Hunting for Coffee in New York
It’s 4:00 AM in midtown Manhattan. My favorite time of the day to write, in an exhilarating yet exhausting city—but I need coffee first. Should I make hotel-room coffee? No thank you, I’ve heard too much information about those machines. I check at the front desk and an overly awake woman proclaims, “Our first brew time is at 7:00 AM.” What? It’s time to go hunting for coffee in midtown. Here’s what I find:
- Thai and Greek food-truck vendors with no coffee;
- A nightclub just closing, without coffee;
- Living-room furniture for sale;
- Services of ill repute.
I’m moving on. Before doing so, I suggest to the Thai food-truck vendor to sell coffee, since no one else does during these transitional hours before dawn. The vendor laughs, says something in a foreign language, and then points east, down West 44th Street toward Times Square. I’m walking…. While strolling east on 44th Street with music blaring through my headphones, I remember the last time I stayed in midtown. I had to be at the City College of New York on a Sunday morning at 6:00 AM as a guest for a two-hour radio interview. Around 5:00 AM, I had hailed a cab and said to my driver, “First, take me to a coffee shop, then to City College. I’ll pay extra.” He drove me to a Starbucks near Times Square. I bought a latte, placed it on top of the cab while removing my sports coat, and got into the cab. As I watched that latte fall from the sky and into the gutter on 7th Avenue, I fought the urge to scream while my forehead struck the back of the passenger seat headrest. At that moment, I realized that I might have a caffeine problem. While my radio host didn’t drink coffee (of course), I became fast friends with Ricky Young of WHCR 90.3 FM Harlem Radio that day. During our interview, we bantered about business, the upcoming release of www.theonehourbusinessplan.com, and helping entrepreneurs in Harlem. I remember someone taking a photo of us at the radio station with him boxing me and me wrestling him—great stuff.
Back to coffee. It turns out the Thai food-truck vendor sent me in the right direction. I stumble upon an oasis in the form of the 24-hour Times Deli. It’s about 5:30 by now. It’s a cool store, with competent coffee and nice people who seem curious about me, in gym clothes with my writing tablet and headphones blaring. On this morning, instead of writing, I choose to people-watch: passersby are obviously either waking up or going to bed. Oops—I’ve drunk that coffee too fast. And back up 44th Street I go.
I rediscover a worthy Starbucks competitor called Gregory’s. They aren’t operating outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn yet, but in midtown they’re ubiquitous. They’ve found a nice niche by offering milder yet more savory flavors than Starbucks, with a gourmet flair. Now I find myself peering through the window like Tiny Tim looking at the Christmas goose, fogging up the entrance window. I knock and they say, “Ten minutes!” I reply, “Hurry.” The baristas look at me as if I have a problem, which I do. I smile and give them the thumbs up. How does the “City That Never Sleeps” transition from late evening to early morning without coffee? As I ponder this question, I realize that I’m in the perfect city to be different. I am wired for entrepreneurship in that when I look at the world, I don’t just see what’s there—I see what’s not there and should be. While this might sound great, not so much—since I often see frustrating situations more than I prefer. The next time I visit this amazing city, I will bring my own coffee-brewing travel package. Fortunately, these exist and I don’t have to invent one. If you choose to join me in my quest for caffeine 24/7, you're going to need a manual portable coffee grinder, coffee beans, and a measuring device (potable water and cup are assumed). With a little planning, you can enjoy coffee as good as what you’d brew at home. Some ex-marines who are fellow mobile-coffee addicts wrote a great piece about portable coffee-brewing options, aptly titled “How to Take (and Make) Great Coffee Anywhere” http://bit.ly/1PorACL. These guys enjoy being well supplied and on the move. On second thought, perhaps I won’t pack a coffee-brewing travel package. That might keep me in my hotel room. The people I met during my quest were fun to experience. One businessperson in a rush to get to a meeting uptown asked me, “Where did you find that coffee?” I told him about Times Deli and he didn’t have time to turn back. I offered him mine (having been there), but he smiled, thanked me, and proceeded to hunt for coffee along his route. If I brewed from my hotel room, I would have missed these fine city folks, not to mention the light morning rain, the fresh city air, and smiling at people rushing to get to bed before dawn. I’ll probably pack the coffee travel unit, make a brew, and go for a walk instead of hunting—it sure was fun.