter. In the end, though, getting a great latte means that a bunch of folks have settled an improbable number of variables in your favor, before you even reach the front of the line and pull out your wallet. That is a true pick-me-up. Here are the shops that do it best.
2. Supercrown Coffee Roasters
8 Wilson Ave., nr. Flushing Ave., Bushwick; 347-295-3161
Cool and kinetic things are happening in the cavernous Bushwick space where Darleen Scherer last year debuted a roastery outfitted with a pour-over robot and cucumber bitters–spiked coffee lemonade. Nontraditional drinks include cold brew and oat milk, or espresso with coffee-blossom honey collected on the same Guatemalan farm. For all the inventiveness on display, Supercrown also shares plenty of DNA with no-nonsense cafés (Scherer was a co-founder of Gorilla Coffee, too), and traditional lattes are billed simply as “espresso + milk,” and are offered in incremental sizes. With base espresso drawn from specific farms and micro-lots, usually drawn from a synergistic combo of Ethiopian and Colombian product and ranging from peachy and lush to toffee and nougat, they are also extraordinarily thoughtful (and good).
The epitome of the independent New York coffee bar, and forefather of several widely imitated trends since its 2001 opening, Ninth Street Espresso has been hurtling toward a Spartan four-drink menu for the last decade. And so, the 12-ounce drink formerly known as “espresso with mildly textured steamed milk” is now billed as “espresso w/milk,” and is something more like a cappuccino-latte hybrid. Though customers can specify certain drink parameters, the Marie Kondo–like decluttering allows for more focus; the milk’s creaminess and the quality of the extracted coffee are unrivaled, no matter what you call this combination..
18 W. 29th St., at Broadway; 212-679-2222
After establishing its Red Hook facility in 2009, the rebellion-prone Portland, Oregon, roaster set up shop in the Ace Hotel, and started pulling espressos for the trendy clientele. Any number of jokes about artisanally knit beanies and wispy goatees won’t change the fact that the baristas who work the hulking La Marzocco Linea PB are skilled with temperatures and weights, and there’s always at least one coffee scholar on duty who is well-versed in the significant minutiae of sunshine, elevation, and soil conditions that precede any given latte.
5. Café Grumpy
193 Meserole Ave., at Diamond Ave., Greenpoint; 718-349-7623
Founded on a Greenpoint corner and roasted next door, Grumpy has grown to eight locations scattered around town. Frowny-face name and strict laptop-deterrent policies aside, baristas tend to be affable, and locations adapt themselves well to their respective neighborhoods. (Grumpy at Grand Central Terminal tends to be all business, while the Chelsea outlet is the kind of place where its Madagascar vanilla-infused, smoked-salt-sprinkled, marshmallow lattes should be savored.) No matter where you go, traditional lattes are made with Heartbreaker, an ever-evolving house blend that always hits distinct notes of caramel and bright, subtle acidity.
81 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-388-9731
The elder statesman of NYC’s third-wave scene has finally relocated to an airy, new space that somehow feels just as frenetic. The hi-fi still pivots from Blue Note to Bowie; takeout continues to be doled out in standard-issue Anthora cups; and the place, a confounding scene, where everyone seems to have rolled out of bed way better dressed than you, remains cash only. That said: Lattes have full-fat milk body and pleasant bitterness that made the original popular.
21 E. 27th St., nr. Madison Ave.; 212-686-1444
There is a lot of heart on display in each aromatic and piping-hot latte at Birch, another chainlet that seems to open a new location every few months. All cafés use coffee trucked in from the Long Island City roastery, and the studious baristas are just as dedicated to pouring a good latte as they are to pouring a layered tulip shape into your top layer of foam.
160 Berry St., nr. N. 5th St., Williamsburg; 718-387-4160
The chain, which just opened its newest café on the Lower East Side, projects Bay Area vibes and an air of ineluctable world dominance. Its precise slow drippers, state-of-the-art siphons, and ceaseless procession of beautiful people tend to get the most attention in Williamsburg, but the fruity and superdense chocolaty espresso at the base of lattes is reliably perfect and made for hot milk.
