Unassuming from the outside, entering into Marie Belle is like stepping into a stage play time machine, the interior is a throwback to old Victorian tea rooms and French chocolate salons. The shop interior would not look out of place amongst the classic european cafe scene, even featuring its own chocolate cafe at the rear of the store, serving thick molten hot chocolate alongside chocolate desserts and other savoury delights. It’s difficult to walk past all the chocolates and their colourful packagings without getting lost in fascination, but it’s important to stay strong because the main attraction here has to be their hot chocolate, in my honest and humble opinion.
The reason im here on this occasion is for the hot chocolate, prepared in a traditional manner, more indicative of ancient South America than modern European hot chocolate, the Aztec hot chocolate is available 6 ways. Marie Belle offer the plain Aztec or Maya, Hazelnut, Panela, Dark and spicy Varieties of hot chocolate, having always enjoyed the combination of chocolate and spice I opted for a cup of the spicy variety.
The hot chocolate arrived in the finery of a china cup set on the classic marble table. Having been prepared to perfection, it danced with the fragrant notes of chocolate and spice. To taste is was thick and creamy without being tacky and coated the mouth in a sensuous layer of deep chocolate favours both highlighted and complemented by the building but not overpowering spice.
Mariebelle is not only about its drinking chocolate, its difficult to walk in Mariebelle and not buy some solid chocolate on your way out. The place if filled with chocolate delights, bars, filled artisanal chocolates, truffles and confisseries all vying for your attention. Always one to be attracted by the bars but with a soft spot for filled chocolates, I browsed their collection of bars first, being most excited by the 65% Maracaibo bar they had on display.
By the counter ready to pay, leaning over the glass counter showcasing their filled chocolates it was with little hesitation that we picked up a chocolate called Sea Waves, a saffron infused ganache coated in dark chocolate. Which would make walking through the streets of New York later a real pleasure.
484 Broome Street, New York
The stylish El Rey can be found just south of the East Village on Stanton street not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. With its brightly lit white interior, greenery and wood finish, it has a slight feel of the botanical about it. The ambience is analogous to the food it serves, which has its focus in fresh green vegetables developed into flavourful light lunch plates. As tasty as the food looked I was here to taste the coffee, which was supplied by local Brooklyn roasters Parlor Coffee. I opted for their stockist blend as an americano, a seasonal mixture of East African and South American beans.
On the coffee’s arrival, we found that we were, through luck and coincidence, sat across from AJ Walzer, Parlor Coffee’s Director of sales, busy doing his rounds with Parlor Coffee’s customers. Whilst tasting the coffee, which had flavours of purple fruit and chocolate, similar to that of the Chuao chocolate bar, AJ began telling the story of his move from finance to the exciting world of coffee. Parlor Coffee had just opened their first pop up shop in the back of a barbers in Brooklyn, something, as non locals, we had been unaware of and so, had sadly missed the day before in Brooklyn. Slightly distracted from my coffee, we discussed how exciting Ethiopian coffees could be and the value of a good home brewing kit, while I began to notice that over time the coffee had developed a bigger juicier mouthfeel. It was great to see someone from the local industry talk passionately about the local coffee scene.
100 Stanton Street, New York
This is the quintessential local community coffeeshop, so much so that it feels as if the neighbourhood has grown up around ninth street espresso claiming it for all time, like creeping ivy on an old house. For Ninth Street Espresso this is where it all started, on 9th street opening their original branch, a branch that has helped them to grow to 4 other locations. It’s easy to see why, it has a friendly, cosy and relaxed environment for drinking coffee in. Ok, so there are the usual horde of mac books lining the side tables connecting their drinkers to the metropolis of the outside world, but they must have been writing essays on zen philosophy because there was no sign of fast paced communications and telephone meetings going on here.
This particular branch is also known as Alphabet City and it is for that reason that I ordered their eponymously titled Alphabet City, a natural Brazillian Catuai from Boa Vista Daterra to drink as a brewed coffee. Relaxing at the table, the coffee gave of traditional scents of dark woods, nuts and caramel. To taste it was like eating almond biscotti with caramel sweetness and some background white fruit like poached pears. Very smooth and typical of coffees from brazil, just a touch sweeter in this case. Struggling to leave, we made our way out before the neighbourhood grew around us too.
