In the ever-rushed, coffee-to-go culture of New York City, specialty coffee shops have managed to convince city dwellers that macchiatos taste better from ceramic cups, and a one minute pause can make a world of difference in one’s day.
Blue Bottle Coffee is pushing the city a moment further with their intimate siphon bar on the second floor of the recently opened Chelsea location.
Unlike the Williamsburg cafe, located in an airy, rustic garage, the Chelsea location is sleek and tiny, neighbor to posh Milk Studios, and a stone’s throw from the West Side Highway along the Hudson River. The baristas are clothed in matching chambray shirts and leather chuck tailors. Somehow, it just seems more Manhattan.
One hazy summer morning I voyaged through the West Village’s cobblestone streets up to the Chelsea cafe. Upstairs, I met barista Mac Malikowski, who was beginning to dial in the coffee for the day. The siphon bar was designed as “an homage to the intimate coffee bars of Tokyo,” the roaster’s website reads, and intimate it is. Six seats to one barista promotes conversation, with a ceremonial preparation and serving aesthetic that borders on beautiful.
Created in 19th century Germany, the siphon brews via vacuum pressure (for brewing science, read about my siphon experience in Portugal, here.) It has a relatively short brewing time of one minute. Malikowski described the siphon as a sort of hybrid of many different brewing technniques: “it’s a full immersion process, without sediment, with a cotton filter and vacuum suction. And heat is being applied the entire process;” a unique experience unlike any other brewing process.
It’s “the best of that bean, the superlative,” he continued, “don’t expect to overpower the palate.” Culturally, third-wavers have been interested in high dosing for a rich, full bodied cup. The siphon, as Malikoswki explained, allows one to step back, to enjoy a delicate, clean, tea-like brew.
Mac began to brew a washed Ethiopian Amaro Gayo on the siphon; it tasted of berries and bourbon, with a dark chocolate finish. A cup of cascara tea — tea made from the discarded skin of the coffee cherry — was served to cleanse the palate, alongside a bourbon infused marshmallow. Second, he brewed a Rwandan, the siphon bringing out flavors of hibiscus tea.
While at the bar, one may also order a cup from the Nel, which brews via flannel filter; this brewing method extracts a completely different flavor profile from the bean, a much denser cup. Mac expressed his love of cold-brew coffee, and his propensity to drink it year round; yet for those super cold days where one can’t bear anything iced, he prepared a “warm-brew” of a Mixed Natural Brazilian. The recipe, from Blue Bottle founder James Freeman, takes elements of cold brew — a higher concentrate of coffee, a longer brewing time, and cooler water temperatures — to mimic the syrupy, rich flavor of the iced version.
And though most may still find it hard to sit long enough to enjoy it, the siphon bar at Blue Bottle is truly a coffee experience. As Rachel Bleiweiss-Sande, manager of the Chelsea cafe hopes, “everyone thinks of coffee as cluttered cafes. We want to create an aura, a respectful way of drinking coffee.”
And as Bleiweiss-Sande wondered aloud, “people are willing to slow down for lunch, why not for coffee?” I peered at the cluster of people packing into Chelsea Market, and couldn’t agree more.