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Good Coffee on the Upper East Side?


Name: Sicaffe
Location: 964 Lexington Ave (between 70th and 71st), New York, NY

Roaster: Sicaffe

Rating: 3

My friends and relatives have just about stopped listening when it comes to my rants about New York coffee. I’m trusting/hoping/assuming that readers of this blog will be more receptive to my complaints. Don’t get me wrong; there really is some fantastic coffee in New York. I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone informed me that, per capita, there are as many specialty roasters and other third wave coffee purveyors in NYC as in most major cities, if not even a few more. Nevertheless, the picture for the average guy seeking joe can be quite bleak. The problem in a word: distribution.

First of all, almost all the really good coffee is either south of 14th street in Manhattan or in Williamsburg over in Brooklyn. Second, the average coffee rating when outside these two zones hovers pretty much down near dismal. Just to clarify, it’s not the kind of over-roasted dismal that might plague a coffee aficionado on the west coast – I could live with that. It’s the kind of thin, watery and baked sort of dismal that one might expect from the 7-11. There are a few good, local roasters and cafes scattered about (more about those in future posts), but these are often out of reach. The result: unless I have lots of time, I inevitably find myself shuffling forlorn into Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I spotted Sicaffe on The Espresso Map. Even the promise of good coffee somewhere else in NY made me happy. The fact that Sicaffe is mere blocks from my in-laws was like winning the lottery. I headed there the first free moment I had.

Sicaffe is unobtrusive, albeit a little corporate looking on the outside and not too different on the inside. They have a roaster in the back, which you see through a glass wall, and a variety of somewhat oddly chosen wicker seating in the front. The coffee’s not cheap – it was well over $2 for a small drip coffee and close to $5 for a short cappuccino – but that’s to be expected since is the Upper East Side.

Both drinks were solid contributors to the world of coffee. The coffee was clean tasting and dark but without being burnt. It had a strong single note with just a suggestion of something fruity around the edges. The cappuccino was smooth and had a good balance of sweet and bitter. The milk blended with the drink well and there was some decent, if uninspiring, latte art. I heard the barista comment to his co-worker, “I can do better than that,” as he handed the cappuccino to me. I don’t know if he was talking about the drink or the art, but either way it demonstrated to me that they take their work seriously.

Sicaffe is good, but not amazing and the prices definitely reflect the neighborhood and not the quality of the coffee. So while it’s not the answer to my prayers – a Gimme! Coffee or Ninth Street Espresso cart off central park – it’s enough to keep me out of Starbucks.

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