When the barista at Blue Bottle — who, mind you, has just served you a cup of coffee that may well have been the best you’ve ever tasted — suggests in an offhand sort of way that you might also like the coffee at another cafe, you sit up and listen. On said barista’s recommendation, I made my way to Intelligentsia Coffee.*
Why Intelligentsia Coffee?
Intelligentsia has carved out a niche near the top of a crowded field. That’s saying something when your competition includes not only the likes of the aforementioned Blue Bottle, but also nearby competition like Cafe Grumpy, Birch, and Stumptown, to say nothing of the dozen or so Starbucks (and upstart coffee chain Caffe Bene) within walking distance. Intelligentsia combines careful sourcing with expert prep, making them an easy standout among Third Wave roasters and cafes.
The location I visited was at Chelsea’s own High Line Hotel, located on Tenth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets. It’s a small location. The “bar” area is barely large enough to swing a cat, the shelving appears to have been improvised around one of the support columns, the seating is sparse, and the lighting was only marginally less dark than my coffee.
Thankfully, I wasn’t there for the decor, although the hotel lobby — leather sofas amid typewriters, hand tools, and assorted bric-a-brac — was cozy and inviting, especially on a cold day.
Intelligentsia Coffee Taste Test
The coffee sampled was a Gaspard Rawanda pour-over, brewed in a Chemex. The scent was nondescript; the flavor was anything but. The Chemex yielded a cup with a clean mouth feel and an equally clean finish. There was a pronounced apricot flavor, accentuated by the coffee’s perceptibly tangy acidity. The flavor faded to a hint of chamomile in the finish. Overall, very satisfying.
That should give you a clue as to whether — or rather, why — I’ll be returning to an Intelligentsia ocation in the very near future. Intelligentsia Coffee hasn’t built its name on an enormous brand presence. A quick Google Maps search shows as many Starbucks in walking distance of Intelligentsia as the company has locations in all of the five boroughs. But Intelligentsia is about quality, not quantity, and their reputation — which puts them near the top of the heap of Third Wave brewers — is secure on that basis.
*As you’ve likely guessed by now, I’m going to have to make my way back to Blue Bottle and thank the barista… preferably over another cup of Blue Bottle Coffee.
Video: Learn how to make Syphon coffee with Chris Owens of Intelligentsia’s Venice (California) location: