29 September 2009

coffee stops

When not witnessing what has got to be the most beautiful wedding ceremony in the history of wedding ceremonies, during which the groom stood watching his future bride wait for Saint-Saens' "The Swan" to begin so she could walk down the aisle & he subtly urged her with nothing but excitement & love to hurry up so he could marry the hell out of her already ("Come on, come on, come on ... "), I was drinking a lot of coffee.

I hit Manhattan at 5pm Friday, was indisposed all of Saturday (with, you know, that gorgeous, simple, elegant, touching wedding), I was back in New York at close to noon, & I left for my flight at 6:30. That's roughly nine hours devoted to coffee (& the getting-to of it).

Friday, I covered Manhattan. Sunday was Brooklyn. I had a macchiato at each place & sometimes one other drink. Behold: Where I went, & one notable thing about each place.

GIMME! COFFEE, 228 Mott Street (at Prince & Spring). Crazy friendly staff who picked up on my questions about their beans & took the conversation further still into coffee geekdom's dark, delicious heart.

NINTH STREET ESPRESSO, 700 East 9th Street (at Loisaida). Young whippersnapper standing in front of a chalkboard sign with seven drinks listed. Seven! That's it! I didn't see because I wasn't looking, but I don't remember a station for customers to add cream & sugar to their coffee*.

* What if there were a shop with no cream or sugar, at all? WHAT IF. Wait, I like cream in my Toddy. Damn.

STUMPTOWN AT THE ACE HOTEL, 20 West 29th Street (at Broadway). Stylish, professional, friendly. But not too friendly. At other shops, I felt at ease asking questions about the components of their blends, what kind of machines they were brewing on, &c. But at this place, there was a high-end service air that, while very nice indeed, kept me at a distance. Part of this may have been a function of the physical layout of the place — I'm not particularly tall. The counter, it was tall. Or the baristas are tall, or are raised up on a platform, or something. They were ... higher than me.

- - - - - - - - -

SOUTHSIDE COFFEE, 652 6th Avenue (at 17th Street). I was served by Intelligentsia's newly-named East Coast Educator, Ramin Narimani! He seemed genuinely excited to meet an Intelligentsia person, & we talked shop for a good long time. I hope he swings through Los Angeles, as he's a helluva chap.

GIMME! COFFEE, 495 Lorimer Street (at Powers). Chock fulla customers who stood at the espresso bar & talked (about coffee, mostly). The barista was in the middle of giving coffee recommendations in Los Angeles when I walked up to the bar!

CAFE GRUMPY, 193 Meserole (at Diamond). HUGE space with two rooms — small tables out front & larger tables in a more brightly-lit room out back. They've recently started roasting their own beans, though I don't know if that's what I was drinking — I knew the barista, as it happens, & we spent most of the time talking about people, not beans. Notable for me, but not for you ... I'm sorry.

More beholding:
· New York is no longer the land of dishwater coffee I remember. That was a rough time, the late nineties/early naughts. (It was during this Rough Time that my brother gave me a French Press. Thank you, Brian!)
· I half-expected baristas in New York to be standoffish & wary of my pointed questions, but across the board, they were friendly & informed & happy to talk about their beans, machines, brew methods, &c. Yay.
· It seems there are more specialty coffee shops in Brooklyn than in Manhattan. This makes sense to me; Manhattan is a busy hub, with people rushing to and from all boroughs & even home. (Yes, some people with more money than sense live in Manhattan. I KNOW.) But people live in Brooklyn. It's where they spend their downtime, their weekends. They take time, because they have time, & they are willing to wait a couple minutes for coffee that tastes good. Brooklyn is also where a lot of creative arty types live, & arty types are, by definition, aesthetes, & one aspect of aestheticism is the sense of taste. POW.

That's it! See y'all at Station 2.

