Why are we doing this? We aren’t sure.
But a week ago, your podcast team (and a few friends) met up on Fifth avenue in beautiful Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to begin an ill-advised attempt to find the best coffee in Bay Ridge… by drinking as much coffee as possible in under two hours from as many different coffee shops as we could.
There was some method to the madness: we plotted out a course. We knew we couldn’t hit up every coffee shop in Bay Ridge in a single day without having our heads explode, so we set our sights on five coffee shops in northern Bay Ridge to start with: Asal Yemen, Cup of Joe Coffee Co, Blend, Coffee Rx, and Cream.
Dan prefers weird tastes and flavors in his coffee: the stronger the better.
Rachel would like a shot of espresso in her espresso.
EmberSmooth and Sweet
For Ember, consistency and mouthfeel are key. Get the bitterness outta’ here.
Mary never met a coffee she didn’t like, and can pinpoint a roast’s origins by taste alone.
AndreaLight and Creamy
Andrea prefers a bit of coffee in her milk.
- We would order three coffees from each shop:
- Our first order would always be a standard latte, to give us a baseline.
- Our second order would always be a coffee-adjacent drink, usually a tea or some other beverage, and act as a palate cleanser.
- Our third order would be a “fancy” drink, something flavored, unusual, and strongly advertised.
- We’d split each order into separate mugs, so we’d each get a few good sips and not overdose on caffeine before we got to the third coffee shop.
This strategy almost immediately broke down when Ember forgot that she needed to bring a mug, leaving her to drink out of the cup the order came in, which usually was waaaaay more than the rest of us poured for ourselves. As a result, Ember would end up consuming way more coffee than the rest of us, as you’ll realize in the reviews below…
Asal has a big storefront on Fifth Avenue, serving food, pastries, and excellent coffees with a big focus on middle-eastern spices and sweets. With lots of seats and tables, decorative plants, we all agreed this is a good place to sit and chill out for a while. Don’t skip out on the star of the show: the imported organic Yemeni honey, which you can also buy online.
Chai Tea Latte
Rachel: “It tastes like Christmas… but it has no coffee in it. Why are we starting our coffee crawl with tea?”
Dan: “It’s like a really bright, spicy coffee.”
Ember: “I’ve never had a Chai Latte, but this might be my go-to. I was scared because I don’t like tea, but this doesn’t take anything like tea. It tastes like an Antique Store, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible.”
Andrea: “I think I’ve had a Chai Latte once or twice… this is a very substantial drink, which I like. It’s thick, many different flavors. I could have a full one of these.”
Mary: “One of the best Chai Tea Lattes I’ve ever had. Very bright and spicy as opposed to a lot of bottled chai lattes, which are milk and flavor and maybe it met a tea bag once. I also ordered this with honey. We’re at Asal Yemen, you got to get the honey or you’re just wrong.”
Asal Latte w. Cardamom & Ginger
Dan: “Whoah. I can really taste the ginger. It’s also very dry with all the spices.”
Andrea: “A little too punchy for me. When I was a kid I made a hot chocolate that called for fresh ginger, and I didn’t have any, so I put in dry ginger. That was a bad decision… so I have a sensitivity to ginger in drinks.”
Rachel: “I would order this with honey. That’s usually how I order it.”
Ember: “I’ve gone back to the Chai Latte.”
Mary: “Clearly I’m the only true Bay Ridgite here. You’re all wrong.”
The Standard Latte
Ember: “It actually tastes kind of like dark chocolate.”
Andrea: “It’s got a bitter, almost burnt flavor… not in a bad way. I think the Chai Latte colored all my expectations for everything that came after it.”
Dan: “It’s the base of something, but needs more added. A bit dry on its own.”
Ember: “Is this the right time to say I’m extremely caffeine sensitive and I’m not supposed to have more then two cups of coffee per day?”
Cup of Joe Coffee Co.
It’s usually a good sign for a café when you see nearby office workers carrying out group orders of twelve coffees at a time. Cup of Joe is a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop with playful flavor combos, subway-tiled walls, and a random gundam nestled on a top shelf among all the usual coffee merch. They pack a lot into a small space (there’s only three tables inside), with cold brew stashed in a fridge built right into the takeout counter. Perfect for grab-and-go, though we’re looking forward to reviewing the extra seating out back once summer rolls around.
The Standard Latte
Rachel: “I think their proportions might be different, this one has more milk in it.”
Dan: “I would say it’s smoother too, yeah.”
Andrea: “Definitely thicker and more bodied than Asal. I don’t normally do lattes, I use half-and-half, and this is about the… mouthfeel?… I’d expect from my coffee.”
Ember: “This is definitely my favorite latte. I would give this mouthfeel a solid eight out of ten, and I drink lattes every day. It’s my preferred drink.”
