UPDATE (10/19/10): Luna Espresso is now closed.
My most recent trip to New York, a few months ago now, was a short one, and didn’t leave a lot of time for coffee exploration. Despite being left red-eyed from my flight, I did manage to cram in an excellent lunch at 11 Madison Park. Unfortunately the coffee service consisted of a single origin, French Pressed, La Colombe coffee, which was not on par with the quality of the food. The waiter graciously took it back, replacing it with coffee cocktail from Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, which, if you’ve never had one, tastes uncannily like an iced cappuccino despite not containing a lick of coffee or coffee liquor (Other drinks sound worth trying as well based on this report on the Huffington Post). My exchange with the waiter led to a short conversation where I was let in on the fact that the coffee service was being reconfigured. As luck would have it, I visited 11 Madison Park a couple of months too early to experience their recently announced, quite-up-to-par-sounding Intelligenstia-stocked, multiple-brew-option laden, table-side coffee cart.
With my missed opportunity behind me, I focused instead on Luna Espresso, which opened a few months ago on the corner of 83rd and 1st, ironically, in a space previously occupied by a Dunkin’ Donuts. Luna is a spectacularly welcome addition to New York’s coffee scene, which is thriving in mid-to-lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, but had barely touched anything north of the 50’s. In full disclosure, I have a serious personal stake in Luna’s success since its close proximity to my wife’s family will make for happier visits in the future. Plus, Luna’s survival will only bode well for wholesale clients of quality roasters in these yet unexplored parts of Manhattan.
Luna’s coffee comes from Caffe Pronto Coffee Roasters out of Annapolis, whose coffee I’ve had previously only at Brew Ha Ha in Philadelphia, and that was some time ago. But Caffe Pronto seems like a welcome addition to the New York scene given how New York’s newest cafes are sometimes a bit dominated by the specialty coffee roaster trifecta – Intelligentsia, Counter Culture and Stumptown (not to be confused with the Bunn Trifecta). Not that I’m complaining about the prevalence of so many good coffees in such a small geographic area, but I see no harm in standing up for a little specialty coffee variety in a town this big.
Luna’s basic set up is one that should please anybody who is into coffee. Barista’s pull shots of Caffe Pronto’s Sweet Cheeks espresso blend on their La Marzocco GB/5. And the shop carries at least 2-3 different single origin coffees which they brew to order on one of their two Clover machines. You can also order a cup of one of Caffe Pronto’s blends brewed on their Fetco or a cup of cold-brewed iced coffee.
My very short shot of the Sweet Cheeks blend was flavorful, with notes of cocoa, cherry, and pear. It wasn’t particularly sweet and exhibited some charcoal notes in the finish, but had a pleasing, thick and chewy body with a well-balanced acidity (3+).
My cup of the Guatemala, brewed on the Clover, was a really nice, well-rounded Guatemala with a lot of chocolate and subtle fruit (3). The Sumatra Lintong, though, was the coffee that grabbed my attention. This naturally processed Sumatra was uncharacteristically fruity – think strawberries balanced out with some heavier jam and dried fruit sweetness – and possessed almost nothing of the herbal/cedar/musty notes you usually find in coffees from Sumatra (3+).
When it comes to decor, Luna isn’t quite as cutting edge as many of New York’s finest. The owners have spruced things up a bit with some aluminum navy chairs and benefit greatly from the surplus of natural light that comes from having a corner location. The space, however, does feel a bit empty and retains some structural and decorative vestiges that I’d like to attribute to the former occupant.
All in all, Luna should make Upper East Siders with less ambitious coffee tastes happy enough, even despite their denial around the demise of Dunkin’ Donuts. At the same time, Luna provides a coffee choice compelling enough for true seekers to stay local. They can save the $4.50 they would have spent in subway fare on a second cup of coffee (…other people would consider doing this, right?).