How New York's Coffee Scene Has Evolved

It’s no coincidence that New York, the city that never sleeps, also first introduced coffee to the American table way back in the 1600s. While the British colonies were all drinking tea, the Dutch West India Company initiated the luxury of a ‘cup of Joe’ into New York. Fast forward to the present day and we’re still grabbing a coffee before work and during breaks in the day. Now you can drink coffee in numerous ways from an espresso to a caramel latte or coffee cocktails in hidden gardens and secret terraces in New York.

With the growth of specialty coffees, as well as modern and sophisticated brewing machinery, it’s entered our lives in a different way from when the iconic blue and white cup was served from the traders who sold coffee from the street carts. With today’s modern coffee culture, it’s easy to find serious coffee in New York within a small block radius, but how did it evolve through the centuries?

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Introduction of coffee

The ritual of drinking coffee has contributed towards America’s historical events including powering soldiers with a spirited kick during the Civil War. By the mid-18th century New York’s first coffee importers, traders and roasters were borne out of Lower Manhattan, aided by the opening of the Erie Canal. From here, coffee was transported to the Chicago and, eventually to the rest of America on wagon trains. As decades passed, so did other influences including Italians and Greeks who brought their own coffee culture to the streets of New York.

Women and coffee culture

The first coffee cafes were generally boys clubs until the 1920s and 30s when women began to empower themselves to make a stand for improved rights in society. A New York socialite and entrepreneur, Alice Foote MacDougall, became the first woman to be a coffee broker and, in 1919, opened up The Little Coffee Shop in Grand Central Terminal. Her success, partly driven by the combination of selling coffee with waffles, gave way to opening other coffee houses in the city, and is the inspiration for Imitation of Life, a best selling book and film.

Today’s coffee culture

Ironically, coffee has once again become a luxury product with specialty coffee beans being sold as a precious commodity through a huge range of different flavors, beans and processing. Our desires to enjoy good coffee has been invigorated even when some of us experience acid reflux from drinking coffee, although this can be combated in a number of ways including treating coffee beans in a different way to reduce the acidity.

However, nothing will stop us drinking and loving coffee, brew with your thermal carafe machine at home or frequenting coffee shops which has become part a central part of our daily routines for meeting up, working and charging our phones.

Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao

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