Andrea: “This is like drinking candy. The Cinnamon is very strong… it reminds me of those cinnamon candies.”
Ember: “This one I do not like.
Mary: “Asal is definitely more cardamom-foward, this one is more cinnamon… and maybe ginger? I feel like here, they start out with a very good coffee, but Asal put a bit more chemistry into their Chai spices.”
Ember: “I will say that this one ranks higher on mouthfeel for me, so I’m giving this 9 out of 10 on mouthfeel alone.”
Andrea: “You’re just trying to see how many times you can say mouthfeel.”
Caramel Brûlée Caffe Latte
Dan: “It smells really really good, not gonna lie.”
Ember: “It is called Caremel Brulee, but to me it just tastes like I’m drinking Caramel syrup.”
Andrea: “It reminds me of those caramel candies your grandparents have…”
Mary: “Werthers? Yeah. We’re gonna have to come back here in the summer though and get a cold brew latte. They do lots of crazy stuff in the summer.”
Rachel: “Way too sweet.”
Ember: “This is a Chili and Cheese palmier. I get this when I’m sad. When I’m pissed off, and I want to fix it with money, this is what I spend it on.”
Dan: “Oooh poppy seeds and chili flakes.”
Andrea: “It’s like the cheese croissant at Tim Hortons, but better.”
* Everyone gets distracted eating the pastry *
Blend: Coffee + CoWork
Blend came at the tail-end of the 2010 explosion of new coffee shops in Bay Ridge. Nestled right outside the Bay Ridge Avenue subway stop, Blend has the most spacious, open-ended, and genuinely communal café space in Bay Ridge. When we visited for our tour, for example, the entire front of the store had been converted into a holiday pop-up market! Blend is perfect (as the name suggests) as a co-working space, with an impressive amount of seating and a professional, minimalist vibe perfect for getting some work done.
The Standard Latte
Rachel: “This one is a little more coffee-forward.”
Andrea: “It’s bitterer… more bitter? And a little thinner than the one we had at Cup of Joe.”
Dan: “It definitely leans back toward a darker coffee.”
Mary: “It’s tannin-y. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that coffee tastes like other things, you might think it tastes a little bit like chocolate. Most other places I would get a flavored thing, but I would definitely get the a regular latte here.”
Ember: “If I was over here, I would order this again. I’ve never in one day drank so many of the same drink from different places… I wasn’t expecting there to be such a difference but it’s definitely very distinct. It’s making me feel very sophisticated.”
Ember: “Before today I’ve never had a Chai Latte and now I’ve had three. I’m getting close to crying. It’s nothing on Cup of Joe or Blend, but I don’t think I like Chai Lattes. Is this normal?”
Mary: “This is what I’d expect when I get a Chai Latte. Generic spicy drink.”
Dan: “At Cup of Joe I could taste the grittiness of the cinnamon, here I just get a simple tea and milk flavor with a hint of spice.”
Rachel: “Asal’s is still my favorite.”
Ember: “Just to describe what’s happening to me, I didn’t bring my own cup, so after we divide them all up I am left with the cup from the café, and I keep finishing all of the extra coffee and now I’m having a breakdown.”
Honey Oat Latte
Ember: “Oh man I fucking love oat milk. So to be clear, 10 out of 10 mouthfeel. Would drink again. Also maybe now’s the time to mention I’m lactose intolerant.”
* Everyone is too busy enjoying the latte to process that *
Dan: “I actually don’t like oat milk very much, and this is really good. Did we like, substitute something? Or is it meant to be like this…”
Andrea: “This is not a honey latte with oat milk. It’s specifically called the Honey Oat Latte. And I think the way the two flavors play against each other is really important in this particular coffee.”
Ember: “It’s got a taste like… yummy dirt! In a good way!”
Rachel: “We need to do an oatmeal crawl.”
The artist formerly known as Coffee Lab anchors northern Bay Ridge, and the name is no joke: this place takes its chemistry seriously. In 2014, CoffeeRx proved Bay Ridge deserved more than one coffee shop. It’s success led to a new wave of cafés opening, culminating in the rise (and fall) of the Cocoa Grinder empire in the late 2010s. CoffeeRx has outlived them all. In the past decade, it opened new locations on 88th Street and in Manhattan! We decided to review the original location: bright, friendly, and with a great variety of seating inside, from communal tables to barstool counters. Perfect for long laptop sessions.
The Standard Latte
Rachel: “This is very coffee-forward.”
Ember: “This coffee reminds me that I don’t like coffee.”
Mary: “It’s coffee with notes of coffee.” laughter
Dan: “I’m also getting hints of milk.”
