There were serious cafes in New York in the 1890's but they were confined chiefly 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. Coffee also had a curiously wide range of price then (like today in some respects) : You could pay money for it at a penny a cup from the coffee stands or at 25 cents a cup at fancy restaurants. It was also felt that the caliber of coffee could not be judged by its price. The coffee for only a penny was universally dreadful, but coffee for 25 cents could also be quite terrible too - the happy medium seemed to be the cafes on lower East Side where the coffee sold for 5 cents and was thought to be wonderful.
By the 1890s, New York had become a very worldly city and you could eat out at quite a few foreign-food restaurants and be served coffee made according to many different country's methods. Popular opinion said that the choicest and least costly coffee came from the German and Viennese cafes on the lower East Side. A large concentration of cafes was found between Second Avenue and Avenue B and from First Street to Tenth Street - at least 20 cafes were operating there and you could get a scrumptious cup of coffee at any of them for 5 cents a cup. Coffee there was very black and very strong and people drank it with hot milk filled to the brim. The coffee in those cafes was likely sweet-tasting and fresh. Patrons at the top cafes came in from when the sun came up until late in the evening, in a unbroken stream.
New York also boasted of some authentic French-style bistros that served coffee with miLk , like the cafe au lait in restaurants in Paris. In those restaurants, the servers would come to your table with a large coffee bowl, a spoon with big handle, cubes of sugar, and two containers: one would have black coffee combined with chicory flavorings, the other contained very hot, but not boiling milk. Combining the coffee and the milk produced the 1890s version of a cafe au lait, and very delicious according to writers of the time. For cosmopolitan city dwellers in 1890's New York, café au lait with crusty French bread au beurre made for a wonderful and filling light breakfast.
New York at that time had a so-called "Arab quarter" on Washington Street on the West Side (which runs parallel to the Hudson river). In this district New Yorkers could find cafes serving Turkish coffee. When properly made It was extremely strong and thick. Shoppers at the stores and stalls in Middle-eastern bazaars could expect a free cup of coffee and this idea was imported by the Syrian store owners in New York's Washington Street.
The lower East Side coffee shops generally were thought to have such good cheap coffee because it was made well from conscientously selected coffee "berries" (back then the beans were actually called by their correct name: berries). Those coffee establishments offered coffee that was heartier and less adulterated compared to the the low-priced coffee served at up-town cafes. The customers at the East Side cafes were inveterate coffee consumers who needed their coffee as a caffeine jolt all the time, not only with the meals at a restaurant.
Without a doubt, I believe people from the 1890's would be dazzled by Starbucks and the changes they brought to every street in New York today.
Last edited by halgo (2012-01-24 18:18:10)