I started to waste my time in coffee shops when I was 14 or 15 years old. I’d cut class to drink what amounted to sugar water that had a faint aroma of the dirty bean with a man at three times my senior who shared my 'counter-culture' mentality. Later I ‘graduated’ from candy-drink coffee to the simple black-coupled with a misguided purism that heaped scorn on anyone who didn’t share my ascetic preference. This wasn't just a drink preference, it was a way of life. I would sit in the same dingy room doing nothing of consequence for hours until I could ridicule those who had some dream which they decided to share at open mic night. I’ve since gotten over both of those puerile dispositions. Now I have a more mature attitude toward drinking stimulants in a room full of self- or unemployed strangers who can’t afford an office and a more refined palate that enjoys the coffee for its taste/smell/texture rather than the fact that that drinking it makes me feel like I’m better than other people and slightly high at the same time. You can imagine how someone with a past so inextricably bound to coffee drinking could have developed unnecessarily strong convictions about what makes a good or a bad Joe drinking joint. If you want to deal with this over developed judgmentality then keep reading.
[edit. Even after writing this I thought I could keep myself to one post. That was foolish. As I wrote the post started growing unwieldy and so I have imposed a harsh constraint on my coffee posts: One topic per post. In this post I only talk about what location has the best drinks. I’ll get into what makes good coffee and a good coffee drinking environment later.]
A bit on my bais: Too much dairy does not agree with me. For this reason I won’t be rating late’s, au laits, or anything else that's dairylicious. I’ll stick to the basics: 'regular', espresso and, macchiato (which, lets face it, has all the virtues of any of its larger, milkier counterparts but in more adorably-sized packaging). I’ve been around the coffee block, made trips to strange places in Manhattan that I had no business visiting just to try coffee that "they say" is rather good. All this had lead me to the conclusion that those living in north Brooklyn are the envy of my coffee drinking soul. They get the best in both categories.
The best macchiato you’ll find in this city is at Oslo in Brooklyn. Save the trip of Cafe Sabarsky for when you want to impress visitors with how often you get to pretend that you're rich when you live in NYC. Although Oslo is not always consistent (This is largely not their fault. The city for some reason won’t give them the permit to roast their own beans and so sometimes they get a batch that isn’t up to their standard), but even on their worst day they’re better than most of the swill in this city. Anyway, their off days are few and far enough between that there isn't any more negative fluctuation than there is in anything in life right? Regardless of how fanciful their beans are, the ratio of froth to milk to coffee in this drink gives it an amazing texture that’ll knock your socks off and replace them with warm fuzzy slippers that make you feel like you’re in some fire-lit living room wearing a Cosby sweater and perhaps sitting on a rug made from some large exotic animal that you've probably never seen alive. The taste also compliments the cofee perfectly so the bitterness of the coffee is softened by still present. My best and worst days both are made better whenever I stop by for a viit. I will also rave about the staff and service of both locations at some other point.
For the right-minded purists out there, though, the best espresso to be had is at Grumpy in either Manhattan or Greenpoint. I prefer the GP Grumpy for a million reasons, but they belong in another post. Basically, this place knows how to pull a triple ristretto shot right. TR put simply is basically 3 shorts worth of ground beans with about 2 shots worth of liquid forced through them in some fancy way that involves having expensive machines and fancy levels and all that good stuff. The result: a far more intense and complex flavor (i.e. you can talk about notes, hints, and wafts as if you were drinking wine or scotch with snobs but very clearly know what you're talking about). It's a little thicker than normal espresso too, so as you drink it you get a hint of that "I'm drinking the diet coke syrup straight from the fountain untainted by the bubbly water" guilty-pleasure feeling. Futhermore, the harsh bitter is all but swallowed up by the sweet and spicy flavors that normally seem like they're burnt out of the over-priced espresso you get after dinner at any fancypants restaurant in the city. Holy crap I am wishing I were there right now just thinking about it.
Finally, for those who want a beverage that'll warm them for longer than the 2 minutes it takes them to drink the regular coffee. I say regular because the things used to make it well don't drip. If you haven't heard of the clover it's this fancy 15k coffee making robot that is pretty awesome, though to my mind it's overpriced. Still, it is better than the normal stuff so if we're strictly talking best here this is the way to go. When you drink the stuff the flavors, though they are fainter than they are in any good espresso drink, change as the drink cools. It's pretty neat! Anyway, Starbucks bought the company that makes them so you'll have to go to Starbucks to try them (and the beans at starbucks are usually bunt to all hell so the machine is totally wasted there!) EXCEPT!!! in North Brooklyn (well, a few other places have them too ;) ). You have your choice of the previously mentioned Grumpy and the more Bedford- El Beit. I like El Beit a lot, so I'm glad I got to mention them. Still, I have to say that the staff at Grumpy seem to be better trained and you get better coffee for your money there.
Honorable mention: I know I said I wasn't going to discuss milky drinks but the green tea late at Supercore on lower bedford is damn tasty. I can’t drink the whole thing because of my milky problems, but it’s got matcha in it, has a thick frothy texture, and is super rich and delicious. I haven't tried many of these so perhaps this is standard or even sub-par but my mouth persuades me to order this more often than my stomach would like.
As far as I can tell the mystique around Gimmie! Coffee is smoke and mirrors of the same caliber that just ruined wall street. I went to the Brooklyn location and had an iced coffee, a macchiato, and a regular brew once and I could find nothing special about any of them. Some might say I should give them another shot. I would if they were particularly convenient for me, but as it is I’m going out of my way to get good coffee when I go to north Brooklyn so why waste a trip? Now, this is not to say that they aren’t adequate. They’re not terrible or anything, but there’s an absurd amount of hype that goes with this name and I don’t understand why that’s the case.