Down Under Cafe Culture Invades New York
NEW YORK CITY — The Aussies are coming, and they're bringing their espresso beans.
As part of the newest wave of New York's changing coffee culture, cafes that are either partially or fully-owned by Australians are bringing drinks with names like the flat white and the long black to a city once known for its watered down espressos (Americanos) and drip-filter coffee.
Coffee purveyors such as Toby's Estate in Williamsburg, Laughing Man in TriBeCa and Bluebird Coffee Shop in the East Village are not only selling the Aussie standards, but attempting to recreate some Down Under café culture in the Big Apple.
Brooklyn native David Steingard, who co-owns Laughing Man with Australian actor Hugh Jackman, said part of the aim of their cafes was to create meeting spaces that exist in Australia and Europe, but not in New York.
"New York…doesn't have ingrained into it what people call an informal 'third' meeting place," Steingard said, with the first and second meeting places being home and work.
He added that Australian-run cafes in New York are spending both time and money to recreate the European-style space where people can spontaneously meet.
Aussies Jayde Harding, 24, and Ashleigh D'Mello, 25, met at Toby's on a recent Tuesday afternoon for iced lattes.
"When I first got here I thought [the coffee] was awful," said Harding, of New York's standard issue coffee, a common refrain among Australians in the city.
An early wave of New York's changing coffee culture is considered to be the move from the classic Greek drip coffee to the mass-market approach of Starbucks, which opened its first New York branch in 1994.
The next wave of New York's improving coffee culture saw revered west coast roasters Blue Bottle and Stumptown open New York outposts in the late 2000s.
"Blue Bottle and Stumptown definitely made people's ears perk up and I guess that was a defining moment in coffee culture here and made us feel that the town's probably ready for this," said Deaton Pigot, roaster and operations manager at Toby's Estate on North 6th Street. "I guess New York deserves to be the mecca of coffee. It's got everything else going for it."
The current wave is thought to be a renewed focus on fair-trade, organic coffee that is freshly ground for each drink, as happens at Toby's — which has locations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and which opened its first New York City location in January 2012.
And as much as Laughing Man's Steingard thinks Australia is affecting New York coffee culture, he sees influence going the other way as well.
"It's funny because now [Australian cafes] have the pour-over or the Chemex," Steingard said.
Besides serving flat whites — which have velvety foam folded through an espresso and taste "like you're drinking a sweet shot of espresso," said Laughing Man barista Lex Larson — Toby's also serves a piccolo latte, which Toby's Pigot describes as the Australian version of a cortado, except a bit smaller.
Toby's Pigot added that Australian drinks tend to use espresso that is a "a lot heavier in body."
Australian ex-pats credit the increased population of Aussies in New York and the advancing Australian café culture to a favorable exchange rate, the relative ease getting a work visa and Australians' well-documented love of travel.
"[Australian-owned cafes] have all seemed to pop up in the last five years," said Sam Deburgh, 29, a customer at Bluebird on East 1st Street. "A lot of Aussies come to America. It's so much more affordable."
Apart from the espresso drinks, there is also a specific sense of humor that has been imported.
After making a flat white and setting it on the wooden counter at Bluebird, manager Tyson Stagg said with a straight face that a perfect cup of coffee must contain "eight percent unicorn horns" and needs to be "blessed by Paul Hogan."
Bluebird Coffee Shop: 72nd East 1st Street
East Village Aussie hangout. Serves masterful flat whites.
Laughing Man Coffee & Tea: 184 Duane Street
TriBeCa café co-founded by famed Aussie Hugh Jackman
Serves classics like flat white and focuses on getting the best tasting fair trade coffee. Part of its profits go back into Laughing Man non-profit, which supports entrepreneurship in the developing world
Toby's Estate: 125 North 6th Street, Brooklyn
Popular Australian chain opened its first U.S. store in Brooklyn in 2012.
Serves classics like flat whites and piccolo latte. Also popular hangout spot for Aussies living in Williamsburg
Café Grumpy: 193 Meserole Ave, Brooklyn; 13 Essex St.; 224 West 20th St.; 383 7th Ave., Brooklyn
Co-founder Chris Timbrell originally hails from Down Under. The café was one of the first in the city to source coffee beans directly from farmers. Serves flat whites.
Milk Bar: 620 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn
The owners of Bluebird also have this café and eatery serving flat whites, Australian iced coffee and Aussie food favorites like meat pie.
Pie Face: 1407 Broadway, 1691 Broadway, 469 7th Ave., 507A Third Ave.,
Australian meat pie chain serving Aussie espresso blends with names like "Kick My Arse!"
Happy Bones: 7 Bond Street
New Zealand-influenced speakeasy-style café serves piccolos, flat whites and long blacks.
Smooch: 264 Carlton Ave., Brooklyn
Australian-owned organic wine bar and café also serving vegetarian dishes. Smooch serves flat whites and Melbourne-style lattes