The best time to duck into a café for a cup of coffee during a New York winter is anytime during the winter—if not to escape snowstorms and howling winds, then from the plow truck-created snowdrifts that border the sidewalks and pool frozen ponds at pedestrian crosswalks. As the quality, variety, and quantity of serious coffee houses continue to develop in New York, you won’t need to settle for a chain lacking local charm—you’ll have choices in virtually any neighborhood you explore, though we call out five of our favorites here.
These aren’t just quick stops to fill up from the automatic drip tower. Instead, this list is inspired by Gemultlichkeit, a German word which has no precise English translation but approximates a combination of coziness, good cheer, and belonging. These cafés all serve quality coffee, offer distinct experiences and locations around the city, but also feature seating space for lingering—with atmospheres that actually encourage it.
Located in the East Village's unofficial Japantown, Hi-Collar offers a throwback experience to a prewar Japanese coffee house emulating early 20th-century western coffee culture. There's only room for 11 people in the narrow café, all at the long bar. Behind it, shoji screens slide over to reveal a variety of coffees and teas, porcelain cups and saucers, and Japanese siphon brewers. There’s a breakfast and lunch menu, in addition to the coffee menu offering a dozen different origins, roasters, and styles of roast—and then you have to decide how you want it brewed (no espresso drinks though).
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Named for the year that coffee became New York’s leading breakfast drink, Kaffe 1668 was started by two Swedish brothers who’ve opened two spots—both on Greenwich Street in Tribeca—to serve their organic and sustainable food, juices, teas and, most important, house-roasted beans. While both cafés feature large windows and ample seating with desk space, the southern location can be crowded and laden with laptops, whereas the northern café’s high ceilings, soaring beams, and deep, narrow layout promotes serenity (there's no WiFi).
The design details set Kaffe 1668 apart from other java joints in the city. Drinks are served in intricately designed Iittala porcelain cups and saucers, and candles in bell jars adorn each table. The homemade pastries are displayed neatly in a glass case; employees even utilize a special dustbuster attachment to vacuum stray crumbs. An entire shelf is stocked with pseudo-toys—roughly carved wooden sheep ringed with white fur, a motif that is echoed by a sheep design on the sides of their Hario V60 ceramic cones and wall art.
The original Joe Coffee location in the West Village sits on a charming, iconic street corner with a front porch that is still the best of its now 9 cafés in New York and Philadelphia. It’s what a neighborhood café should aspire to be, with the benefit of superb, house-roasted coffee beans. Unlike the other cafés on this list, they don’t provide many food options, but the locally baked muffins, cookies, scones, and other treats are tasty. The café doesn’t offer WiFi, but that’s what makes it feel like part of a community: friends meet to gossip, regulars unfurl the paper, NYU students highlight textbooks, and hopefully, there’s still a seat for you, too.
Midtown has been relatively underserved by serious cafés, so the Melbournian-owned Little Collins, a few blocks from some of the city’s largest and most prestigious department stores, is a welcome addition. The spot offers a wide array of coffee drinks utilizing Counter Culture beans. If you’re not swayed by the high tech, under-the-counter espresso and brewing systems (known as a Modbar), the Australian accents, and friendly baristas, then snag a seat at a cozy table for some of the best breakfast and lunch food you’ll find in a New York café, where food and coffee, surprisingly, haven’t gone hand-in-hand until now.
Yet another Australian import (yes, there’s a trend of Aussie coffee shops in Manhattan), Toby’s Estate is well-situated in the heart of Williamsburg, and is perennially crowded due to its bright, lofty interior and house beans. The setting practically begs you to find a book to read, even if it’s on your kindle, and relax a few hours. There are a variety of seating options, from communal tables, smaller café tables, and even a couch that stretches across a wall-length bookcase. Try a cortado or the Aussie-beloved flat white while sampling one of their sandwiches.