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Irving Farm

Pure devotion to coffee
Irving Farm

Everyone has a favorite coffee shop in Manhattan. We each like to think ours is somehow better than everyone else’s, as if we would not be seen in any other spot. I doubt there is a single best coffee shop; there are too many great coffee places in New York (think Will Ferrel grinning while showing off the “world’s best coffee” in Elf). That said Irving Farm is my favorite shop on the Upper West Side and the company from which I buy all of my coffee; it has become a second home to me.

Although I did not need affirmation of my fondness for Irving Farm, I was pleased to discover that Thrillist agreed with my opinion and declared it the best coffee shop on the Upper West Side (see “The Best Coffee Shop in 30 NYC Neighborhoods” by Liz Clayton from September 2014). I have seen Irving’s Upper West location ranked on numerous lists based on both their superb coffee and unique atmosphere. Irving Farm started near Union Square in Manhattan and has since opened a roasting facility in Millerton, New York, along with three more locations in Manhattan. However, they are far from being a dreaded “chain,” which hip Manhattanites would write off immediately. Each location is unique and quirky with a friendly staff and a devoted clientele.

Once you have tasted one of the many coffee concoctions brewed by the talented baristas, you will understand my allegiance. After some experimentation, my favorite drink to order is now a cortado, Spanish for “cut.” The terminology is appropriate; if you can imagine a continuum from macchiato to latte, the cortado would fall somewhere in between. It is a “cut” latte, meaning less milk and, therefore, more coffee flavor for the same amount of espresso. 

The defining element for me, though, that sets Irving Farm apart from other NYC coffee shops is their pure devotion to coffee. They take pride in their coffee, from the farms where they get their product to their knowledge of each different type of bean, process, and product. Every person in the store can tell you about the different types of coffee if you are interested. The baristas have all been expertly trained and know the science behind the product they hand you. This is no regular four-dollar cup of New York coffee.

Moreover, Irving Farm is committed to innovation in a way that I have not seen elsewhere. They recently released a new line of coffee called the “Los Niños Experiments.” The beans all came from the same farm in El Salvador, but instead of preparing them as usual, Irving decided to experiment: they processed the beans in four different ways. One was washed and mechanically dried (Natural Process), another was depulped, with some organic material left behind, and then sun dried (Honey Process), a third batch, the most experimental, was depulped, again with some organic material left, fermented, and then sun dried (Wild Honey Process), and a fourth was depulped, fermented, washed clean of organic material, and sun dried (Washed Process). Excited and interested in the idea of turning high quality coffee into a science experiment, I asked one of the baristas (who now all know me by name) to explain.  Without blinking an eye he dove into the complexities of these new coffees. As someone who loves to go to wine and spirit tastings, I now wanted to do the same with coffee. 

I learned that Irving Farm does tastings, or “cuppings” as they are called in coffee lingo, at their office and education space dubbed “The Loft.” I headed to my first “cupping,” excited and nervous. I should not have been nervous, though, knowing both the expertise and friendliness of everyone with whom I have interacted at Irving. Two experts (it ended up being just the three of us) walked me through the whole cupping process and helped me understand what to smell, see, taste, and experience. To my surprise, I could taste the differences between the four “Los Niños Experiments” coffees by the end, and had a preference for one when hot (Washed) and a separate choice when cool (Wild Honey). I also began to understand the science behind brewing a great cup of coffee, and have applied some of that technique to my own brewing at home – and made huge improvements.

Irving Farm also has an impressive food menu to keep guests both caffeinated and full. For breakfast I usually have one of their egg sandwiches on a cheddar chive biscuit that they make in house. However, I think Irving really shines with their lunch fare. They have a wide variety of sandwiches, both cold and hot pressed, that never disappoint. My two favorites are the BALTO (a BLT but with avocado and onion) and the pressed Grilled Chicken sandwich.  The BALTO is a cold sandwich with all the right ingredients; it’s as if the BLT always wanted to be the BALTO but needed Irving Farm to add the A and O. The Grilled Chicken is a wonderful melty, cheesy, Panini style sandwich with their house made farm sauce - a combination of something akin to mayonnaise and ranch dressing – it’s delicious.

If you are passionate about high quality coffee, then you have to make Irving Farm, on 79th between Amsterdam and Broadway, your next caffeine stop. Come to the Upper West Side and spend some time in their comfortable and cozy (and busy!) store. I recommend going sometime around 11 on a weekday so as to avoid the morning and midday rushes. When the place is not swamped you can spend some time talking to one of the baristas and learn a thing or two (or twenty) about coffee from committed, knowledgeable, and friendly experts. Plus, keep in mind that while you are learning about beans, brewing, milk foam, etc. that same barista is making you perhaps the best cup of coffee in New York.

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