09/03/15 1:21pm

C+M’s Guide to The Cafe Scene in Flushing Queens

Flushing Cafe Collage

Since Yelp exists, there’s really no point in making an exhaustive list of coffee and tea shops. However, there’s still room for a curated list, so I’m going to present my favorite Flushing spots for coffee, food, working, and hanging out. Unlike some other parts of Queens, the eastern end is still limited in terms of Third Wave coffee shops, but this is changing gradually.

(I’ve created a companion Foursquare list for this article. Go ahead and save it so that you can visit them all.)

Although Flushing’s eastern border is officially Parsons Boulevard, for the purposes of this article I will use the moniker as it often is, as a shorthand for Greater Flushing, encompassing Murray Hill, Auburndale, and Bayside, and will append Douglaston/Little Neck, the New York City neighborhood that abuts Long Island.

However, I’m primarily interested in the somewhat insular, heavily Korean neighborhood that runs along Northern Boulevard from Main Street to the border of Long Island (and beyond), because this is where most of the cafes are situated. The only exception is a recent Chinese-owned entrant, Presso Coffee, located in the attractive new One Fulton Square development in downtown Flushing.

Caffe Bene | Northern Blvd (159th St) | Murray Hill (Flushing)

Many of these shops are independently owned one-offs or small local chains, but there are also branches of international Korean chains such as Paris Baguette, Tous les Jours, and Caffe Bene; in most cases the Flushing branches were these chains’ first outposts in New York City. Interestingly, Presso Cafe excepted, Korean culture is a direct driver of cafe culture in every instance, influencing cafe design, operating hours, baked goods and food menus, and of course drinks on offer, coffee or otherwise.

Korean Cafe Desserts

Unlike American cafe culture, which generally revolves around pre-work, early morning coffee and baked goods, Korean cafes both open later and stay open later, often much later, and offer a completely different set of standard food items. Since Korean restaurants generally don’t offer dessert, diners will usually settle the check promptly and head to a nearby cafe to chat over espresso drinks and shaved ice concoctions or thick toasted bread or waffles topped variously with whipped cream, ice cream, red beans, fruit and other ingredients.

Preparing an Espresso Drink

The number of Flushing shops that offer specialty coffee and take pride in its preparation is exactly three. Others make moves in that direction; some use Third Wave coffee but don’t prepare it correctly while others have top-of-the-line equipment and fairly skilled baristas but use mass market coffee.

Flushing Cafes are Cavernous

Flushing’s cafes offer other delights than just coffee, however, with most shops ranging from large all the way up to cavernous, making one feel comfortable using their free wifi for hours on end without worrying that you’re taking up a table that could be put to better use. Decor tends toward warehouse/industrial chic and food offerings can be intriguing to a New Yorker used to a more Western-oriented coffee shop diet of croissants, scones, and muffins.

Best Coffee

Cortado Cafe de Cupping

The three best shops for coffee are Cafe 1 of a Kind, Presso Coffee, and Cafe de Cupping; the first two are Stumptown shops while Cafe de Cupping uses Intelligentsia,  both are large independent American coffee roasters. The other major independent American coffee roaster, Counter Culture, for some reason isn’t represented in Eastern Queens at all, as far as I know, despite widespread distribution in New York City overall.

Perhaps because China doesn’t have its own coffee-oriented cafe culture, Presso Coffee adopts the New York City Third Wave cafe playbook, with a pourover bar in addition to a full slate of espresso drinks, while Cafe de Cupping follows the Korean model of offering only espresso coffee drinks (no brewed coffee), alongside a somewhat bewildering menu of flavored drinks, iced and not, both with and without coffee. Cafe 1 of a Kind is somewhere in between, with espresso drinks, cold brew, and pourovers, and a more organized onslaught of the flavored coffee drinks popular with Korean cafe goers.

