Over the holidays, I headed back to New York to explore cafes, see Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, meet up with Oliver Strand of the New York Times, test out the true temperature rating of my down jacket, and…something else. Oh yes, to visit my relatives. In an attempt at multi-tasking, I headed out one cold day right before New Year’s with relatives in tow to Brooklyn. We hit Peter Pan donuts – a really fabulous old-school donut spot – walked past Cafe Grumpy’s Greenpoint cafe, which was closed for the holidays, and eventually ended up finding our way to the inviting sandwich board set up outside Lucky Shot Espresso.
Inside was indeed warm and good coffee was promised up front by the presence of several large bags of Stumptown beans that were sitting in the front window. We didn’t have a lot of space to move around once inside this tiny shop that’s owned by the folks who also own Variety Coffee and Tea. We moved past a shallow window bar with three stools, two small tables and quickly reached the bar, which sits under a simple (10 item) menu, which nevertheless spans the width of the shop. The yellow-green and white walls with reclaimed wood and exposed brick give the space just enough of a facelift, while highlighting a rustic past. But I didn’t spend a lot of time taking notes; I was eager to get to the coffee.
Lucky Shot is purely about showcasing the coffee. The barista pulls Hair Bender shots on a two group La Marzocco Linea and serves regularly rotating french-pressed coffees out of a thermal carafe. Besides that, there’s a couple of pastries and some loose-leaf tea. It would be nice to see Lucky Shot offer some brew-to-order cups of coffee, but if the quality is consistently as good as I experienced, one may question whether they need to.
I started off with the French Pressed coffee, which was Stumptown’s Ethiopia Mordecofe Natural. I’ve recently had several roasters’ versions of the Mordecofe. Some were naturals and some were not. I’ve also had it brewed in a variety of ways. Each has produced an impressively good, yet quite different experience than the last. This particular cup of coffee, however, may just take the cake. This finding is all the more surprising since this cup of coffee came from the standard drip offering and wasn’t brewed-to-order.
What made this coffee beautiful were its layered qualities. Up front, I found a good, sweet coffee with a tea-like body, gentle fruit notes and a well-balanced, not-too-bright, acidity. But the surprise was the floral (chamomile) aroma that hit me upon aerating after a few sips. I’m somewhat resistant to buying natural coffees because I find that after a few days they can quickly tire your palate, but after reading more about this coffee and reflecting on that cup, I kind of wished I had taken a bag home. (4-)
The espresso I had was also good, which is saying a lot. Hair Bender is a quirky blend. Sometimes, I’ve found it overwhelmed by baggy or ashy flavors. At other times, I’ve found its potential complexities becoming merely a muddle, lacking clarity and cohesive direction. Perhaps it’s the latest formula or simply the skill of this barista, but I really liked the creamy, buttery mouthfeel of this smooth shot that I might have taken for a bit over extracted by the look of the crema. The orange-like acidity was bright without overwhelming and I picked up on some delicate and subtle floral and black tea notes. It was a solidly impressive shot. (4-)
I struggled a lot with how to rate Lucky Shot. My coffee experience was on par with anything I had at Stumptown’s New York Ace Hotel location. The menu offerings are also the same. Stumptown has a leg up in that it has a larger supply of beans for sale, the subsequent ability to change up its drip offering, a nicer space, a better location (more central that is) and the potential for better coffee given the more rigorous training of its staff and better equipment. My french pressed coffee at Lucky Shot, however, was a cleaner cup. The barista told me how she had tweaked the grind a bit coarser than the Stumptown recommendations. The bottom line is that I’d be willing to bet that anyone’s experience at Stumptown, on average, will probably be better than at Lucky Shot. Still, I have to call them as I see ‘em. Perhaps this shop was lucky, but they hit me with their best, and I’m rating them accordingly.