I’ve been out-snobbed. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens every time I visit Ninth St Espresso. And yes, I am calling the kettle black.
From the second you walk into the Alphabet City store you realize this is a place that takes coffee very seriously indeed. There’s no food aside from a few pastries, and only coffee-related art on the walls (including the coffee flavor tasting wheel and Ninth St logo).
I really like this place, I do. They’re passionate about their product. They’ve designed an exclusive roast by Intelligentsia Coffee. Personally I prefer a darker less acidic roast, but that’s a matter of taste rather than product quality. Their baristas are skilled and turn out coffees that are not just good, but consistently so. The cafe itself is light and linger-friendly (wifi, plenty of tables and some sunny outdoor benches). So what exactly is my problem?
My issue is this: at Ninth St the product is more important than the customer experience. Of course, a good coffee is the most essential part of the customer experience, but there’s also something to be said for being accommodating and well, friendly to your customers. I’ve had staff flat out refuse to make me a weaker coffee because “it wouldn’t taste right” (I dared to ask for a single espresso rather than their standard triple ristretto). When I failed to collect my coffee from the barista they actually berated me for letting my coffee get cold, and then made me a fresh one.
Part of me (the snobby part) understands where they’re coming from. They know what good coffee is and they refuse to serve anything sub par. If you want a decaf caramel-mint soy frappuccino then you’ll just have to get it somewhere else. It’s tough love, but by maintaining their high standards they’re teaching New Yorkers how much better coffee can be.
The other part of me (the intelligent consumer) is offended that despite paying $4 they won’t make me what I want because they don’t trust that I know what good coffee is. They’re convinced they know better, and are benevolently saving me from my own poor taste.
Given their passion and product quality, perhaps the bad attitude is only a minor gripe. I just think it’s a shame because it holds them back from being truly great.
- Coffee: 9/10
- Service: 1/5
- Ambiance: 4/5
- Total: 14/20
Ninth St Espresso
Alphabet City (700 East 9th St), Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave) and Tompkins Square (341 East 10th St)