My last entry to this blog ended on a somewhat unhappy note regarding the vexed issue of good coffee in New York. In my first months here, I used to cite one of Jens’ expatriate friends as if he had discovered one of the first principles of reality: That after every trip to Europe, it takes roughly two months to sufficiently forget the taste of real coffee, in order to then be able to enjoy American coffee. But I’ve come around—he’s not right! There is good coffee to be found.
Of course, good coffee needs more than imported Italian espresso and an ok machine. It needs, first of all, good water, which, unfortunately, seems to be very much a matter of what one’s used to. So here’s a point where a tiny bit of open-mindedness doesn’t hurt, or rather, it really doesn’t help to get caught up in quest for water that tastes like home. The pragmatic way out is to go for latte. Which of course brings up issues about milk. However, somewhat more resolvable ones. Of course, there’s the Starbucks type of latte, and it should (grudgingly) be admitted that they do a quite good job. But what about atmosphere? Our task is genuine latte in the right kind of setting, i.e., a real café––as opposed to ‘room where Americans sit with their laptops and large paper cups’.
I’ve only found one such place in all of Manhattan: The Sant Ambroeus on 1000 Madison Avenue (near 78th Street). It’s totally overpriced and you should better wear a fur coat when you’re standing at the bar. And, of course, speak Italian. Don’t go in the touristy season, when all kinds of Europeans come, desperate for something they recognize as a café. On dreary, rainy days in the middle of the week, that’s when you’ll be alone with rich Italians. If you can take the disapproving stares at whatever you’ll be wearing that falls short of high fashion (the elegant, understated Italian kind, not the flashy, tight-jeans-high-heels U.S. kind), you will happily drink creamy (meaning: full “fat” milk which is probably flown in on a daily basis, hence the prices, and hence a bit of a bad feeling regarding global warming), strong and delicious latte macchiato.
Coming up: Fresh Vegetables, Or: Giving Up On ‘Green Values’