Andrea: “If I went to a diner, and put a few of those half-and-half cups into it, I feel like that’s what this tastes like.”
Mary: “One of the difficulties is most of the places we’ve been going, we’ve geen getting the small of the basic latte. Coffee Rx only has one size, so we’re probably getting a different proportion of milk. If you really want to control that, you’ll need to learn the difference between a latte cappuccino and a cortado, but they do have many helpful graphics inside.”
Andrea: “I like a place with good graphics.”
Ember: “I’m going first because I fucking love this. I get Nutella Lattes at several places on the regular, and this is my personal favorite. Ten out of ten on mouthfeel. It’s very heavy, like someone is caressing my tongue.”
Andrea: “This is very satisfying. It coats your tongue.. in just the right way.”
Dan: “It feels like I stuck my tongue in a jar of Nutella.”
Mary: “This is obviously Nutella dissolved in coffee as opposed to like, a Nutella syrup. I think when I want a hot chocolate, what I actually want is a Nutella latte”
Andrea: “This is a hot Nutella milkshake.”
Dan: “This is… foamy. Wow. Also this is kind of my jam because I love tea… but yeah, it’s like someone dropped some tea into a can of whipped cream.”
Mary: “I am tasting a bit of bergamot so this is definitely an Earl Grey.”
Rachel: “The thing is, the teabag is steeping in the steamed milk. You definitely need to let this steep for a really long time.”
Mary: “I’ve had this before, and I started drinking it at three minutes and I was like, oh, this is kind of mild. And then four minutes later, I was like, ok, yeah, this is tea.”
Ember: “I’m not a tea drinker and I hate the way this feels in my mouth. This one pushed me over the edge. I feel like I’m being pranked now.”
Dan: “This is the drink that broke Ember.”
Cream dishes out coffee for coffee lovers with good roasts and a nicely curated menu. They also do bubble tea, which is pretty awesome! It’s also the only café on our route today with a walk-up window, making it ideal for grabbing a coffee on a morning walk or while heading out to work. The window is a necessity, because inside seating is limited (not as small as Cup of Joe, but definitely not spacious). Maybe keep your laptop at home and enjoy a walk instead!
The Standard Latte
Rachel: “That is some coffee. Cof-fee. They let the milk look at the coffee for a second and were like, alright, you’re done.”
Dan: “This is what happens when you use a very strong, specific coffee in your latte.”
Mary: “I believe they use Stumptown coffee. I think this is Holler Mountain… there’s two that they have every day. I used to really track them down whenever I was in Manhattan, and I’ve branched out a bit since then… but this reminds me, oh yeah, I still do fucking love Stumptown coffee.”
Ember: “I’m not sure how, but this tastes like meat to me. I haven’t eaten meat in a year, but I feel like a predator, like I’ve cornered my prey. Like I’m biting into a big mutton leg at a renaissance fair.”
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Dan: “That’s nothing but pumpkin spice.”
Rachel: “I’m not a pumpkin spice drinker at all, and I have no idea what this flavor is supposed to be.”
Mary: “The syrup has cinnamon and stuff in it, so if you get here on a day where they just refilled the bottle, you might get a bit less. If you’re here when they’re down to the dregs, you’re going to really taste all those spices that have settled.”
Ember: “I am a pumpkin spice lover, but I have found through trial and error that I like the classic Starbucks pumpkin spice and not other people’s pumpkin spices… I’m not sure what the difference is, but this one… I could drink this again, but I probably wouldn’t order it for myself.”
Andrea: “I need to be in the mood for a pumpkin spice latte, which I rarely am. But if it was the first day of October, and it was crisp, and the leaves were pretty, I’d definitely order this.”
Ember: “It needs to be 47 degrees on a cool Thursday morning and the moon needs to be a waning gibbous. But I will give it a 10 out of 10 mouthfeel.”
Ember: “I’m giving this a one out of ten on eyefeel. I don’t like looking at this. I wish I never opened the lid on it…”
Dan: “We got all the nuttella and Ember got all the foam.”
Rachel: “This is more like just… chocolate.”
Andrea: “Not getting any of the hazelnut notes.”
Mary: “I think they’re starting with a more expensive coffee and don’t want to overwhelm it. Definitely for a connoisseur, but not in a pretentious way.”
Ember: “I think Cream is the café for people who really love coffee. That’s just not me, you know?”
At this point we had all gone slightly insane from the amount of coffee we had consumed in under two hours (except for Mary, who insisted on doing everything in a single day.) We headed home to nurse our respective caffeine jitters, but rest assured we’ll be back to tackle part two (and maybe three!?) in the near future.
We’ll be picking up where we left off, heading south along 3rd Avenue, starting with Clockface Coffee! Stay tuned.