Where to Get the Best Asian Coffees in New York
Short black, flat white, Americano, cortado . . . avocado? Yes, really!
If you’re bored with your daily java and consider PSLs too basic, it’s time to expand your caffeine repertoire. These traditional Asian and Asian-inspired coffee drinks feature satisfying, unusual ingredients (like condensed milk and yams), and exciting roasting and brewing methods (like olive oil roasting), and they promise to give your mornings a creative new jolt.
Kopi Kopi, a Greenwich Village café named after the Indonesian word for coffee, uses beans from the Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi islands. You’ll find both traditional and experimental Indonesian speciality coffee beverages, like bajigur from West Java, freshly brewed Indonesia coffee made with coconut milk infused with pandan (a fragrant, floral leaf widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine) and cooked with a pinch of salt. Kopi Kopi owner Liz Lapadula suggests pairing bajigur with her mochi-like version of wingko Babat, a sweet coconut cake typical to Middle Java.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try the es alpukat, a creamy and layered avocado espresso smoothie with vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, freshly pulled espresso and crushed iced. “Avocados are eaten sweet in Indonesia,” Lapadula says. “I found it so strange when I came to the U.S. and everyone ate them savory.”
Bright blue and inviting, this teeny Chinatown café is modeled after the kopitiams in Malaysia: Kopi is Malay for "coffee," and tiam is Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) for "shop." And, much like the “Certified Awesome” stamped on its to-go cups, Kopitiam’s white and black coffees are some of NYC’s most awesome brews. Its Malaysian-style hand-pulled “white” coffee is made from beans roasted in olive oil, leaving them green; meanwhile, “black” coffee is hand-roasted in a wok with butter and salt. Why? “The fat tones down the acidity of the bean,” Penang-born owner Kyo Pang says.
Pang imports her pre-ground white coffee weekly from Koon Kee, the largest provider of traditional Penang white coffee in Malaysia. The ground coffee comes mixed with powdered milk and sugar so that the taste and levels of caffeine are consistent cup to cup. Served with a tipple of condensed milk, the finished result is coffee that tastes like hot chocolate. Kopitiam’s black coffee tastes like a very dark chocolate when mixed with evaporated or condensed milk.
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Pair your white or black coffee with Kopitiam's pulut inti (blue coconut rice), a bowl of delicate soft-cooked eggs and, of course, thick kaya toast for dipping.
The ultra-bright iced ube latte at Manila Social Club gets its deep-purple hue from ube (purple yam) syrup, a popular flavor in the Philippines that’s typically served in sweet treats like ice cream and cake. Here, earthy ube-flavored simple syrup is layered with strong dark coffee and sweet cream, and served in a chilled glass; the stunning ombré effect has made this one of the city’s most Instagrammed drinks. If you’re interested in other ube treats, try the pan de sal with ube butter; the mango soufflé pancakes, which are topped with a dollop of ube ice cream; and, of course, the purple ube doughnuts, another social media viral sensation.
④ Nhà Minh
Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sua dá) consists of a dark, bitter, almost espresso-like roast that’s intended to be mixed with sweetened condensed milk. At Nhà Minh in East Williamsburg, owner Fred Hua uses a dark-roast chicory blend made specially by Oslo Coffee for his hot and iced Vietnamese coffees.
“Chicory coffee doesn’t traditionally exist in Vietnam. This is an American adaptation created by Vietnamese immigrants that came to the States in an attempt to achieve the dark roast used in Vietnam,” he says.
Since milk does not keep well because of Vietnam’s heat and humidity, coffee there is taken black, iced or with sweetened condensed milk from a can, and the coffee at Nhà Minh is no different. “When people ask me what Vietnamese coffee tastes like, I usually tell them it tastes like chocolate milk, but only for grown-ups. Without condensed milk, it's like mud. It’s this deep, dark, bold, espresso-like intense flavor that’s typically achieved by using less water when brewing,” Hua says.
With romantic decor and atmospheric jazz, this upscale East Village Japanese coffee den pays homage to the kissaten, a Western-inspired Japanese café.
Hi-Collar specializes in mizudashi (mizu = "water;" dashi = "brew") cold-brew coffee that’s popular in Japan due to its smooth, subtle nature of taking coarsely ground French-roasted Tokyo House Blend (a mix of Sumatran, Central American and Brazilian beans) and brewing it with cold water for 24 hours. The resulting character is smooth and mild, with little bitterness. It’s served with Hi-Collar’s crunchy cinnamon sticks, which are made from the crusts of leftover sandwiches.
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