309 Graham Ave., No. 1, nr. Ainslie St., Williamsburg; 347-721-3735
Here, your beans may be from Denver roaster Middle State, or Ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland. Baristas carefully grind, evenly tamp, and heedfully weigh shots to order, and lattes are fantastically earthy — never flat or too sharp.
247 W. 36th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 646-861-3553
A gleaming Synesso machine and superb Heart Coffee Roasters blends are central to the Garment District shop, one of three popular cafés powered by the same team in the relatively unimpressive caffeinated wilds of midtown. The industrial-chic stools are more comfortable than they look, and the comparatively un-swarmed counter makes it easy to chat with a friendly barista about stuff like extraction and pressure, which, jargon aside, will get you a better latte overall.
69 Grand St., nr. Wythe Ave., Williamsburg; 718-285-6180
Heirloom coffee varietals come from hard-to-reach locations in Colombia, FedExed to New York in their original, unroasted state, with care and maximal traceability. The roastery is handsome and enormous, and beyond the freelancer sprawl, subtropical foliage, and the occasional sighting of someone you may recognize from a band; lattes are full-bodied and faintly spicy, finishing with a clovelike kick and a touch of honeycomb candy.
141 Waverly Pl., at Gay St.; 212-924-6750
Since its 2003 inception, Jonathan Rubinstein’s coffeehouse has morphed into a mini-chain that now proudly roasts its own in Red Hook. Recently, it also attracted some primo Union Square Hospitality Group investment to “help fuel the growth of Joe coffee bars in cities across the country.” But, right now, here’s why you should care: Its lattes are no-fuss affairs that are also pleasantly brawny.
La Colombe Torrefaction
319 Church St., at Lispenard St.; 212-343-1515
Some of the city’s most consistent and best-trained baristas can be found at La Colombe’s New York shops, and while the ever-expanding Philadelphia chainlet has since branched out into unimpeachably smooth draft lattes, its original, Italian grandfather–approved lattes remain famously potent and steamy.
O Cafe at L’estudio
61 Hester St., nr. Essex St.; 212-477-2427
The original O Cafe opened in the Village in 2000, packed with leafy, green houseplants and Brazilian baked goods. The newest iteration doubles as a showroom for succulents potted in beautiful ceramic cups, and heavy rimmed plates that happen to be made next door. You may or may not feel like you’ve stepped into an issue of Dwell, but the lattes, made with excellent Miami roaster Panther’s East Coast Blend, are a bright and chocolaty draw.
99 Allen St., nr. Delancey St.; 917-475-1423
A pile-up of quirky trends can be found here. Skilled baristas proffer a veritable bestiary of latte art, and raindrop cakes made a recent appearance. There is heavy cream and egg yolk — alleged measures of authenticity — in the cappuccino, and customers can spruce up lattes with wasabi, which apparently helps enunciate the deepest-cut flavor compounds in the house-roasted coffee. And, indeed, one recent blog post posited the question: “Could This Wasabi Latte Change Your Life?” The answer is no, but the versions made without the Japanese root are nevertheless great.
Third Rail Coffee
240 Sullivan St., nr. 3rd St.; no phone
Both locations of the beloved independent shop turn out velvety yet formidable lattes made (usually, carefully) with Counter Culture coffee that rotates regularly (either a seasonal blend or a single-origin release). Guest roasters like Portland, Maine’s Tandem Coffee sometimes ship in fascinating cultivars for blink-and-you’ll-miss-them residencies.
146 Wyckoff Ave., at Himrod St., Bushwick; 718-497-2326
Lattes here are strong, soothing, and contenders for the city’s most consistent, made with a single-origin coffee that has a veritable Flavor Wheels’ worth of interesting-tasting notes, but is particularly suited for milk. The chain’s baristas are across-the-board talented, the house roasting operation is increasingly focused on seasonality, and in general, the city could use more variety. A shiny, new Chelsea shop is in fact its first welcome outpost outside of the espresso-dense, northernmost part of Brooklyn.