Cafe 1 of A Kind

Cafe 1 of a Kind Wall

One of the newer establishments in this roundup, Douglaston/Little Neck’s Korean-owned Cafe 1 of a Kind lies behind a nondescript storefront on a sleepy section of Northern Boulevard. The exterior does nothing to prepare one for the elegant, dark interior, decorated with lots of wood and metal and a large Cafe 1 sign spelled out with glowing yellow light bulbs inset at the intersection of two back walls.

Service is friendly and they pull expert shots of Stumptown Hairbender on a fairly consistent basis. Cold brew is good as well, although not always available. The food menu runs to fairly heavy brunch-y items such as soups, salads, wraps, and sandwiches – the only nod toward Korea is the bulgogi wrap. And like many Flushing area cafes, they have that one wacky signature dessert item; in their case it is the Ebelskiver, a Danish pastry stuffed with various fillings such as fruit jams, spiced apple, or Nutella.

Cafe 1 of a Kind Layout

Cafe 1 of a Kind breaks up their seating into different “neighborhoods,” something I find appealing as a cafe user. Upon entering, on the lefthand wall, you’ll see two sets of over-sized plushy chairs, each attached to a round table, perfect for private tet a tets, while several large, rectangular, communal tables occupy the remainder of the front area. Further back, opposite the lefthand bar/preparation area there is a wooden bench running along the wall all the way to the rear of the shop, with a string of wooden two-tops and accompanying chairs.

Cafe 1 of a Kind Backyard

There’s a large parking lot behind the shop’s quiet backyard area, which may sound strange to Manhattan coffee shop customers, but which is an almost necessary amenity in the car dependent area east of Main Street. Cafe 1 of a Kind, 255-13 Northern Blvd, Little Neck, 347-408-4780 

Cafe de Cupping

Cafe De Cupping | Northern Blvd | Flushing

As the first shop in the Flushing area to plant the Third Wave flag, you can tell that many other area cafes that opened afterward showed it the highest form of flattery by copying its interior layout and design and to some extent, its business practices. Those showering the most praise include Cafe 1 of a Kind and Caffeine Fix.

I spotted Cafe de Cupping shortly after they opened three years ago, on a trip to eat at the now defunct fake BCD Tofu House across the street, and reviewed them at the time. Not much has changed since then except that they now have competition in the Flushing quality coffee arena, albeit widely-spaced competition. They’ve also upgraded to a top espresso machine and fixed the niggling issues with their wifi. Cafe de Cupping, 150-17 Northern Blvd, Flushing, 718-909-0777

Presso Coffee

Untitled

One of the first businesses to open in the new Fulton Square development in downtown Flushing, Presso Coffee doesn’t seem like it will want for customers, especially with the gleaming new Hyatt Hotel next door, but its strange layout might work against it.

Untitled

The high point of the Presso experience is their quality coffee preparation, with consistently well-pulled espresso and well-prepared espresso-based drinks. They do offer pourovers as well, but it’s a mystery to me why the perpetually unstaffed brew bar is in the front of the shop – if they integrated it into their upstairs bar, they’d probably garner a lot more customers for said drink. The pourovers I did try there were made with care using Stumptown coffee, just like their espresso drinks.

Like most places in Flushing, there are waffles with a variety of sweet toppings, much cheaper than at their Korean counterparts but correspondingly smaller, and unfortunately, not very good. In fact, the texture was both gluey and dry and my companion and I could only get part of it down. The food menu also has a bunch of sandwiches with varying bread choices, a few salads, and some pudding and gelato.

Untitled

Working here on wifi is an unsatisfying experience, with a network that is both hard to connect to and maddeningly slow when you do get in, but it could be a good place to read a book, meet a friend, or do some paper-based studying.

Presso Coffee Front

And although the space is truly huge, in fact one of the largest shops in New York City, a lot of it is wasted; for example the front entrance opens into a foyer area that contains a usually-deserted pourover bar and some step-like seating on the right. A few stairs lead up into an enormous center space that is almost entirely filled by a rectangular bar flanked on either side by aisles that lead to the back area. The righthand aisle is wider, leaving space for a handful of tables.

