A café-au-lait made at home. (Sanjana Kaicker / Sun Staff Writer)

June 26, 2020

(Coffee) Love in the Time of Corona: The Pandemic’s Effects on New York Coffee Culture

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Coffee has long been a New York City staple and a treasured morning ritual for many of the city’s inhabitants. Aside from the usual chains—Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, among others—the city is famous for its plethora of hipster, local coffee shops. In the height of COVID-19, however, many of the city’s beloved spots have been forced to temporarily close.

A recent New York Times article titled “Coffee Is One Routine New Yorkers Won’t Give Up” describes how customers and baristas alike have dealt with the crisis. Even with stay-at-home orders firmly in place, New Yorkers have clung onto their caffeine rituals in order to maintain a sense of normalcy in their daily lives. The coffee shops that have stayed open as take-out only remain in business with grateful regulars who tip generously.

Ever since I started drinking coffee in high school, I have depended on local coffee shops (and the halal cart outside my alma mater) to get me through the day. Now, I am just one of many regular coffee drinkers who have had to learn how to brew their own coffee instead. The bright side is that brewing your own coffee is exponentially cheaper in the long run. A bag of grounds which makes roughly forty cups, goes for about $10 on average. Without the Gimme! Coffee in Gates Hall or being able to go to Café Grumpy near my house, I have finally learned how to make a café au lait with my favorite oat milk, Oatly, and I brew the coffee using either a french press or a mechanical drip coffee machine.

Laughing Man Coffee in Tribeca, N.Y. (Sanjana Kaicker / Sun Staff Writer)

After my final exams ended, I spent two hours biking around Lower Manhattan in search of a coffee shop that was still open. Five out of the six locations I went to that were mentioned as still open on Google Maps—including well-known shops such as Brooklyn Diamond Coffee and Blackstone Coffee Roaster—were closed.

Luckily, when I arrived at Laughing Man Coffee, it was still open fifteen minutes before its closing time. As I ordered an iced oat latte, I chatted with some of the staff who explained how the pandemic has impacted business.

“A lot of our community has gone on vacation to separate themselves but business becomes busier and busier every day,” one of the baristas said. “At first, business was impacted for the worse since [the store] closed down. Our last day was March 19th and we actually lost a couple of employees after the shutdown.”

This adversity didn’t stop Laughing Man from rebounding, however. “Once we opened up, a lot of people noticed we were open and spread the word. Every day we make more and more profit. Their tips show support and that they appreciate us.”

A small iced oat milk latte from Laughing Man Coffee. (Sanjana Kaicker / Sun Staff Writer)

Some businesses—such as Eye Solutions, an optician and eyeglasses retailer—were scheduled to open on June 1st. But the city has a long way to go before it reopens all of its basic businesses, let alone leisure spots and nonessential services such as coffee shops. New Yorkers are unshaken, though, with many renting Citi Bikes for the day and picnicking in local parks (although this has sparked a lot of racial tension and controversy, with some people being chastised more than others for not wearing masks).

Then again, some New Yorkers may even see coffee as a necessity, doing whatever they can to support local shops such as Laughing Man Coffee. Despite the ongoing anxiety over the coronavirus, New York City remains the city that never sleeps—and caffeine may be the reason.


Sanjana Kaicker is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].