There is a new coffee shop player in town and this one has Southern California roots. "Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf" is taking Manhattan by storm, opening its fourth store in six months on 83rd Street and Third Avenue. The space, which had been a bar for the past 50 years, housed famous Martell's for decades, and only more recently to frat-friendly Wicker Park. Part of the good news is that neither Wicker, nor Coffee Bean have made any dramatic changes to the character of the space. Coffee Bean has retained the classic mosaic tile floors, mahogany wood booths, and have made a clever re-use of the old bar that now serves as a counter for the caffeine starved masses. The space is bright and appealing, and what I believe was the former kitchen, now serves as a "quiet room" complete with "coffee lockers" to store beans and glassware for regular guests. There is also a "coffee cellar" to store beans fashioned on the concept of a wine cellar.
So how is the coffee? My test, as it is my regular drink, was a 12 ounce americano with an extra shot of espresso. I have to say that I was very impressed. It was strong yet very smooth and I would suggest a strong competitor to the same drink at Think Coffee and Everyman Espresso. Since we don't have either of those shops on the UES, you could say this is the best espresso in the hood. Another consideration is the food. Unlike at Starbucks, where everything looks like your very last food option, Coffee Bean has some appealing choices from authentic looking, full-sized bagels and enormous bear claw pastries, to full sized Italian subs. In many ways the food selection looks sort of like a Starbucks, but with Coffee Bean they have morphed to full-sized, animated, and edible.
So can a big coffee shop, not named Starbucks make it in the hood? I can't claim that I know how much coffee it takes to carry a business, but I don't think Coffee Bean will be lacking for customers. With bright inviting space, wifi, reasonable snacks, and tasty coffee, I'd figure it won't be a week before they are packed with customers jockeying for tables on a regular basis.