Coffee carts have been around town since the Madmen Era, but there were only a few scattered amongst the business districts of town until the early 90s, when the number grew to close to 1,000.
These adorable aluminum carts are not just in the business centers of town these days, but where anyone wants a grab and go cup of java, and a breakfast pastry and/or hot ham and egg breakfast sandwich.
The prices have stayed low over the years and the price of a nice 12 to 14 ounce cup 'o' Joe has only gone from 50 cents to a buck in 20 years.
It is said by cart owners that coffee has the highest markup of any product sold at city food carts-- it only costs 10 cents to make a cup (without milk or sweetener included), and it sells for a buck, so you do the math!
As for the food at the carts, most of the vendors buy their products wholesale each morning near where most of the carts are housed at 30th Street and 11th Avenue. So it's a grab and go situation for both the owners and their customers.
Overall, the coffee carts are much cheaper to operate than the Halal "street meat" or even hot dog carts, and products are guaranteed to be fresh. Here are six reasons coffee carts are quintessential NYC.
1. Decent tasting coffee
The coffee is always good and strong, and does not have that "burnt bean" taste of Starbucks.
The vendors at the coffee carts do not all use the same brand but they use many of the same ones that are legendarily served at New York diners/coffee shops. You can get giant cups of iced coffee or tea for $1.50 as well.
2. Doughnuts and pastries
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The doughnuts are to die for! The pastries are fresh baked only an hour or two before the cart owners lay them out, and are quite large. The iced bear claw ("twisted doughnut") is a long-time favorite of many New Yorkers and two to three times the size of a normal doughnut!
The bagels come already spread with cream cheese or butter. Sure, they're not toasted, but come on, cream cheese already on the bagel?
The carts carry at least six types of bagels, and you can get a plain one for 75 cents, and one with butter or cream cheese for a buck or $1.25 (it sometimes varies by location, but still, these are way better prices than in any local bagel store).
4. Unchanging aesthetic
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Although they mainly consist of basic aluminum, every coffee cart comes with its own unique look and history.
Many of the cart's owners are from Afghanistan or other Middle Eastern countries. They're almost always incredibly friendly. As much as we love our bodega guy, we really love our breakfast cart guy.,
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They have the cheapest coffee and breakfast goodies you can buy in the city, and starting your day off by not shelling out too much money for your morning fix is one of the greatest morning victories you can experience.
The coffee carts have prices that are generally half those of a diner. Only certain delis and bodegas can compete price-wise.
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Standing in line at a coffee cart in the morning is a great way to make new friends, and it's certainly pleasant to make small talk with a friendly vendor who has your order already memorized.
Not only do they manage to remember that you like black coffee and a cinnamon raisin bagel, but they remember to grab the cinnamon raisin bagel not stacked next to the everything bagels.
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New York runs on coffee. Seriously. We drink a lot of it. More than anyone else. Ever. Bar. None.
Without it, we would not be the leaders in so many areas of business and arts! Without coffee, we're like, some place awful. Like, Boston: angry, mean, and incoherent.
[Feature Image Courtesy Flickr/Matthew Shadbolt]