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Espresso is Half the Battle

Name: Joe the Art of Coffee
Location: 44 Grand Central Terminal, Graybar Passage, New York, NY

Roasters: Ecco Caffe

Rating: 3+/4-
(depending on the time of day)

My previous post on Joe…er wait…that’s Joe the Art of Coffee said most of what I needed to say about what this micro-chain of cafes  represents to New York City. Cafes in these parts, however, seem to want to regularly redefine themselves by switching roasters, much like Madona or Lady Gaga regularly  change personae. Ninth Street Espresso and City Girl Cafe, for instance, have both made that change, and it seems likely that New Yorkers will see this changing more frequently as other New York roasters, such as Cafe Grumpy, and new-to-New-York roasters, such as Blue Bottle, come fully online. Last fall, Joe switched from long-time roaster Barrington Coffee Roasters to the West Coast’s own Ecco Caffe.

The transition to Ecco created quite a flurry in the coffee blogosphere (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). The move was generally met with what I’d call reluctant excitement. I can’t speak for others, but my feelings on the matter are that I like Barrington, but prefer Ecco. Still, a part of me is sad. With Barrington only up in Massachusetts, it’s still a semi-local roaster. Unless Ecco also opens a roastery in New York (a rumor that’s basically been squelched with Ecco’s planned relocation to San Francisco), Joe’s switch represents a (small) step backwards when it comes to embracing local roasters.

In the past, I’ve been to 4 out of 5 Joes and desperately need to thoroughly canvass the other shops, but time this trip was short. Instead of heading to one of Joe’s more seminal spots, I picked the one that was most convenient – the Grand Central Terminal kiosk. I wouldn’t ordinarily pick this location to showcase Joe’s coffee, but I’ve found them to be reliably good in the past.

Staff at this location pull shots of Joe’s seasonal espresso blend espresso on their tiny two-group La Marzocco GB/5. For filter coffee, they serve all-day cups of Joe’s House Blend, brewed in a Fetco and stored in a thermal carafe. If you get there before 11, which I didn’t, they also serve a rotating single origin coffee.

The House blend is nice enough for a darker roasted coffee. It was nutty, clean and smooth. I’d easily drink it again, but while there was nothing to disturb me, it had nothing to offer either. It’s the perfect passive coffee. (3-)

What’s too bad about Grand Central Joe is that they don’t serve any single origin coffees past 11. I’ve had many of Ecco’s single-origin coffees and they are typically very good. I can see why this location may not want to keep a second pot on hand, but this Joe should provide a pour-over option like many of the other Joes do. If such an option had been available, I would have almost certainly given this Joe a 4.

The big redemption was that the espresso was excellent. I’d say it was the best shot I had on this trip to New York. (4) It was like a super sweet lemonade espresso, full of that west-coast brightness that I don’t always like, but which worked exceedingly well in this shot. To counter the bright intensity, I picked up on some cocoa and herbal notes, and despite them, I detected something floral. I know salt is often considered a defect, but this shot seemed to have some pleasant saltiness, which accentuated the chocolate notes like it might do for a caramel. I’ll try to resist pointing out that this excellent coffee came from the west coast (oops, I just did).

The bottom line. Get to Joe for the espresso, but get to this Joe early if you want a cup of coffee. Just remember, though, that caffeine, like candy, is no substitute for serious nutrition. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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