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April 8, 2004

Thanking The Coffee Man

Every morning, five days a week for the past two and a half years, I have bought a fifty-cent cup of caffeine from The Coffee Man. Mildly sheltered in the metal and plastic vending booth, he has stood in his mobile shop on the corner of Hudson and Morton Street in the pouring rain, sweltering heat, and bitter cold. Almost every day, without fail, my small cup of coffee with milk no sugar is in his hand by the time I have crossed Hudson and reached his window. The Coffee Man rocks my world.

Though I can be a coffee snob, I draw the line when it comes to need versus palate*. My walk-into-the-office cup of joe, usually the third and last of the day, is purely for the jolt. I might regularly turn my nose up at Charbucks or even Out of My Pocket (the local, rather expensive independent coffee shop near my office), but never at The Coffee Man. New York City street coffee, in my opinion, does the trick—and, at least at my local stand—actually tastes better. Plus, it’s fifty cents. Can you buy ANYTHING in the West Village for fifty cents these days? I think not.

In three weeks, my office will change locations. I’m not particularly concerned about finding a new cheap coffee location. There are a million street coffee vendors in NYC; I’m sure I will discover a suitable replacement (because, after all, it’s required) near my new 14th Street subway exit. But to me, The Hudson/Morton Coffee Man is sacred. I want to thank him, in some small way, for starting my weekday mornings out right.

I’m ashamed to say that, after nearly three years of buying coffee from him, I do not know The Coffee Man’s name. I guess that I could ask him, though for some reason not doing so feels like one of those unwritten NYC rules. All he knows about me is that I hate the cold, miss the spring, and like my coffee with milk, no sugar. I know that he doesn’t mind the cold so much, thinks I’m a softie when it comes to weather, and has a very good memory—not to mention eyes in the back of his head, as he always knows that I’m coming, even when I’m crossing a street to which his back faces.

How do you thank your local street coffee vendor? Because I’d like to. Amidst all of the frustrations of New York—the stalled F trains, packed subway cars, the dog poo in the street that you don’t see until it’s too late—The Coffee Man has been there for me and hundreds of other West Villagers, rain or shine. How do you thank someone for filling that tiny New York City void, soothing that morning crabbiness, and providing that much needed daily dose of caffeine? I must find a simple way to thank him. A way, of course, without freaking him out…because it is only coffee, after all…though in a great many senses, much more than that. It’s part of life in NYC.

* I am not at the ranks of my father, who is planning on bringing his own cache of home-roasted coffee beans and a french press with him on vacation next week, "Just in case."

Posted by callalillie at April 8, 2004 8:24 AM | City Life


I've thought similar thoughts. I've left many a nice coffeeman behind in my travels. I think it may be just one of those things -- the water changes but the river stays the same.

Posted by: mp at April 8, 2004 9:45 AM

I know it's a little different, but I no longer have to ask my local bodega man for Camel Lights. As soon as he sees me opening the door, he plops down a hard pack, matches not included. (He knows I only use orange Bic lighters.) And, the best part: they only cost me five bucks. That's $1 to $2.50 less than most other customers.

Bodega man, thank you for preventing my smoking cessation.

Posted by: josé at April 8, 2004 9:56 AM

Totally. My old bodega man in Cobble Hill would have a newspaper sitting on the counter for me each morning, 6am. Don't get that in Park Slope. Sometimes I can't even find the newspaper at 6am...

Posted by: corie at April 8, 2004 11:02 AM

at the pizza place on hudson (near henrietta hudson), they used to know that i wanted a meatball hero, no cheese, whenever i walked in. i'm pretty sure that it's changed owners since. but that place was much better than the rivoli (i think?) pizza on christopher and hudson.

Posted by: tien at April 8, 2004 11:09 AM

My breakfast-sandwich deli guy has started undercharging me, too.

My coffee guy was replaced by another coffee guy, in the same cart, but with higher prices. I wonder what the economics of the coffee-cart business are. Mob control?

Actually, I prefer the term "man-in-the-box".

Posted by: Mike at April 8, 2004 11:32 AM

You could print out your little essay and give it to him in a card.
I totally concur, by the way, with need vs. palate. I love me some quality coffee, I am not going to spend $3 at starbucks every morning for what is essentially wakeup juice.

Posted by: abby at April 8, 2004 1:54 PM

I know it's impersonal, but just give him a $20 and say, "keep the change."

As an ex-"cofee guy" I know that it's taken to heart.

Posted by: Brian Hofmeister at April 8, 2004 2:15 PM

one thing i miss about hells kitchen is my old deli and my old deli guy. when my parents visited i introduced my dad to him. .. but i didnt know his name so it was like "dad, this is my deli guy. deli guy, this is my dad." i felt sad leaving him when i moved downtown but didnt know what to say.. so i didnt say anything.

Posted by: rachelle at April 8, 2004 5:14 PM

Hey where did you get the picture of the cup?
That is the cup used in most movies and is a staple on Law & Order (though recently changed..I am sad). I love that paper cup for some reason. I'd love to buy a stack and use them for my coffee - something about them seems very nice.
Hmm...maybe I just need a cup of coffee.
Yes, I think so.
Anyways, great post -- love your site.

Posted by: Liz at April 9, 2004 11:10 AM

I used to buy a cup of coffee most mornings from a guy in a little trailer behind the Viet Nam Veterans Plaza downtown. On December 24th he gave me a signed Xmas card in a bag of penny candy the writing on the labels some in Russian, some in Hebrew, and some in English. Very nice of him dont you think?

I miss that guy! I miss my job at 4 NY Plaza!

Posted by: ChrisM at April 9, 2004 1:29 PM

I love my coffee guy...but I buy my cup o' joe before I get on the F at Kings Hwy. As soon as I open the door, he is getting my coffee for me...large w/milk no sugar. As for the man in the box outside my building...since we have a cafina machine in my office...it's a do-it-yourself coffe jolt for me.

Posted by: SueT at April 12, 2004 12:13 PM

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