Drinking coffee is just as much about the ritual as it is about the flavor. The imagery of escaping a hectic world to a calm coffee shop, nestling into an oversized chair, and sipping a drinkable work of art is the most inexpensive and cathartic 5-minute vacation money can buy. The added euphoria from high concentrations of caffeine is just icing on the cake.
However, good luck finding a seat in New York. Many of the newer coffee shops worth mentioning, like Abraço and Zibetto Expresso Bar, adopt the Italian stand-up counter-style concept of espresso whereby lingering is discouraged. And for the great shops with seats, like Joe the Art of Coffee and Ninth Street Espresso, it's either tough to find one or the boisterous atmosphere doesn't warrant productivity. This isn't a bad thing, per se, but there are times where I'd like to have an intimate conversation, or conduct a meeting, and the above shops aren't necessarily conducive to it.
Stumptown is different. Adjacent to the Ace Hotel in midtown off Broadway, Stumptown shares its seating with the hotel lobby. Yes there is still a counter for Italianophiles. But with the impressively fast complimentary wireless internet and abundance of seating in a dimly lit room, the Stumptown/Ace Hotel lobby is quickly becoming an entrepreneurial hotspot. As evidenced by the sea of glowing white apples, tight jeans, and headphones, the young atmosphere is opportune to both work and relaxation.
The coffee is excellent, too. The shop roasts its beans daily just across the east river in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The debonair baristi, dressed with rolled-up sleeves and fedoras, are well-trained with a low tolerance for imperfection. During my first visit, the barista threw out my macchiato twice before finally approving the third (heck the first two looked perfect to me).
The house espresso blend is called Hair Bender and is served as a double ristretto, fourteen grams of espresso per twenty-five second shot. The aroma is of semi-sweet chocolate with hints of toast and notes of roses. All milk comes from Hudson Valley Farms which is sweet enough on its own, not calling for the addition of sugar in a macchiato or cappuccino. All of the equipment is La Marzocco, accurate to within a tenth of a degree to extract as much natural oils from the beans as possible in twenty five seconds without burning.
The staff, so it seems, is genuinely kind too. Aside from conversation starters asking how my day has been and where I'm from, I once made a fool of myself by dropping my iPhone into my cappuccino, and without asking, replacement cappuccino was made immediately. I still felt pretty stupid, but they definitely didn't have to do that.
And so Stumptown is now a member of my three favorite coffee places in the city, right alongside Joe the Art of Coffee and Ninth Street Espresso. But the comfortable seating and radiant energy makes me go there much more regularly than anywhere else. The environment is perfect for enjoying an espresso with a group of friends, or for sipping a cappuccino while coding with headphones. It is one of the first spaces in New York that, upon entry, transports me to San Francisco. And I highly recommend it.