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Have You Hugged Your Espresso Today?

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Name: Abraço Espresso
Location: 86 East 7th Street (near 1st Ave.) New York, NY
Rating: 3+

Abraço surely wins the award on this trip, or perhaps period, for tiniest cafe with good coffee. The space inside for customers isn’t more than a few feet wide and a few more long, and the space behind the bar for the staff isn’t much bigger. Subsequently, the name of this cafe – which means “hug” or possibly “embrace” in Portuguese and is taken from a Giberto Gil song – is apt, but could be perceived as inauthentic since the close quarters make breaking personal space boundaries completely compulsory.

Whether it’s because of or in spite of the physically compressed design, Abraço really does seem to produce a feeling of warmth and comfort. During my visit, not only did people engage in friendly banter back and forth across the “room,” but they struck up conversations at random, as though everyone was at a party. Fortunately, the feeling conveyed wasn’t like that of a crowded, stifled subway car. It’s possible, the friendly exchanges may have also been driven by the presence of a largely international crowd – Americans are rarely this unfettered unless consuming alcohol and certainly not when consuming caffeine. Regardless of the reason, I have to give Abraço high marks for being one of the better times I’ve had standing around drinking coffee with strangers.

For a tiny space, they’ve also done wonders in terms of expressing a sense of design. The front window supports a slim, sheik, translucent counter where I stood while sipping my espresso and nibbling on a frittata and the unusual, but delicious, olive shortbread. If the weather were warmer, I could have stood or sat outside at the similarly slim wooden beam of a counter or the counterpart bench.

Behind the counter, Abraço baristas pull their shots on a three group La Marzocco GB/5 and they use Counter Culture’s Aficionado blend for espresso. What I tasted was quite good, although not as good as I had hoped (I possibly should blame the hype this place has received). The shot started with a gorgeous, rich brown crema which gave way to a slightly syrupy, but somewhat thin, very bright shot, with notes of light red wine, grapes, chocolate and some other more beguiling fruit notes.

For brewed coffee, Abraço has but one coffee – a custom house blend from Counter Culture which they do as a pour over drip, likely a technique imprinted on owner Jamie McCormick during his former days at Blue Bottle. I had high hopes for this coffee as well. While it was filled with flavors of delicious caramel and had a nice, well-balanced bright side, it also struck me as a coffee that would benefit from a bit more body.

So while my trip to Abraço didn’t convince me that it was the second coming, it is still very much worth your time and attention. Besides, it’s just around the corner from Ninth Street Espresso and Ost Cafe, where I shuffled off to next, making it the perfect start of a coffee crawl.

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