New York has run on coffee since at least 1668, when the first written reference to the drink in America noted that New Yorkers were imbibing a brew made of roasted beans flavored with sugar, or honey and cinnamon. Following the Civil War, our beloved borough became the center of the national coffee trade. By the turn of the 20th century, 86% of the nation’s coffee docked in New York Harbor, and John Arbuckle’s plant on John Street in DUMBO roasted more coffee than any other building in the world.
Today, Brooklynites are pioneering the “third wave” specialty coffee craze, and our local roasters are flavoring their drinks with a lot more than sugar or honey and cinnamon. In the name of investigative journalism, I set out to sample some of that local flavor. In Greenpoint alone, that means turmeric, lavender, licorice and other assorted delights. These are not your average pours and they’ll run you more than a regular coffee, but if you’re looking to splurge on something special, read on for Greenpoint’s most exciting coffee concoctions.
Stop into Budin (114 Greenpoint Avenue) for their secret specialty: the Licorice Latte. It’s not on the menu, but they’ve been serving it on the DL since they opened about 3 years ago. Since Budin showcases Scandinavian coffee culture, they use sweet licorice syrup imported from Iceland, and top the whole thing off with licorice powder. The result is a strong and exciting flavor that’s very smooth and easy to drink.
For a more soothing pour, check out the Matcha Rose Latte ($6) at Antidote Apothecary (200 Franklin Street). This one’s not coffee based, but it does offer a caffeine fix. Elizabeth DeCoursey opened the Apothecary in late September and began serving drinks in January. She says the matcha rose latte “evolved in the dead of winter when you want the lift from caffeine, but you also want something to cradle your heart.” Rose, she explains, has been used as a calming agent for thousands of years. I tried it iced for the summer, and whatever the season, it’s lovely.
Upright Coffee (860 Manhattan Avenue) offers an incredibly delicate and delicious Lavender Latte ($4.50). Owner Daniel Neumann roasts his coffee in a shared space in Bushwick alongside City of Saints, and serves the Lavender Latte here in Greenpoint, at his Manhattan gastropub, Upright Brew House, and in the far-flung reaches of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at Alderaan Coffee. Daniel added the Lavender Latte to Upright’s menu three years ago when he began creating his own infused syrups. After some success with vanilla, he searched for other viable flavors. This took him into the dubious territory of bacon-flavored lattes (which, he tells me, despite his best efforts, did not get off the ground) and left us with lavender. Lucky us. It’s fantastic.
Secret gives way to illegal at Archestratus Books and Foods (160 Huron Street). Paige Lipari has just whipped up a brand new brew known as Illegal Sicilian Iced Coffee ($5). The illicit treat features marsala and salted honey. The marsala gives the drink a silky savory flavor, and the salted honey sauce lends the whole blend a salty sweetness. It’s so good it should be illegal.
The bold flavors continue at Maman (80 Kent Street) and their Turmeric Chai Latte (Sm: $5.44/ Lg: $5.99). Owner Elisa Marshall told me she saw the turmeric tr d, but wanted to create something unique that wouldn’t leave a bitter aftertaste. She tasked her barista, Will, with finding the perfect flavor, and they landed on “a great fusion combining the pungent bitter flavor of turmeric with the smooth spices and sweetness of chai.” The whole thing is topped off with some pepper, which keeps it punchy.
Speaking of settling summer drinks, at Cup (79 Norman Avenue) you can beat the heat or a hangover with an Iced Cococano ($5). Cup has been serving the Cococano, made with iced coffee and coconut water, for the last six years. The staff notes proudly that Cup debuted their creation about six months before Vita Coco had a version available in stores. The coconut water gives the drink body and heft absent in a regular iced coffee, and if you add milk, you’re looking at a milkshake.
Finally, I caught up with former Greenpointer Max Keilson, of Nomad Trading Co., to chat about cascara, a “superfood tea brewed from the dried coffee fruit.” While it might be a novelty here, the tea has been brewed in Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Yemen for over 200 years. Nomad Trading Co. is new to the scene; their cascara hit shelves in North Brooklyn in mid-June and is one of the borough’s newest fair-trade and economically sustainable caffeine kicks.
Max explains that the dried coffee fruit doesn’t get a lot of love from coffee producers, so brewing tea from that part of the plant combats agricultural waste. Nomad also pays farmers the green coffee price for a product they don’t normally sell, which helps provides economic stability to people who might otherwise be in more precarious situations.
After experimenting with “30 or so different iterations of things” Nomad offers Cascara in Original, Lightly Sweetened (with sustainable coconut sugar) and Hibiscus (with organic hibiscus from Burkina Faso). I tried samples at the Hester Street Fair’s Iced Coffee Competition, and the hibiscus is boss. Nomad is also hard at work developing a tea brewed from the husk of the cacao nib, a part of the plant usually left out of chocolate production. Stay tuned for that chocolatey goodness.