Location: Astor Place (4th Avenue and 8th Street), New York, NY (as well as other truck and cafe locations)
Just two to three years ago, I hailed MudTruck as one of the better cups of coffee in New York. I never LOVED it, but for a dollar a cup, it was just about the best priced, decent cup of coffee around, especially given the coolness factor of seeking out a constantly on the move, bright orange, activist-oriented, caffeine dispensing vehicle. It amazes me how the New York coffee scene has changed in such a short period of time, pushing Mud Truck down towards the bottom end of the better-part-of-New-York coffee list. Seeking out the MudTruck may still be worthwhile for some people, but now that prices are nearing $2 a cup and so much other better coffee has sprung up within a few blocks, I seem to have lost that MudTruck feeling.
I’ve had MudTruck coffee a number of times over the years and, in all honestly, I had planned to skip it on this particular New York tour. However, when I popped up out of the subway and found myself within steps of the truck, I figured that I should probably consume some of their coffee and take a few pictures as a matter of completing my New York collection. What I learned from this impromptu review, was that while guerilla coffee crawls may be a fun activity to engage in with friends, deviation from a planned reviewing route – especially when one can’t sit and linger – often makes for pretty poor posts.
While I ordered a cup of coffee, I failed to: note which of Mud’s three blends I ordered (I’m assuming it was the medium, MudTruck Blend), try an espresso, identify the type of equipment used within the mobile kitchen, or resolve who it is that roasts Mud’s proprietary blends. I’ll have to rely on my rapidly fading memory and past experiences to say I think the espresso equipment was something a bit on the older and less flashy side and the espresso tends to be decent but not particularly good.
The brewed coffee, based on this particular tasting, is more or less similar. What’s good about it is that it’s hot and tastes freshly brewed, even if it is bitter and over-roasted. MudTruck’s coffee is also strong, which is by no means a hallmark of good coffee, but it does put their coffee in a league distinct from the more traditional style of coffee endemic to Old New York, which is not only bad, but thin and watery with nary a trace of body. I think that Mud Truck has thrived over the years because of this balance of moderate quality combined with strength.
Oh, there’s that AND the fact that they established a business which thrived on being the polar opposite of everything that Starbucks stands for (with the exception of the coffee). The Mud collection is loud – blaring music from speakers outside their trucks and hosting concerts in their cafes. Mud is also family owned, bright orange and founded with a hippie-punk spirit. Ironically, as Mud has grown, it has also built up an impressive marketing empire. Just take a look at the wealth of merchandise and branding on the website to see what I mean. I don’t begrudge the Mud folks for capitalizing on their success – I’d probably do the same – however, I do feel like their approach is oddly hypocritical given their very pronounced anti-corporate-Starbucks mentality. More importantly, though, I simply wish the coffee was as clever and well-crafted as their business concept.