While coffee may not have originated in Asia, it plays a big part in cafe culture—a close second, or maybe even an equivalent, to tea in some Asian countries. Generally speaking, Asians within the diaspora have grown up drinking tea with meals, drink tea as regularly as coffee, or are just beginning to explore the wonders and health benefits of tea. Wherever you may be on the spectrum, our hope here is to not just tell you about some amazing coffee and tea shops across NYC, but also highlight owners and their stories.
With Warm Welcome is a community organization that amplifies and humanizes Asian American chefs, restaurateurs, and founders by producing podcasts, crafting meaningful experiences, and collaborating with artists. It’s become ever more apparent that we need to find ways to advocate for Asian-owned small businesses as they’ve been the hardest hit during the pandemic. In partnership with The Infatuation, we’re spotlighting some of our favorite Asian-owned businesses to support now and forever.
photo credit: Le Phin
"Cute" is the first word that will come to mind as soon as you step inside Lê Phin in the East Village. The small space with white brick walls is filled with light wood furniture and fresh flowers, and when it's sunny out, this place gets a ton of natural light. Owner Kim Lê, who grew up in Vietnam, worked as a professional coffee quality grader before opening this cafe, which unsurprisingly features phin-brewed coffee. Get a hot or cold latte with house-made pandan syrup along with a croissant, blueberry muffin, or scone. Once you get your order from the friendly staff, you'll probably see at least one person pecking away on their laptop as they attempt to write the next great (or just OK) American novel.
photo credit: Craig Nisperos
Augee Francisco and Joey Payumo, the owners behind Kabisera on the Lower East Side, clearly want to make the most of their space. In addition to offering drinks and food, this place has a rack of clothes, a large shelf featuring Filipino groceries, and a bunch of art on the walls—and everything's for sale. Augee established a strong baseline knowledge of coffee as a child because she grew up surrounded by coffee beans in a mountainous region of the Philippines, while Joey is a self-described foodie who is always pushing to give Filipino cuisine more exposure. This place has a large selection of desserts, and we love ordering the flaky hopia ube and the custard-like cassava cake with a ginger latte. They also have a savory menu with items like chicken adobo quesadilla and vegetable lumpia. The next time you need to catch up with a friend, head to Kabisera, and maybe do some shopping while you're there.
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If you sit at the bar at Hi-Collar, you'll see coffee and tea prepared as meticulously as any cocktail at a speakeasy that you had to call a secret number to get into (three weeks ago). This place takes hot beverages very seriously. You can choose from a selection of coffee beans at this kissaten (a Japanese tea room and coffee shop) in the East Village, and each cup of coffee is made by hand via one of three brewing methods (pour over, aeropress, or siphon). Owner Bon Yagi, who was born in Japan and moved to NYC in the 1970s, is responsible for many of the other restaurants and bars around this place (e.g., Hasaki, Sake Bar Decibel, and more). During the day, you can order dishes like omurice with bacon and fluffy Japanese-style pancakes to go along with a cup of hoji cha tea. At night, this spot turns into a bar with a large selection of sakes and Japanese whiskies. If you're the type of person who's on a first-name basis with several mixologists, and you also love coffee, Hi-Collar is the place for you.
We're not sure if Squarrel Cafe is primarily a place to play board games that happens to also serve coffee, or if it's mainly a cafe where you can also play some Jenga and Risk. We're leaning toward the former, because as soon as you walk in, you'll see a whole wall of hundreds of games, and it'll seem like you're in a Toys "R" Us rather than a coffee shop. This spot, just a few blocks from Barclays Center, has several tables in the back where you can play whatever you want for $5/person for three hours (or $70/month for unlimited gaming and one free beverage per day). Order a matcha latte or some bubble tea while you're here, and if you get hungry while trying to think of a word that contains both a "V" and a "J," get some crunchy popcorn chicken and a tuna mayo rice ball. If you come here and decide to start a game of Catan, say goodbye to your whole day, and be glad caffeine is just a few steps away for the next several hours.
Whenever you need a premium cold brew or single-origin coffee in Harlem, 9Tails is the place to go. Korean-American owner John Cho decided on the name as a nod to the nine-tailed fox spirit in East Asian folklore, a benevolent shapeshifting creature that's considered a good omen as a result of great longevity. The menu includes seasonal drinks like calpico frescas or yuzu citron iced tea during warmer months along with a selection of baked goods, including a homemade Bourbon apple cake—make sure to get there early before it runs out. The shop is located on a quiet residential street and recently expanded within the adjacent hardware and supply store, Mushtari. Pleasantly distracted by the abundance of plants for sale, it’s impossible not to smile here, especially after you spot the framed portrait of Cookie Monster sitting by the register.
Right off the Myrtle Wyckoff L/M stop in Bushwick, there’s a Vietnamese-inspired all-day cafe and bar where you can choose from three different SEY coffees, take in the lush plants lining the green and white-tiled counter space, and drink out of beautifully handcrafted ceramic cups. Owned by Shriver Tran and her partner Jaime Hodgkin, High Low opened during the pandemic, and despite the many challenges they’ve faced, it’s here to stay. The concept continues to evolve, but the influence of Vietnamese flavors is a mainstay throughout the menu. Our favorites are the pandan coconut donut and sparkling lemongrass green tea, both of which are a nod to Tran’s Vietnamese heritage. Also, if you’re into natural wine or craft beer, head straight to the bookshelves for a wide selection available by the bottle, glass, or can.