700 East 9th Street, between Avenue’s C + D, New York
Tacked on the side of an Urban Outfitters store, clearly with intention, rather than as an afterthought, Intelligentsia blurs the lines between coffeeshop and retail experience. Having something in common with Urban Outfitters, Intelligentsia is equally tall, airy and unimposing like a big friendly giant of coffee. While this is a slide along counter service, designed no doubt for busier periods, the place feels more friendly than that, the staff are relaxed and casual in everything but the service, making the place increasingly welcoming.
Nearing the end of our trip it was only fitting that I ordered the celebration blend brewed as a V60, featuring Kenyan SL28 and SL34 varietals, Colombian caturra and colombia varietals and if that wasn’t enough, some Ethiopian heirloom varietals too. No doubt this was a celebration of complex flavour. With aromas of dark fruit cake and caramel it teased at being a little simpler than expected, but to taste it was a fleeting affair of flavours that raced around like children in a game of tag. Forever changing on me, it began as sweet caramel and nougat with a pink grapefruit acidity. In the middle there were hints of clementines and citrus followed by what can only be described as peach melba yoghurt. To finish some black berry jam and demerera sugar, the only thing that remained consistent was its big sweet mouthfeel. Oh and they had pink roses on the tables too.
1333 Broadway, between 35th + 36th Avenue, New York
Part Coffeeshop, part coffee engineering plant, Joe Coffee’s Pro shop and HQ on West 21st street is a coffee geeks dream. The shop itself only takes up around a fifth of the used space with the rest being used to house all the coffee machinery in the back. Here is a place where people come to learn about coffee and no doubt play around with it all day too. On entering, one of the staff was busy playing around with a tea brewing machine, by having it brew coffee instead.
This branch of Joe Coffee is designed for people to explore coffee, as well as enjoy some of the best roasters from around America and the world. Struggling to choose between Joe Coffee’s own roasts and Coffee Collective amongst others, in the end I opted for The Barn from Berlin, owing to the knowledge that this particular coffee was from Finca Tamana, one of my favourite coffee farms.
The coffee arrived as an americano, as the coffee had been roasted for espresso, with a good half cm of coffee crema on top, something ive only come to expect from an espresso. The aromas were of mahogany, spice and stewed red apples. To taste I expected this to be all toffee apples with hints of spice, it was however, a little different this time the spice was still there but it was closer to raspberry molasses than toffee apples, more acidic and bigger and bolder in the mouthfeel. This was a really loud coffee, big, bold and even slightly smokey, while remaining super creamy and smooth. A little bit like a big man shouting while wearing a suit.
If you live in New York and want to learn how to brew coffee or you just need a place that sells the equipment for you to brew coffee at home then this is likely the place for you to go. It’s clear when looking around here that these guys are passionate about coffee and there’s lots to be learnt.
131 West 21st Street, New York
Not strictly a coffee shop, or a chocolate shop for that matter, I didn’t even drink coffee in here either. So the question is why am I including it in my list? The answer is because the doughnuts here are amazing, so much so that I had them for breakfast, twice! It also helps that some of these doughnuts are chocolate flavoured and that while I didn’t drink it, they serve great coffee here too, they’ll even brew it for you as a V60. Featuring coffee from Intelligentsia, Toby’s Estate and a guest roaster, which was Joe Coffee while I was there. The only reason I didn’t drink their coffee was because of my inability to drink more than about 4 cups a day.
Stepping past the building works, as with so much of New York, inside is a list of doughnuts that will have you drooling in anticipation, as you try your hardest to narrow them down to an actual order. After much consideration we opted for a Doughnut Plant signature square doughnut each, a peanut butter and strawberry jam and a vanilla bean and strawberry jam accompanied by a Valrhona chocolate yeast doughnut to share. Doughnuts are already pretty amazing but these were something else, the square doughnut is such a simple but effective invention, making sure that you get filling all the way round. The chocolate doughnut tasted like real chocolate, no doubt owing to the Valrhona chocolate being used, something fairly rare. Like i say, they were so good we went back a few days later for more.
220 West 23rd Street, between 7th + 8th Avenue, New York
It is slightly unfair to call this a best of New York coffee list, there is so much great coffee in New York and it’s impossible to visit it all in one trip. It would be difficult enough to visit it all while living there. This is by no means a definitive list and I didn’t get to visit a few of the places I would have liked to. So to all those I missed, next time!