Ost Cafe opened just three weeks prior to my visit. It’s new arrival made it an ideal stop to gauge the changing New York Coffee scene, even if it also meant that Ost was still warming up in the dugout…or whatever the appropriate Eastern European analog might be for my decidedly western metaphor.
You see, Ost Cafe, whose name means “East” in German, intends to evoke a slightly fallen from grace glamor of old eastern Europe. The furniture is appropriate: a mixture of mostly new, modern, and only slightly ironic furnishings with the occasional, not unkempt second-hand item. The whole thing comes together with that fantastic gold-leafed wall paper and pastiche of wood, concrete and exposed, original tile floor. Throw in the grunged out hipster cafe denizens and I could almost imagine myself sitting in some Eastern European powerhouse cafe, brimming with pre-war intellectual potential. (With the exception of all the laptops that is.) It seems fitting then that Ost has chosen to serve coffee from Intelligentsia.
I sidled up to the bar and ordered a shot of Black Cat, a particular treat since I had just consumed a shot of Counter Culture’s Aficionado blend and Stumptown’s Hairbender blend within the past couple of hours. The behind the counter setup managed to hold on to the antique feel of the place despite the stainless steel counter and very modern 3-group La Marzocco GB/5. I think it may have been the curly cues on the menu and the delicate glass covered pastry dishes that kept the vibe going. For brewed coffee, they French Press into a couple of insulated carafes.
The barista took his time with my espresso, pulling the shot in a manner similar to how I think I probably would if I had just opened a shop 3 weeks prior – nervously approaching the equipment with deference and some fear – the task not quite committed to rapid-fire muscle memory – but with a passion for producing good coffee. When he handed me the shot, I had to wonder: was it just me or was there espresso art going on here? Was that an old timey map of turkey or perhaps the Byzantine or Ottoman empire?
What lay underneath that cartographic crema was a well pulled, but less than favorite Black Cat shot. It lacked the richly sweet, nutty and black cherry notes I tasted a in a shot served to me a few days before on a return visit to The Grove, trending instead towards a smokey, black tea aroma with a more moderate body and a trace of something harsh in the back of the throat. It did, however, share that remarkable clarity and lack of viscosity. (I realize I desperately need to get back to Intelligentsia, perhaps the new Venice store, to calibrate my tastes to this new Black Cat, seeing is how I can’t get a firm fix on the flavors.)
I also had a cup of the Finca Santuario, Columbia: Heliconias Ost had prepared, which I found to be decent enough. It was smooth and well-rounded, surprisingly clean for a French Press, with notes of caramel and hint of something fruity. However, like so many new York coffees, while good, this coffee trended toward the thin-bodied (Am I starting to sound like Johnny one-note here? Am I simply suffering from west coast culture shock?).
At the time of my visit, Ost was not yet selling beans to take with you, although this, and possibly many other things are likely to change as these guys settle into a bit more of a routine. That’s the exiciting thing with Ost: there is lots of room for them to grow. Based on my conversation with the barista, they certainly have the passion and enthusiasm to make this place great. The bottom line is that while numerically these guys are more or less on par with other cafes in the immediate area, they are also brand new. It will be interesting to see how their passion translates into performance as they age and grow.