Meister, author of the brand-new book New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History, shares some of the quirks that make the city’s coffee history one-of-a-kind.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
New York City boasts one of the United States’ most vibrant specialty-coffee cultures, with quality-devoted shops populating the landscape in all five boroughs. But the city’s relationship with coffee runs much deeper than its current iteration: Since its New York arrival in the 1600s, coffee has held significance for the city and its people throughout the ensuing centuries, impacting the history of one of the world’s most exciting cities.
It’s this evolution that Erin Meister (aka Meister) tracks in her new book New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History, released last month by Arcadia Publishing. Though Meister currently lives in Minneapolis—where she works as a content specialist at Cafe Imports—she is a Tri-state native who lived in New York City (and worked in coffee) for a dozen years. These residential credentials make her well-qualified to write a book about New York City coffee, and to share some of the knowledge she amassed, she made for us a list of “10 Things You Didn’t Know About NYC Coffee.” There’s plenty more where that came from in the brand-new book.
1. Jackie #42 Robinson retired from baseball and became a VP at Chock Full o’Nuts, where he had a long and successful second career.
2. Speaking of baseball players, Joe DiMaggio was the spokesman for Mr. Coffee in the 1970s (though the machine was invented by a Midwesterner).
3. The New York Coffee Exchange was created after a spectacular failure to corner the market on coffee ended up in the near-total decimation of the coffee market (and at least one probable suicide) in the 1880s …
04. … and the first president of the Exchange was one of the speculators who’d caused the collapse in the first place!
05. The first Starbucks in Manhattan opened in 1993, and the concept of an espresso bar—outside of, say, Little Italy or the Village—was still so foreign that The New York Times included a pronunciation key for “latte” in a story announcing the chain’s arrival.
06. Before he opened Joe Coffee Company, Jonathan Rubinstein was a talent agent.
07. Before he opened Ninth Street Espresso (and into NSE’s first few years), Ken Nye owned a bar in Alphabet City called 9C, which even he admits was a little bit on the rough side.
08. The first female coffee broker in the city, Alice Foote MacDougall, went on to become one of its most successful coffeehouse owners as well: She developed a multimillion-dollar empire of shops in the 1920s, all themed after European cities. Despite the fame and fortune she achieved as an entrepreneur, she was also an outspoken anti-suffragist and advised women to get married and stay at home with the children.
09. Brooklyn’s Gillies Coffee Co. is the country’s oldest still-operating coffee merchant. Its owner, Donald N. Schoenholt, was one of the founders of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
10. Vassilaros & Sons Coffee claims that 5 million cups of their coffee is sold every day in the five boroughs: The company is one of the largest (and oldest) distributors to delis, doughnut carts, and diners, among other quick coffee-to-go spots.
For more information or to purchase New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History, visit the book’s website here.