Behind the bar/preparation area is a huge, gloomy seating area: a square communal table on the lefthand wall sits opposite a mass of chairs and tables on the right side. Behind these are two sections of overscale armchairs ranged circularly in the left and righthand back corners of the shop near the exit that leads into the heart of the Fulton Square complex. Presso Coffee, 133-42 39th Ave., Flushing, 718-358-0257

 

Good For Working

Bean & Bean

Bean N Bean | Northern Blvd | Bayside | Queens

Once the shop becomes more than 1/3 full the wifi becomes overburdened, but before that Bean & Bean is a working and hanging out paradise, divided into a variety of cafe “neighborhoods.” Their coffee is below par, so I only visit when I need a place to work – there are enough seats that I’ve never gone away empty handed – not only that, there are tables outside, and they even have their own parking lot.

Bean N Bean | Northern Blvd | Bayside | Queens

The huge space is open, with only a few pillars taking the place of load-bearing internal walls, and different areas are set off from each other with floor design cues, from wide-planked wood running east west to close set rough wooden flooring in different shades running perpendicular to the above. Five large communal tables are ranged around the interior and two smaller stool height tables are wedged into a corner adjacent to a small living room section containing a comfy sofa and armchair. Plugs are everywhere – strategically located near tables; if you don’t see one on a nearby wall, check the floor for inset plugs.

Although Bean & Bean brags about the “freshness” of their coffee and how they roast daily, in fact, this is not a good thing – roasted coffee needs to rest a few days before being used. While specialty coffee roasters consider roasting a craft, apprenticing people for months or years before they let them take the helm, at Bean and Bean baristas will throw some coffee into the hopper in between pulling shots and stocking the cold case with bottled water. While Bean & Bean has pretty good grinders and a nice espresso machine, the baristas are inconsistent and don’t necessarily follow best practices, and the overroasted, “fresh” coffee tastes pretty gnarly even if your shot happens to be well-pulled. Bean & Bean, 210-21 Northern Blvd., Bayside,718-423-8083

Caffeine Fix

Caffeine Fix | 41st Ave | Flushing

Another spot that I reviewed a couple of years ago, Caffeine Fix has a name that’s telling, focusing on caffeine delivery and having neither the equipment nor the expertise (nor presumably the desire) to produce high quality coffee despite using a Third Wave coffee roaster, Ithaca New York’s Gimme! Coffee. They previously featured an even more random choice, Vancouver’s 49th Parallel – god only knows how they found each other.

Caffeine Fix Rear

If you’ve been to Cafe de Cupping, Caffeine Fix will feel strangely familiar, with a very similar layout. Where Caffeine Fix differs however, is the way they’re structured for laptop work, with copious seating in the back, each table equipped with a plug. Wifi however is sometimes over-burdened and music is usually over-loud. Service is dispassionately friendly. Caffeine Fix,  149-40 41st Ave., Flushing, 718-353-3437

M2S

M2S | Northern Blvd | Flushing

Looking something like the anteroom of a medical device showroom or the set of a Korean drama, the slickly designed and mysteriously named M2S is a giant, wedge-shaped cafe on the angled corner of Northern Boulevard and 165th Street. The poured concrete floor, floor to ceiling magazine racks, white plastic counter-tops, and design-y molded plastic white and red chairs contribute to the set effect.

Illy Americano | M2S | Northern Blvd | Flushing

For coffee they chose Illy, which has a fading clout among old school coffee aficionados. Unfortunately, they devote no care to their coffee preparation, so even if you are an Illy fan, you’re unlikely to be satisfied by one of their coffee drinks. The menu is categorized logically, but the sheer variety of choices, varying typefaces, and interspersed Korean and English make it hard to grok without careful study. Service is robotic.

