From time to time, I have complained that Midtown lacks any good coffee, apart from the bitter, over-roasted offerings of the many Starbucks outlets. That's not quite fair. There is one exception that stands out in this wasteland: Empire Coffee & Tea, on Ninth Avenue, about a block north of the Port Authority.

I wandered over there on my lunch break not too long ago, had a latte and picked up some beans for home and the office.

Coffees Columbian Supreme Italian espresso and Obama Blend

Roasted Late March or early April.

Purchased April 5 at Empire Coffee & Tea, 568 Ninth Avenue, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan.

Description The espresso was recommended to me as rich and full bodied but not too strong. The Obama sign said it was a "smooth, hopeful, confident blend of African, Indonesian and Hawaiian coffees."

In the cup I had no idea that Empire had such a long history until I started researching this post. A worker at the store, when I asked if the beans were fresh, said his owner had roasted them upstate that week, and that the outfit had only one other store, in Hoboken. Its Web site claims the shop has been on Ninth Avenue for more than 90 years -- since 1908.

The staff was quite polite and helpful. There was a wide selection. I was put off a little by the storage of the beans in open bags so close to the door. A friend of mine worries about dust and grime from Ninth Avenue settling on the open bags. But that strikes me as overly finicky. I'm sure that any growing, roasting and drying operation would give a consumer pause.

But if you're expecting precise labels listing roasting dates, the names of the plantations, precise varieties, growing elevation and other particulars of the coffee origins, you won't find it at this shop. The prices are certainly more economical than the high-toned coffee snob shops downtown. For the same price you pay for a sealed, light bag at some outfits, you can get a generous pound of beans here.

I had the shop grind the Obama for use in the Aeropress, and have been enjoying it in my office for most of the month, just running out the other day. The name is a bit gimmicky, but it sounded like an interesting blend, and I found it to be a pleasing, rich flavor, smooth and not at all acidic.

I took the Columbian espresso home as whole beans, where I enjoyed it each morning. It was a smooth, rich, satisfying, relatively mild coffee, just right for my taste.

I'm glad I remembered this place was there, and I'll certainly be stopping back.

AuthorPatrick LaForge