No, not the one where the beans are plucked from the poop of civet cats. I’ve had that! Yeah, it was good, but between the cost and the unpleasant mental images that can’t be avoided…… not the world’s best.
I’m not talking about this, either.
I have something else in mind.
The picture on the left margin of this blog isn’t a stock photo. It’s one I took, and I use it here for a reason.
Here’s the uncropped version:
One of my first times googling best coffee in <city> came before one of my many visits to New York, I guess this was about four or five years ago. Catching my eye amongst the search results was this article. One read of it, and one view of the embedded video?
Oh hell yeah!
I was heading out to Morris Park!
Just as soon as I figured out where Morris Park was.
My only, and very hazy, recollection of that neighborhood came from the late 80s/early 90s when an Irish-American band named Black 47 blew up big in the city, and hearing that they got their start playing rough Irish bars in Morris Park. A little internetting showed the days of the Irish bars of Morris Park were long gone*, and it was now a diverse multi-cultural neighborhood way out there in the Bronx, a borough in which I had not spent much time. But it was reachable by subway, I knew I would have time, so hell yeah! I was still heading out to Morris Park!
*more recent internetting shows I was mistooken (see 1:06 to 1:15 here) in my memory, as Knightsbridge was the Bronx neighborhood with the Irish bars where Black 47 cut their teeth
I took the subway out there one weekday morning. This probably reflects very poorly on me (well, okay, there’s no probably about it), but at some point on the trip as the train surfaced from the tunnels up to elevated tracks which reached deeper into the Bronx, the cityscape laid out in front of me made me think I had made a terrible mistake and would be better served jumping off at a stop with a train heading back to Manhattan pulling up on the other side of the platform at the same time. But things started looking marginally better between E 180th and the Morris Park stop, and I admonished myself for being silly and kept on with it.
After getting off at Morris Park I completely lost my bearings and ended up wandering up and down blocks of identical looking rowhouses and accidentally doubling back to the station. For someone who prides himself on map reading and finding his way around new destinations, this was not a proud moment.
But eventually I found my way to Morris Park Avenue, and in the middle of a nondescript retail strip found La Casa del Caffe.
It’s not a fancy place, but comfortable. There’s some metal tables and chairs**, Italian grocery items on the shelves, a drinks cooler, a freezer case with gelato, some Italian football pennants on the wall, a big espresso machine, and a tv tuned to Rai 1. Of course, Anna Agovino was there behind the counter.
**since replaced by wooden tables/chairs
This is no hipster-bait coffee shop with beans from an artisanal roaster which prepares single-estate batches from Ethiopia or Nicaragua in order to deliver tasting notes of elderflower, honey and under-ripened cassava melon. As the NYT article notes, Anna uses coffee produced by Essse, a mass-produced Italian brand of espresso beans from the Segafredo family.
An aside: a former colleague of mine from Italy feels more negatively about the Segafredo chain of coffee shops, found in airports in many countries, than my Australian friend Nick does about Starbucks.
As you might expect, the taste of the coffee here is more old-school Italian espresso than a clean, fresh third wave effort. Strong flavor with a huge caffeine kick, a thick consistency and a pronounced layer of crema on the espresso. A little bit of milk foam works perfectly for Anna’s macchiato because it settles perfectly into the crema and incorporates into the coffee. If I’m up for it I will have a macchiato and then a single shot espresso, but usually a doppio macchiato will do the trick nicely.
Since my first visit I’ve jokingly referred to this as the world’s best cup of coffee, but in truth I think it’s fantastic and it’s my top choice, anywhere, full stop.
I’ve been back to see Anna several times since, and will go out of my way when visiting NYC or driving up and down the east coast. Across the street are a neighborhood pizzeria and a good Italian pastry shop, so if I can hit it midday I’m all set for a nice lunch, coffee and dessert.
Anna is always very polite; if you want to chat, she’ll chat, and if you want to just quietly enjoy your coffee, she won’t intrude. She is always genuinely grateful for your custom. I’ve been there weekdays, Saturdays, early Sunday mornings in shitty weather, and Anna’s always there. For all I know she has a cot hidden under the counter and never leaves the place.
Well, that’s not really true. I stopped by a couple weeks ago to find the metal grates drawn inside the windows and a hand-written sign taped to the door which read, “Closed August 2 to August 22. Anna loves you all very much, but even she needs a vacation.”
For more on the neighborhood, the NY Times’ real estate section just ran one of its “Living In…..” pieces on Morris Park.