M2S

Notwithstanding the above, if you can find a drink you’re happy with, M2S, the only Flushing indie coffee shop with loads of natural light through large front and side windows, is the best of all places in this roundup to work, and it’s also a good spot for other uses. Wifi is fast and holds up even as the place gets crowded toward evening and plugs abound.

M2S Rear

The triangularly shaped front area has a couple of large, communal tables and wall seating that extends down from the coffee bar and is sheathed in the same white plastic. The shop’s middle section consists of three large four-tops along the side street wall opposite the coffee bar, and the back is a separate neighborhood, replete with couches, throw rugs and comfy chairs in various configurations. There’s a parking lot in the rear. M2S, 164-25 Northern Blvd., Flushing, 718-886-2100

The Dregs

There are other cafes than the below that fall into my permanent non-visit list, but these are the only ones that I felt like singling out. I may add onto this section in the future.

Cafe Bench

Cafe Bench Storefront

This is an odd, not especially attractive shop whose ostensible specialty is crepes. Coffee is execrable and the other drinks aren’t appreciably better, with a lemonade, for example, that tastes like a supermarket mix. Although I haven’t experienced the gruff service that Yelpers complain about, lack of rudeness isn’t enough to entice me back. The caveat is that I haven’t tried their crepes – perhaps the food here is the main draw. Cafe Bench, 194-07 Northern Blvd., Auburndale, 718-224-0703

Cafe Vine

With turgid wifi and bad coffee, it’s not clear to me what the appeal of this spot is, although they do have their own wacky signature dessert item – chocolate covered churros.

Moon Cafe

Untitled

One of Flushing’s newer Korean-run spots, Moon is close to the corner of Main Street on Northern Boulevard. Apparently they have cultured a sense of community amongst their patrons judging by the tree-shaped object occupying the wall near the bathroom, festooned with notes (all in Korean as far as I could tell) and instant photos. Coffee is nothing special, teas are surprisingly automatically sweetened, and they feature $9 slices of cake from Manhattan’s specialty baker, Lady M. The room is fairly comfortable without being cozy – lots of generic restaurant tables in the front and a hard tile floor take away from the attractive wall decorations and fairly comfy rear couch section. Service is uncaring although not rude. Moon Cafe, 137-06 Northern Blvd, Flushing, 347-732-0329

Save this article’s companion Foursquare list for easy reference.

 

Photos by Peter Cucè, Ben Pratt, and Katy Yen.

Peter Cucè is a food-obsessed coffee lover who intermittently chronicles New York City cafe culture via a variety of internet outlets. He is an old school Chowhound who truly lives (and travels) to eat. Peter has eaten his way through nearly every cuisine available locally and beyond and is now systematically working his way through regional Chinese and Korean food in Flushing and Sunset Park and cataloging his efforts via Instagram. You can also catch him on Twitter @petekachu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 Comment

  • “Perhaps because China doesn’t have its own cafe culture…” Beyond the owner’s ethnicity (I’ll take your word for it), what leads you to believe Presso is a Chinese cafe. Is any of the staff even Chinese?They sell just about the same food products as the other cafes listed here. I don’t know why an owner of a certain ethnicity would have to mold their business to their ethnicity anyway. Something not right about that line…

    • Hi Derek
      Thanks for your comment. Flushing is an L-shaped community, with a heavily Korean population clustered along Northern Boulevard and a heavily Chinese one on Main Street. Since the focus of my article was for a large part on the Korean cafes contained within the Korean leg of the L, I thought it was interesting that the Chinese-owned cafe that opened in the Chinese leg of the L followed American cafe culture and I said as much in the article. That is after all the theme of my article. The owner is the son of a mainland Chinese who owns a lumber company and showcases his wood in the shop.
      Best regards,

      Peter

  • Pingback: Flushing Queens Cafe Roundup | Project LatteProject Latte

  • Maybe most Chinese don’t drink coffee, that’s why none of these great coffee places were Chinese owned; Besides, those coffee sold by Chinese bakery tastes really bad, even worse than McDonald..