#6: Frisson Espresso

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fris·son
frēˈsôn/
noun
  1. a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill.
    “a frisson of excitement”

 

The coffee shop is tiny, making the smell of espresso seem even more concentrated as the door swings open and warm air overpowers the outside chill. A few small tables, a crowded counter, and a compact window seating area keep everyone close within the brick walls.

Scurry to the counter. Sit. Sip at your warm, strong drink. Scurry, sit, sip. It happens over and over – sometimes with the variation of dropping the sit. People file in and out, most stay at least for a bit. It isn’t too crowded or too busy even though it is small. Perhaps a large mirror hung on one wall makes it seem like more than it really is. But probably not. Size should not be taken for granted here.

The strong espresso smell is an indicator of the richness of the drinks. The name does not oversell the place. With the first smooth and balanced taste the cappuccino does thrill – sending a warm buzz through me beneath my layers of clothes. It is just outside of the trap of Times Square, relevant for the area, but not loaded down with clamoring tourists.

Much like their drinks, Frisson is tasty (or rather, tasteful), uncomplicated, and completely satisfying. Breathe in the espresso-stained air, scurry, sit, and sip.

 

Frisson Espresso is located at 326 W 47th St, New York, NY 10036

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#5: Aviano Coffee

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Aviano’s perfectly frothy cappuccino

Ryan Tedder – front man of Colorado band OneRepublic – is one of my music idols. He writes catchy songs that are so much more than just catchy songs. His lyrics sink from the ear to the soul, stirring it up and drawing in listeners. He is a poet. And so when I heard him say in an interview that his favorite Denver coffee shop is Aviano, I knew it needed to be placed high on my list of places to try.

It quickly moved from high on the “try” list, to high on the “favorites” list.

Located in upscale Cherry Creek North, it stretches the mold. Breaking away from boutique shops, organic restaurants, and chain coffee, Aviano marks its space more humbly, tucked back from the main drag and situated behind an large tree that shades patrons who choose to enjoy the patio seating. However, its distinctive young personality does not dissuade visitors, but rather invites them. At any time of day it remains busy – from the morning rush of people getting a coffee and pastry (while they last), through the afternoon crowd who sits to people watch, work, or chat with a friend before the evening falls and the shop closes.

In addition to the friendly ambiance, Aviano boasts a range of seating options – inside or out, table or stool; something for everyone. Their menu follows suit, with a host of tea and coffee options that are delicious. They offer everything from warm foamy cappuccinos to the house espresso drink called an Angeleno – a shot of espresso mixed with whole milk and sweetened with agave, all shaken up in a martini glass over ice, creating a smooth and slightly sweet drink that is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a hot summer day in Denver. The extensive menu may at first appear intimidating, but you can always count on one of the friendly baristas to approach and patiently give recommendations and explanations until you’ve found just what you’re looking for.

Then all that’s left to do is pull up a chair under the big tree or grab a seat next to the open garage-style-doors at the front of the shop and enjoy the day, delicious drink in hand.

#4: Kobrick Coffee Co.

The ever moving city of New York can often leave you needing to sit and rest. The stimulation of the movement and the lights and all of the people can be taxing. Seeing some of the best art, performances, and architecture around can lead to exhaustion. Simply being in one of the greatest cities in the world can leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Should this be the case, Kobrick Coffee Company can be the answer. Tucked away in Chelsea – just blocks from the new Whitney building – it is an excellent option for a place to stop and pause time for a bit. The dimly lit space, though rather crowded with tables and bodies and music, is a nice reprieve. It gives you a chance to stop and sit for a while, to absorb all that you have done and seen, or to just take a minute to breathe. Their menu offers not only standard coffee and espresso items, but also some unique tea flavors, a full bar, and small plates to refuel the busy traveler.

In my case, this site offered itself as a stopping point to digest a full day of gallery shows in the Chelsea area and beyond. After a day of art, this coffee shop was an extension of the experience of the day – offering a relaxed but tuned-in vibe which was the perfect follow up, and exemplified the tone of Chelsea itself.

#3: Yura on Madison

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I love the show Mad Men. I love the drama of it. I love the way the characters are so real and so complex that you find yourself rooting for the good guy who may also be not such a good guy. I love the art of the advertisements and the complexities of that world. I love the way New York assumes its own character within the story line of the show. (I don’t love the subjugation and objectification of women, but that’s another story.)

Madison Avenue is quintessentially Mad Men. Even on  a part of the street that I know not to be the right district, I still cannot help but feel a little bit bad ass at the thought of it. At the power of it.

Yura on Madison – a tiny bakery turned cafe – sits on Madison, bustling with life in the morning. It is full of school girls getting their almost-adult coffee drinks while still wearing their uniforms. It’s full of business people popping in and out on their way to and from real life. Full of tourists planning out the order in which they will tackle Museum Mile. Full of life and full of moments.

