I sit nervously in a US imigration office in Shannon airport, a 25 minute flight south of Dublin, as a large American customs officer pulls up my details on her computer. You see, I thought that I would keep my options open when I was in the States and had not booked beyond Chicago… big mistake! The customs officer said I needed proof I intended to leave the US or I couldn’t get on the plane. After telling her my plan she let me run to the nearest computer and with only 20 minutes until my plane took off, I hurriedly booked my flights to Guatemala.
They were calling my name as I proved to the officer with the help of an Aer Lingus attendant that I’d booked the flights. I was the last body to dive onto the plane. It was as though I was in slow motion: The closing door pushes back open as I land face-first at the stunned flight attendant’s feet. “Running late, are we?” she asked, as I dusted myself off and strapped in, finger poised over the attendant bell so I could order a stiff scotch once at altitude.
My flight was thankfully uneventful and my two hour subway ride to Harlem involved only two crazies having a go at me. I got off at 125th St, noticing the sun had gone down as New York greeted me with a gaggle of people loitering around the shops. I started to wonder if I was blending with the locals toting my bright yellow backpack, small day pack strapped to my front, guitar in one hand and a map in the other, looking bewildered in the icy rain. I moved forward just a few paces when two squad cars pulled up and four cops with guns blazing jumped out. They proceeded to tackle three young black youths, slamming them against the wall yelling, “Don’t be stupid and throw your life away!” Eep! I gingerly stepped beyond the commotion thinking that I was not in Kansas anymore.
I finally made it to Hostel Jazz, where Jen (who I used to work with at Bewley’s) met me with a big, warm hug and smile. I’d never felt happier being indoors. After dropping my gear into the six bed dorm we were staying in, we went out for some real Harlem grub with servings the size of your head and real American corn bread. We usually experienced great service and our waiter was more than happy to oblige a foreigner with an Aussie accent who struggled to make a jet-lagged decision. On a full stomach we made it an early night as we had big plans the following day…I will dream of coffee that night!
Jen and I awake early to get the day started. I drag her to Grumpy Cafe as I want my first morning in New York to be had over good coffee. Grumpy Cafe uses 49th Parallel coffee and has a range of single estate coffees to compliment their espresso options. I bolt right up to the bar like a prancing pony that’s just been let out of the stable to feed and order an espresso and a traditional cappuccino. The cashier replies, “We only serve traditionals here.” In my haste, I realise that I have left Jen somwhere in the front of the cafe. “Sorry mate!” I yell over two other customers in line, “What can I get for you?” I order an Americano and some basic pastries for Jen and myself then step back to take in the bar’s design. I love the low counters that allow patrons to watch coffees being made, in turn making it easier to interact with the baristas. The two clover brewers are the centerpeice for the bar and the three group synesso is off to the right where the bar wraps around, letting customers stand beside the barista to see what’s going on, then get served. My only qualm with it is that the grinders for the cafe are set up behind the baristas on an opposite bar, making them pirouette like a ballet dancer to grind the coffee. That would drive me nuts.
I skip to the side of the bar which is closest to the front window and I introduce myself to Ed who is making my coffees. I tell Ed I am from Australia but have been working for Bewley’s of Ireland for the last two and a bit years. Caroline, the owner (the girl who served me), pipes up and asks if I know Stephen Morrissey. I giggle a little then tell her yes, we used to work together. Ed then takes his time to make our coffees and actually goes to the trouble of cleaning and even pouring out the first couple of shots saying that he was not happy with them. As I write this now I realise I have not written tasting notes for the espresso or cappuccino so I can’t pass judgment on them. I do remember the espresso and the cappuccino tasting very clean; Ed really let the coffees do the talking. By this stage Jen had taken a seat and left me talking to Ed and Caroline about the cafe and coffee. They have an Australian espresso on special today, a Bin 35 from Mountain Top Estate. I then learn that Caroline is married to her business partner and it turns out he is an Aussie!
Like I said earlier, Grumpy’s has two clovers so now it’s time to try one of their single origin numbers. I end up going for an Ethiopian Harrar which is nice coffee though I thought that the roast could have been lighter to make the acidity really pop. All in all, the guys are really friendly and willing to chat to a stranger. The cafe itself was going through some renovations but it was still comfortable.