I always liked drip coffee. But it wasn't until last summer that I began to enjoy espresso. I had a revelation sometime last June, at Joe the Art of Coffee, where for the first time my espresso didn't taste sour or burnt; rather it was subtle and chocolatey with nutty hints of maple syrup. It was outstanding. And since that moment, I've become obsessed. Frankly it wasn't until more recently that I began to appreciate the tremendous skill involved with extracting espresso. I began pulling espresso daily using my Rancilio Sylvia modified with an Auber Instruments PID kit to help maintain proper brewing temperature. I started pulling some incredible shots, intermixed with some not-so-great ones. The hardest part, I quickly learned, was consistency. There are so many variables (like temperature, pressure, temping pressure, grind size, ambient humidity, and bean age) that turned this into a real science. What makes Ninth Street so impressive is its consistency: rarely have I had a poorly extracted espresso. Their baristi too, are obsessed.
Ninth Street Espresso deserves the credit of introducing New York City to a new wave of coffee brewers. Ones that took an eye to quality and taste, rather than quantity and dollars. Having opened nearly ten years ago in 2001 by Ken Nye, Ninth Street has brewed the coffee of every major American roaster: Stumptown, Counter Culture, and currently Intelligentsia, which roasts their own Alphabet City blend. And as such the attitude of the baristi is one of understated confidence: not pretentious; but they sure know what they are doing.
My favorite way to drink espresso is a triple macchiato. It's what I make at home every morning. A 21-gram puck tamped with around thirty pounds of pressure, extracted for just over 25-seconds and "stained" with a dollop of whole milk. The ability to create art (a "rosetta") while pouring the milk indicates the perfect texture and temperature of the silky smooth micro-foam: too thin and and the milk will just blend, too thick and it will sit on top of the espresso with large bubbles. While I do enjoy this drink by itself, a pinch of Sugar in the Raw brings out the caramel and chocolate flavors even more.
When I'm in the mood to linger for a longer conversation, I order a triple cappuccino. It uses the same twenty-one gram shot of espresso, only significantly more milk. The wider cup and added milk gives the barista more flexibility to make artwork on the top, usually in the form of a heart or olive leaf. The sweet whole milk needs no additional sugar.
All of Ninth Street's espresso drinks use triple shots. But don't get scared, this is not the same as a triple espresso. It's actually a triple ristretto (Italian for "restricted"), meaning three times the beans but for the same extraction time yielding the same quantity of a single shot. (A traditional double espresso has double the quantity, and a triple espresso, triple the quantity.) So here, the result is a more luxurious shot (extra wasted beans) with more natural oils. The caffeine content is something in-between a single and double espresso. By contrast, Joe the Art of Coffee does something similar but with double-ristrettos (14g) instead of triples (21g).
So make a morning out of it. Being located in Alphabet City means the original Ninth Street is not so easy to get to. But this can be a good thing: there is always ample seating and a laid back atmosphere filtering out all but the most dedicated coffee cognoscenti. Don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with the baristi. Even if they appear a bit quiet or even austere at first, they enjoy educating customers about their coffee and technique. It's a learning experience that won't be forgotten. And what better way to learn something new, than with a rich chocolatey macchiato?