It is a tiny microcosm within the city, but a very representative sample. Within its little universe there exist people coming and going, with only the experience of the coffee shop to link their lives. It is busy. It isn’t too loud, but it definitely isn’t quiet. It has delicious baked goods and larger plates for those interested in staying a while; and of course there is good coffee which keeps everyone running.

In a city filled with coffee shops, it’s another a little pit stop along a fast and crowded track on which everyone runs. But regardless of if it’s just a short stop or a place to sit and people watch for a while, it’s a sweet little taste of the city.

 

#2: Woodstar Cafe

There is no lack of coffee shops in Northampton, Massachusetts. A college town with an artistic flare, every other block seems to have a cafe, art gallery, or fair-trade-oriented boutique.

A top choice of mine is Woodstar Cafe. Down a little side street off Main, Woodstar doesn’t boast its presence. But it doesn’t need to. The shop maintains standard cafe hours – not staying open late (which is perhaps my only qualm) – and it seems to always be busy. The lunch rush can leave students and community members alike with difficulty finding a table – though in warmer weather there is sometimes better luck with the outdoor seating. This is a testament to the food, drinks, and feeling of the quaint cafe. Huge windows let in natural light over blue tiled tables. A long bench is set against the big windowed wall, with individual chairs facing this seating across the small, European-feeling tables. Though it can sometimes get rather loud during the lunch rush, the cafe maintains a positive and open vibe. People are friendly and the space, though the tables are close together, is never uncomfortably packed. The environment is conducive to good conversation, relaxation, or some studying over tea, coffee, sandwiches, bagels, cookies, or other delicious options.

I search out natural light wherever I can, and any time I can position myself by a window at midday in the little cafe, I do. With a book in hand and a spicy ginger chai in reach, I am more than content to spend time at Woodstar on any day.

Coffee Shop #1: The Bardo Coffee House

Bardo, located in Denver, Colorado, is a truly inspiring coffee shop. Tucked between faded brick businesses on Broadway, it is a place that could easily be missed if you aren’t looking for it.

Inside, the building is small and verging on crowded, with little tables tucked in across from a high counter, among posters for concerts and events. The posters seem to be layered on top of each other – they are a collage of the past that acts as a sort of shrine to memory; it is never taken down.

For a late night coffee fix this place is ideal: open until 1 AM Sunday through Thursday and 3 AM on Friday and Saturdays. Even at odd hours, this coffee shop stays busy (as the best ones do). Behind the large glass windows a tiny world constantly exists. An eclectic mix of students on laptops and groups playing games litter the small tables. A little back room, darker than the front, has a couch for more casual enjoyment of coffee, tea, and assorted sweet treats.

While perhaps not the “perfect” coffee shop, Bardo has character. Its small size keeps the atmosphere saturated with life. It is intimate, but alive, and just loud enough to create a space in which you can enjoy a conversation over a hot mug of happiness at all hours.

How The Hunt was Born

The Hunt for the Perfect Coffee Shop was born from the death of a magical place. A place that not only can be referred to as my favorite coffee shop, but also one of the best places (coffee shop or otherwise) that I’ve experienced so far.

Strange Grounds: An Elegy

Strange Grounds (Denver, Colorado) was not just a coffee shop. It was a destination. It was a hole in a the wall tunnel to a magical land. Much like the wardrobe to Narnia, it was a portal to another world.

Upon crossing the threshold and passing through the faint smell of legal (and maybe not-so legal) marijuana, you entered a new realm. Warmly colored walls cradled paintings, mismatched furniture, games, music, books, poetry: life.

Here, coffee could taste like flowers if you asked nicely. Here, cocoa glittered. Here, flavored drinks simmered beneath steamy leaves made of foam.

Even at 1 AM, as the outside world slept, inside Strange Grounds there was life. In this real life Narnia I was serenaded by a violin lesson at midnight, or startled by the random and sometimes alarming performances of avant garde night. This was a gathering place. I talked with my friends and created patchwork poetry on magnet boards. I drank coffee too late at night and found my mind continuing to buzz even after I had left the stimulating place and stimulating people behind.

This coffee shop was the X-marks-the-spot on the treasure map.

Strange Grounds owned its name. But it went beyond “strange” and became enchanting. It pulled you in with its warm atmosphere, held you hypnotized with colored fairy lights, and kept you satisfied with a sweet or spicy chai.

Even when away, I knew that somewhere in the dark this other world pulsed. Now, with its heartbeat cut off, I have only the memory of being there and feeling at once myself and part of the place. Now I carry that memory in my head and heart and veins. The light that was once a beacon – bright and yellow in the night – will continue to shine like a ghost town – abandoned, but not really forgotten.

I will try to replace it, knowing that I will never replicate it.

I now have a new perspective on what it takes for a coffee shop to make the cut. I have experienced an ideal blend of creamy chai, glittery cocoa, and midnight-moony-eyed-creative-chaos, all because of – all thanks to – Strange Grounds.

 

And so, the Hunt begins.