Willoughby’s on York
Willoughby’s trademark is “Serious coffee.” No prefatory “we know,” or “we love,” just: “Serious coffee.” Walk up to their coffee boutique on 258 Church St. during the morning rush and you will understand. First, you hustle into the line, which funnels into the store like a conveyor belt. Once inside, an aggressive barista takes your order and shouts it out to the production team in back. Immediately, your order is processed, you pay the laconic cashier, and leave, drink in hand. The shop is like a high-horsepower engine: mechanical and efficient — with some serious output.
Nestled in a corner of the angular Yale School of Architecture building, the new Willoughby’s branch on 194 York St., which opened last Sunday, is like the Church Street shop’s hipster cousin — without the skinny jean pretense to superiority. Windows separated by latticework allow New Haven sunshine into the small, bright interior. Boxes of black leather and form-fitting metal reticula make up the modern seating, which is complemented by a spacecraft of a garbage can, an oblique counter and an airy coffee kitchen in back. Cabinetry holding packaged coffee and teas for purchase is awkwardly hidden on the left-side wall.
The shallow main room is poorly designed for high levels of foot traffic. Customers waiting in line or for their drinks flood the room, drowning sitting patrons with their presence.
The strange, contorted interior notwithstanding, everything else about Willoughby’s is pretty straightforward. The menu is simple, thankfully devoid of ostentation (no gingerbread lattes here), with a focus on what actually matters, so often overlooked: coffee.
Willoughby’s starts with high-quality (organic, free-trade) beans and roasts them adeptly to a dark perfection. The finished product has flavors of rich caramel; it is sweet, not too bitter, and finishes smooth without any grating metallic aftertaste. $1.79 for a medium is well worth it — a taste of serious coffee-making at work.
With such good beans to begin with, it would be hard to botch specialty drinks. The café latte ($3.19) was spot on, and in a classy gesture, exemplary of Willoughby’s characteristic professionalism, the barista asked what type of milk I wanted (regular, skim or soy).
The pastries are good, but do no more than serve their ritualized function. If you must succumb to your inner fat kid’s siren song, cookies ($0.79) and muffins ($1.99) jumpstart low-blood sugar levels and provide temporary satisfaction.
Willoughby’s on York may not be the best place to sit and study, but that is not what it’s about. It is about a company dedicated to coffee. One sip of their outstanding brew gives unmistakable verisimilitude to their bold two-word slogan. In fact, the slogan does not say enough. They could have easily made it, “Best coffee in New Haven,” and I would wholly submit to it.
Willoughby’s on York is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; on Sundays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Blue State Coffee
The independent coffee shop is about as iconic of blue America as the gun shop is of red America. But even in an achromatic Obamamerica, Blue State Coffee, which opened last week on 84 Wall St., flaunts its political colors, serving up good coffee on deeply brewed progressive “grounds.”
The coffee ($1.89 for a medium), like the shop’s mission, is both audacious and hopeful. A strong roast gives it a zesty, earthy punch that is passionate, but not combative. All of the beans are fair trade (most are organic), and if you bring your own mug, they charge you the price of a small — with a $0.25 discount.
If you were still unsure of its political allegiances, Blue State pays homage to the president in more ways than one. A spirited quote from Obama’s inaugural address runs the counter-front wall, while the “Hope Blend” — a truly brilliant concept — made from Kenyan, Kona and Indonesian beans, enshrines him in every biodegradable cup.
Blue State is also community-oriented. This focus is not limited to the Yale population, which will find its huge interior, free Wi-Fi and the bonhomie of the staff and owners extremely appealing. Five percent of their profits are donated to a New Haven charitable organization (i.e., Dwight Hall, CitySeed) that you vote for every time you buy a cup, while leftover pastries (which are brought in fresh each morning from a local bakery) are given to food pantries.
Blue State is a paragon of sustainable and ethical business, a portmanteau of profit and progress. So “drink liberally,” and sooth your conscious with every last, delicious drop.
Blue State Coffee is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.