28 September 2009

very high opera

I flew to New Jersey for my good friends Catherine & Aaron's wedding this weekend. I flew in to New York early, stopped off at a couple recommended coffee places, stayed at a VERY stylie hotel in the very unlikely Upper East Side, took a train to New Jersey, watched a truly beautiful ceremony followed by a wonderful reception (when an architect & a graphic designer get married, no detail is spared attention), hit up several more coffee shops back in New York the next day (more on the coffee stops later), then flew back on a not-quite-red-eye last night.

The flight was supposed to leave at 8:25pm but was delayed, leaving just shy of 11.

The seat I was supposed to take was occupied by one half of a couple not seated together. So I offered to switch. Then I noticed, too late — my new seat had me next to a young mother with a squalling one-year-old baby girl in her arms.

Sequence of thoughts:
· Gonna be a long flight.
· I've slept through a bachelor party raging outside my bedroom door ... I can do this.
· Whoah — this kid has some lungs. Operatic, if it were a toneless, discordant, expression-of-basest-needs kind of opera.
· Why can't this mother calm her child? Oh, right ... because you can't explain to a one-year-old that the change in air pressure is what's causing the weird feeling in her inner ear, which is INSIDE OF HER HEAD, & that the floor churning like that is totally expected & normal & actually kind of funny when you look at all the people lurching down the aisles on the way to the bathroom. The little girl hasn't figured out language yet. It's also probably the first time this has happened to her.
· Why did the mother even BRING such a young child, then? Oh, RIGHT. Because not everyone has local relatives (as I did growing up) or the means to hire someone (as my parents didn't) to watch squalling one-year-olds for weekends. And because it takes a while to teach kids to understand language & to speak it — years, in fact. So if she doesn't have anyone to watch her kid, then she can't go. Confining a new mom to her home FOR YEARS is a surefire way to make said mom one batshit crazy-face emmer effer, which is, like, bad for society. Making mothers crazy makes children crazy, & everyone was a child once.
· Teaching people to be okay with crying babies makes us better people. Babies cry. Everybody, let's toughen up.

If anyone else on that flight was going through the same thought sequence, they didn't get to these last couple points. There were a lot of passive-aggressive stage whispers, disapproving tut-tuts, & throwing of daggers from eyes. (I was guilty of the eye-daggers at first, I admit.) OK, yeah, it was annoying, but who has ever been a squalling one-year-old? Every damned one of us. You were probably a freaking terror every once in a while. It's not a matter of not being able to control your kid (at age one ... hah!); it's not a matter of whether the mom should be allowed out (like I said ... for several years? Cruel & unusual). Kids. They freak out. It's what they do.

So I turned to the mom & asked her how she was doing. And meant it. It led to a bona fide conversation — What were you doing in New York? First time visiting? Where'd y'all go? — you know. Normal conversations you might have with a human being. (Which I almost never do on planes. The potential for your aisle-mate to turn out to be a life coach is too great.) Turns out we both are fans of the same cinema house, & she's hoping to get an advanced degree in film once her little moppet's a little less little.

I hope she does. I think having interests other than every little thing your baby does is healthy & good. And I think it's hard to manage, once you have that squalling one-year-old. It kills me to see people (often but not always women) viewed as this totally other animal once they have children. Mothers & fathers are still people. This one happened to be smart, & funny, & sweet, & very upset that her daughter was causing so much grief to the other passengers. But the dagger eyes & the whispering wasn't helping. Kids pick up on stuff. This one-year-old was sensing her mother's distress, which only amplified her own. Relating to the mother as a human being (instead of instantly categorizing her as "bad mother", or even "good mother" — we don't really have the right to make value judgments on so little information) ... it was clearly a relief, which — surprise, surprise — calmed Skyla down. Empathy. A little bit goes a long way.

Skyla, by the way, is a Hindi name. (Her mom was born in India.) It means "Child of the Heavens." Indeed. Teaching people all kinds of stuff, way up at 30,000 feet. Good work, kid.