There were genuine cafes in New York in the 1890's but they were confined primarily to the areas where the European immigrants lived, especially the lower East side, where men, even though they were not rich, could find time to sip coffee and play chess in the middle of the afternoon. The price of coffee then, like to today, had a oddly wide range : you could get a cup for a penny at coffee stands or pay 25 cents a cup at a decent restaurant. Many people believed however that how good a cup of coffee was did not always relate to its price. It was true that you could not get a excellent cup of coffee for a penny, and it was definitely possible to get a rotten cup of coffee for 25 cents. But there were many lower East Side cafes where you could pay 5 cents and get a perfect cup.
Additionally, New Yorkers had become so worldly that they could go to a wide variety of cosmopitan restaurants and order coffee made from recipes based on a large variety of international recipes. Mittel-European coffees, like those from Germany or Austria, were considered to be the best and least expensive (on the lower East Side, at least). Excellent coffee could be had for 5 cents a up at over 20 cafes that were established between Second Avenue and Avenue B, and from First Street to Tenth Street. Like a present day latte, the coffee served in those cafes was very dark and concentrated and had enough hot milk (but probably not steamed) to fill the cup. Its flavor was deliciously sweet and fresh-tasting. The highest-rated cafes had a stabilize stream of coffee afficianados, beginning when they opened in the morning until closing time.
A few French restaurants also served cafe au lait just like in the cremaries of Paris. In those cafes, waiters brought the diners coffee with chicory flavoring, sugar, a large cup, a spoon, three sugars, and two carafes, one filled with the coffee and chicory, and the other jug filled with hot milk. When the two were poured together into the bowl, a very delicious and smooth coffee drink was obtained. For sophisticated New Yorkers, café au lait, French bread with butter made a healthy and nourishing light breakfast.
Another choice if you were into coffee back then was to try the Turkish coffees which were served in the district on Washington Street (referred to back then as the "Arab Quarter") This coffee, using the Turkish method, usually turned out to be very potent and dense. The merchants in Washington Street, mostly of Syrian decent, would carry over the Arabian tradition of providing coffee to their stores's shoppers, much like in the Middle-eastern bazaars of their homeland.
The lower East Side coffee shops generally were thought to have such good cheap coffee because it was made well from diligently selected coffee "berries" (back then the beans were actually called by their correct name: berries). Customers at those cafes liked it because it had a strong flavor that was not debased with any additives ( a practice used by some restaurants in the city at that time.) The customers at the East Side cafes were chronic coffee consumers who needed their coffee as a caffeine jolt all the time, not only with the meals at a restaurant.
There is no argument that a coffee-lover from the 1890's would be stunned at the changes that Starbucks made to coffee culture in New York today (and the rest of the country as well).
Coffee houses in New York before 1900 the source of Starbucks?
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