Are you a minimalist who appreciates the simplicity of fewer elements in a room, but still has a love for cane armchairs and pops of greenery while enjoying a cup of coffee? OK, that’s very specific, but if yes, make sure to visit Interlude Coffee & Tea in Tribeca. Korean-American owners (and siblings) Josh and Melody Kim chose the name as a reference to his past as a classical pianist, and much like a short transitional piece between two larger movements, they aim to provide people with a place to physically and mentally recharge before moving on to the next part of their day. Order a flash brew and a honey butter scone, and sit out front to take in the calmness of Hudson Street.
Between Coffee Project’s four locations (East Village, Fort Greene, Chelsea, and Long Island City), you’re never too far from one of my favorite cups of coffee in the city. Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh are both Malaysian and co-owners of Coffee Project NY, and they also opened a roastery and the first-ever Specialty Coffee Association Premier Training Campus to empower baristas with informational in-person and online workshops and classes. Definitely order the smooth nitro cold brew, and try the avocado tomato feta croissant sandwich if you’re hungry.
Run by co-owners Jane and Laura, both of whom are Korean American, Hamlet Coffee Company in Prospect Lefferts Gardens opened in February 2020 and was named so with the intention of creating a small village and neighborhood community. Based on the line to get into the coffee shop when we last visited, they have definitely created something special here. This is a great place to order a delicious cup of seasonal Nelson Chavez drip before finding a bench in Prospect Park just two avenues away.
Does sitting in a relaxing zen tea room inside a West Village townhouse sound like the perfect Saturday afternoon? Say no more. Té Company serves up to 30 different kinds of teas alongside a light lunch menu and baked snacks. Taiwanese-American owner Elena Liao and her husband Frederico Ribeiro founded Té Company a decade ago to help drive awareness of premium Taiwanese teas and make them more accessible. As you might’ve guessed, “Te” means tea in Taiwanese and was decided as the name because it’s a connection to Liao’s family and lineage from Fujin. Try a pot of the wild chrysanthemum herbal tea for a calming and lightly sweet flavor and definitely grab one of the very popular pineapple Linzer cookies.
PPL is a Williamsburg cafe serving specialty seasonal coffee by 95 RPM Roasters, a variety of Shizuoka Japanese barley and black teas, and organic matcha from Kagoshima, Japan. Owner Tomo Takasugi was born and raised in Japan and originally started PPL as a clothing brand that transformed into a coffee shop based on Tomo’s love for coffee. Inside the cafe are plant species of all shapes and sizes lining the walls, counter, ceiling, and corners—basically our dream space to enjoy a hoijicha latte and a slice of vegan banana bread.
Brandon and Faith Lee are both Chinese American and co-owners of Bird & Branch, located in Hell’s Kitchen. From the name and mission to the menu itself, every detail here is intentional and selectively curated. The Lees created the shop with the purpose of giving back to the community by providing a job training program for folks with various barriers to employment, including victims of trafficking and people caught in the shelter system. They also partner with Saint Frank Coffee roasters because of their conscious relationships with coffee producers. Order the Nightingale—one of the many menu items named after a bird—a mix of earl grey tea steeped in milk with espresso, along with the delicious egg sandwich, which integrates Chinese ingredients from childhood snacks they grew up with, like rousong (pork floss) and ginger scallion.
Run by Shin Won-Yoon and her husband Stefen Ramirez, 29B is meant to be a social and interactive setting vs. a traditional tea ceremony, although they do try to keep the reverence close to Korean tea traditions. As tea dealers, they import a variety of single-origin, natural agriculture-conscious teas sourced from farms in Taiwan, Japan, India, China, and Korea where Won-Yoon is from. If you let them know what you’re in the mood for, they’ll curate an experience that will leave a lasting impression. There’s also a whole corner of the East Village shop dedicated to beautiful ceramics and glassware handcrafted by Japanese and Korean artists to peruse.
Owner Paolo Maliksi is Filipino American and created Alita with his business partner Alejandro Ceballos to bring innovative coffee techniques, homemade food, and traditional hospitality into one place. (“Alita” is a nickname for Alejandro’s abuela.) The cafe is located in East Williamsburg, and they serve delicious coffee using Regalia, a roasting company which Maliksi also co-owns with his wife as part of the Regalia Roasting Collective—a shared roasting space for aspiring roasters and coffee entrepreneurs. You can’t go wrong with the classic drip coffee and a BEC sandwich, and we like to enjoy both while people watching from their outdoor seating area.
Cha-An Bonbon is a charming Japanese cafe located on East 9th Street that’s owned and operated by mother and daughter duo Tomoko and Sakura Yagi, who are Japanese and Japanese-American respectively. This cafe continues to keep the Japanese wagashi tradition alive, pairing matcha and hojicha lattes with a variety of mochi and desserts like the anmitsu. (They also have soft serve versions of both lattes.) For a sit-down experience, you can also visit Cha-An Teahouse, located on the second floor of 230 East 9th St. Stop by for unagi, inari, or something sweet like a matcha affogato or black sesame crème brûlée.