Espresso Train : Birch Coffee

Locations:

  • 750 Columbus St (between 96th/97th)
  • 21 East 27th St (between 5th/Madison)
  • 56 7th Avenue (between 13th/14th)
  • 134 1/2 E 62nd St (between Lexington/3rd)
  • 432 3rd Avenue (between 30th/31st)
  • 40-35 23rd St, Long Island City, Queens (Roast House)

As one of the former members of the Disloyalty Card, Birch Coffee has been on my radar for some time now as a source of consistently good espresso and pastries, a notion backed up by the nearly constantly unwieldly mass of people that always seems to be present every time I go into one of their branches. (Ha. A little tree humor there.) They have a huge customer base for very good reason – between the quirky-yet-funny atmosphere of the staff, warm and inviting decor, and quality products, it’s hard to find a reason to not partake in their goods.

Like other espresso joints around the city, Birch Coffee has very good brand recognition. I was walking around the Flatiron District in Manhattan and out of the corner of my eye I noticed this logo in a window, nearly half a block away:

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I was drawn in immediately.

Between the quirky-yet-funny atmosphere of the staff, warm and inviting decor, and quality products, it’s hard to find a reason to not partake in their goods.

Birch Coffee’s stores all share the same black, galvanized metal, and wood (presumably birch) decor, which invokes a feeling that you’re in some sort of modern, stylish log cabin. The place feels lived-in but not dirty, busy and alive but not messy. Bare hanging, softly lit incandescent bulbs hang from the ceiling. Chalkboard paint-covered signs give amusing little quips, and daily trivia questions that spice up the notion of a tip jar a little bit. (The questions can vary from pop culture to deep philosophical choices to needlessly inflammatory X-or-Y choices. It’s great.)

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Magpies are pretty much the love child of Pop Tarts and absolute happiness.

The pastries that are sold here are not prepared in-house, but are instead imported from specialty bakeries around the city. While the overall selection rotates from month to month, Birch Coffee has the notable quality of consistently carrying Magpies, which are pretty much the love child of Pop Tarts and absolute happiness. Imagine a giant, flat ravioli made of super tender and flaky pie crust, filled with a few tablespoons of compote or other filling, and then topped with a thin but hard shell of royal icing. I had my first of these pies at Birch a few years ago, and was sold ever since; the rich sweetness counters and contrasts a good bitter espresso drink perfectly. (My favorite combination would be the brown sugar cinnamon Magpie with a cortado, but you really can’t go wrong here.)

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It never ceases to amaze me how much the personality of an espresso bar can vary from store to store, be it the organic experience of the Birch Coffee locations or the old-school class of Ground Central’s interior, or the modern sleekness of Everyman Espresso. I’ve often wondered what my own place would look like. Maybe a little bit of dark wood, brushed steel, and frosted glass – some combination of both the old and the new, where one can relax and reflect without a lot of clutter or noise. But who knows? If and/or when I ever make such a place, the atmosphere may wind up entirely different from that. As long as I can convey the enjoyment and the experience of sharing a good cup of coffee, I guess I’d be happy.

Until next time. 🙂

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