New York runs on coffee
EC: What Coffee Means to New Yorkers
Credit: Illustration by Lauren Kolm

Coffee and New York. New York and Coffee. No two things go as well together—except maybe pizza and New York, bagels and New York, or horrible train-induced rage and New York. Regardless, New Yorkers love their coffee and have since a cup cost a dime. To understand the scope of coffee’s influence, we rounded up ten New Yorkers and asked what coffee means to them.

“I drank a lot of coffee in high school. In the midst of SAT prep and final exams I frequented the nearby Starbucks so much that the baristas eventually gave me my caramel frap for free — every day. I'd walk in on my way home from some extracurricular and just wave. Whoever was working behind the counter would nod and soon enough my ‘order’ would be at the bar. I can't say that this made fiscal sense for Starbucks as a corporation or that it helped with my teenage acne, but their free coffee and their kindness got me through a lot of stressful times!” —Casey Z, Manhattan

“Never met a cup of coffee I didn't like. I'm an NYPD sergeant. I've had many memorable cups of coffee. Funny thing is, the greatest and most comforting cups of coffee are usually the simplest. Think styrofoam cup. Cops live on coffee. In fact, we negotiate in coffee. It's the currency of long nights policing big cities and small towns. Desk sergeants expect coffee in exchange for treating you like a human being, and you owed your partner coffee when he helped your book a collar. Of the many memorable cups, I recall some after a 16 hour day at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. I also recall pitching many cups out the patrol car window as an emergency call would come in after having just hit the Dunkin' Donuts, knowing we couldn't drive that fast without spilling it. I recall several cups of coffee parked under the elevated Gowanus expressway waiting out a blizzard in relative shelter. Not a person on the streets. And of course, some of the best cups were brought to me while I was stuck by myself on a desolate post or guarding a crime scene. FYI now I spend most days enjoying coffee in my office. It doesn't taste the same. Nature of the work I guess.” —Paul G, Brooklyn

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“I actually don’t drink coffee anymore. I guess I drank it so much as a kid that the taste started to get to me. I usually drink tea in the morning now, then another one (with some whiskey) at night. Ever hear of soylent? Sometimes I do their Cafe Chai in the morning, because I get the caffeine and I don’t have to spend a bunch of money on a bagel. That stuff is insane.” —Jay U, Bronx

“Coffee and I are still in that sickening, fun honeymoon stage. Somehow, I didn't try or even like the idea of coffee until I was 28. One morning, I woke up with an uncharacteristic and strong craving for it. Since that first virgin sip, I haven't gone a day without it. I enjoy the ritual quality of it, the break it shapes in my day. Because I am a dingdong, I have even used my leftover cans as yoga bricks. It's odd, but I am thoroughly in love. Also: New York-specific anecdote: I went to a fancy coffee bar in Clinton Hill — one where the baristas look more like chemists — for my first cup. I announced with pride that this was the first cup of coffee of my life. Because it's New York and nobody really cares about your special life journey, the woman who served it looked at me like she could give a shit. The coffee was fantastic.” —Katie H, Brooklyn

“I get coffee from my Keurig and my office in the Empire State Building. The women on my team buy coffee from the Starbucks downstairs—when we can get it for free in unlimited quantities!! I love coffee because I love energy, and coffee = energy. I take it with unsweetened almond milk.” —Adams B,

“I have this theory that people take their coffee the same way their parents do. It's something I've wanted to see a study on for many years (though maybe it already exists). I do half and half because that's how my parents take their coffee. No sugar. Never black. Loyal to Dunkin' Donuts and will seek it out no matter where I am. That shit tastes like home.” —Hannah G, Brooklyn

“Coffee is how I keep going every morning. I've developed a routine of obsessing over my first cup of coffee every morning from the coffee cart next my job on 35th and Madison. I then tell everyone to go to that exact cart and have even gotten a few coworkers to embrace it rather than doing an expensive Starbucks cup. I look forward to seeing my coffee cart guys every morning because they pull me out of my after sleep funk. I get so angry when people order their stuff at the coffee cart and don't move to wait beside the cart and just stand there so that I can't order. It's become a pet peeve and I consider it people getting in the way of me living my life.” —Colleen R, Long Island

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“My entire morning routine in New York revolved around when I'd get coffee and how fast I could get it. In SoHo? La Colombe (the best, the cheapest latte), Dean & Deluca if I was running late; the Love Truck when it showed up. Later, when I worked on 14th Street, the quality of my coffee choices became contingent on how much time I had between the subway & my office. Short on time? The Dunkin Donuts on 15th & 6th; the Starbucks across the street if I was feeling ambitious. Lots of time? The coffee + breakfast sandwich special at Fairway. My sandwich was made by the same man, almost every week, for a year. I never learned his name. I don't like having to measure out my own cream & sugar (I take both)—I just want it to taste like the coffee the man in Coffee Cart makes it. Out of all these choices, nothing beats the 75 cent cup. It's perfect.” —Lorena M, Manhattan

“Getting coffee as a New Yorker is the modern day "smoke break." I care less about ingesting coffee and more about leaving the office or the social aspects of getting coffee with someone else. I have this theory, for each and every New Yorker, if you leave your apartment in NYC for at least one hour, you will spend $10 somehow, someway. Grabbing a coffee basically represents 40% of that.” —Kelly C, Brooklyn

“Dunkin Donuts coffee tastes like it was made with toilet water. I don't get it. Why are there so many? I even came across a booklet filled with free coffee coupons from DD while I was a college student, even then, I never got any.” —Ambar D, Brooklyn