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Don’t Avoid the Third Rail

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Name: Third Rail Coffee
Location: 240 Sullivan Street (between Bleeker and West 3rd), New York, New York
Rating: 4

Third Rail Coffee is one of the many new spots slinging quality coffee in the greater New York Area these days. Following a hearty recommendation of this cafe from a couple of people, I swung by partly out of anticipation but partly just because it happened to fit my plans. It wasn’t until I arrived and spoke with owner Humberto Ricardo and Barista Dan Griffin that I realized just how new this place was. I had stumbled in on its second day of operation! Ordinarily, I might have withheld judgment from such a newbie cafe – giving them some time to iron out the kinks. In Third Rail’s case, however, I don’t feel like I need to. They get their simple, Intelligentsia, coffee-focused menu just right.

It’s worth noting that Third Rail Coffee is more kiosk than cafe, joining a that new school of cafe thinking (Abraco, Farm:Table, Awaken, etc.) that opts for minimalism in space as well as design. I suppose it’s fitting. If your goal is to highlight the coffee, people don’t need much room; drinking a cup of coffee doesn’t take too long and many people get it to go. Besides, a kiosk operation is practically necessary given cafe low margins and New York’s obscene rents. Third Rail can draw in the crowds based on the reputation of its coffee without subsidizing a host of internet moochers (in full disclosure, I have been and still am occasionally such a mooch); whether to offer online access isn’t even a consideration.

Inside this small space, Third Rail Coffee – the name presumably making the analogy between coffee and a subway power delivery device – has just enough seating to accommodate a handful of patrons with wooden benches lining three walls. The unfinished wooden floor, white walls, black trim and blue, backsplash tiles all contributed to an atmosphere that makes the typical 10-15 minute stay extraordinarily pleasant, so long as you aren’t slightly blinded or overheated by the morning sun otherwise beautifully streaming in through the front windows.

Third Rail provides almost enough choice in its coffee (and pastry) menu to ensure a happy customer. From their two group La Marzocco GB/5, the baristas pull shots of Black Cat. You also have your choice of a commercially brewed drip coffee stored in thermal carafes (I didn’t catch which coffee), or for a slightly higher fee, the barista will prepare you your choice of typically three single origins via Chemex. Coffee two ways provides just enough variety to keep the connoisseur happy without “cup of coffee” customers lining up out of doors. If I missed the single origin espresso option, I apologize. Not offering that was the one reason I might think this cafe fell short.

For my cup of coffee, I opted for the Chemex upgrade and went with the Honduras La Tortuga, based upon the recommendation from the bar and the fact that I had recently tried some of the other coffees on the list. The recommendation was perfect. It was a glorious cup of coffee: gentle, sweet, slightly viscous and full of intensely juicy fruit notes. I picked up on grapefruit, red grapes, and yellow peaches all with a touch of vanilla.

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My espresso, a shot of Intelligentsia’s Black Cat was more or less on par, although somewhat different tasting, than the terrific shot I’d had a few days before at Culture (and the extraordinary number of shots I consumed at my Intelligentsia Lab espresso training – but more on that to come). It was a dense shot, slightly juicy, with a sharp first sip characterized by notes of grapefruit turning to orange with chocolate and molasses underneath.

Bottom line is that Third Rail is the real deal and only likely to get better with time. Just add a single origin and you’ve got a pretty much picture perfect one stop shop.

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