The trees are turning, apple orchards crowding and hay-lined fields of orange oblongs have sprouted from every church lawn and vacant lot in sight. Despite being 80 degrees and the surfcasters still out on the beach below Montauk Lighthouse, it's unfortunately quite official: the Hamptons summer season has ended. It's a fact I'm as reluctant in accepting as the United States Government does double-digit unemployment (which you can thank, in part, for this blog entry). Nevertheless, I've fully come to terms with the transition, and can now embrace the season of cider donuts and the annual dusting off ritual of my It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown DVD.
Furthermore, with the busyness of boating and beach vegation subsided and yours truly now slowly regaining his concept of time, this arabica bean-obsessed blogger said to himself, "Well, what better time to reflect and tease myself with what I'll be waiting another 7 months for by wordsmithing a summer caffeinated critique East End's premier perk points?"
My family has had a home amidst this summer playground for four generations, and despite its fame for world-class restaurants, $20m Sagaponack sandcastles and Billy Joel sightings, this celebrated vacatia was until recently a relatively rough climate for java junkies—with only corporate caffeine or diner-grade dishwater to be sipped. Until relocating from full-time California residence and discovering my other options, my summers became characterized by being rudely shoved into in line at the Southampton Golden Pear by Fabio-esque Eurotrash in man capris trying to pull off the cardigan-as-a-scarf look on a 90-degree July day or the broletariat en route to Neptune's—and you can bet your macchiato none of them ever said "excuse me." Just way too many v-necks and blowouts to deal with way too early in the morning (and before my first cuppa, no less).
But the New York City coffee revolution rubbed off on its summer satellite location. First, Hampton Coffee Company and Java Nation established the South Fork's first real roasteries. FourBucks and Panera Bread soon augmented diners and Dunkin' Donuts, and non-coffee centric establishments like The Golden Pear, Southampton Village Cheese Shop and Westhampton's Beach Bakery started springing for espresso machines. So much steam did the gourmet caffeinated cause clearly gain that, in 2008, the unthinkable happened: the Southampton Starbucks closed. Two years later came non-corporate Coffee Tauk and city stalwart Jack's Stir Brew. Who knows what's next?
Here are my personal favorite options to buy local and taste the best bean-soaked water the greater Hamptons has to offer—each and every one personally endorsed.
We've Got Jack
Jack's Stir Brew (Amagansett)
And we couldn't be prouder. This West Village institution, New York City's first fair-trade perk purveyor, established its easternmost location in Amagansett in the Spring of 2010 and completed the hipster fisherman-themed cafe in something like 72 hours from start to finish—almost certainly under the influence of certain bean-derived stimulants. Even President Obama is said to have stopped in for a cuppa from Jack Mazzola's patented stir brewer. Hardly just a 212 trend anymore, the third location makes its home in an eclectically decorated cottage on the south side of Montauk Highway brimming with maritime memorabilia, from dock crate tables to fish nets strung from the ceiling. How about a Happy Jack (triple ristretto latte with fresh honey) over an organic vegan kosher scone? The cafe is so chock full of piquant vegan and fair trade specialty foods it nearly doubles as an organic market, some so figurately crunchy they could make common granola seem as offensive as veal. While I'll avoid ranking the remainder of my perk picks, I'll unabashedly name Jack's of Amagansett my favorite spot to score perk anywhere on the East End—and count it among my all-time favorite ever. Year round. $5 credit card minimum.
Beans to an End
Coffee Tauk (Montauk)
Montauk gained this minimalist-chic cosmopolitan coffee spot in Summer 2010, and it's earned a fast and loyal following from grommets to grandpas. Set in a brand new digs on a quiet block between the beach and village, it made gnarly first impressions with its punny name, drawn from 1990s Mike Myers SNL character Linda), flashy flat screen monitor menus and consistently poured latte rosettas. But despite the diggable ambiance, the espresso possessed an overwhelmingly lemony bitterness of robusta that, no matter how hard I tried to like it, just wasn't working for me. Perhaps it was growing pains, as this summer found baristas pulling smooth shots of Gimme! as good as any. The cafe itself, a bright, well-lighted space with molded metal seats, is a slight throwback to mid-90s Silicon Valley cybercafe. (Extra points for the hands-free foam soap dispenser in the facility). Coffee Tauk currently serves exclusively Gimme! coffee, including their proprietary Fisherman's Blend, complimented by pastries from Mary's Marvelous in Amagansett and chilled selections from Il Laboratorio from Gelato. My only complaint: the pasty case was empty by every afternoon visit I've made all summer. Closed Oct-April. Credit cards accepted.
A Little Italy
Most local java joints are business ventures. Others you get the sense aren't so much businesses, rather one person with a passion. Meet the encyclopedic example. Sicilian-born barista and biscottier Aldo Maiorana is somewhat of a celebrity in Greenport, sprinkling the air with sweet otherworldly aromas to lure locals and tourists alike into his labor of love Front Street microroastery instead of the Starbucks across the street. From his hand-crafted coffees to doughy, fresh-from-the-oven scones, everything Aldo touches turns to perfection. His artisanal roasts represent an innate mastery only understandable when watching him in action, as patrons frequently can. Like a piano tuner working by ear, he seems to use sensory guidance, not methodology, to attain the desired results. That apparent natural gift and unfaltering personal standards bring nothing but bold, stately flavors from every cup: eloquently pronounced, not overpowering and not in the least bit watercolor. A step into his storefront, which sits seemingly at a slant, is instantaneous teleportation to a 1930s Neopolitan espresso bar. There's no signs advertising free WiFi, and no smooth jazz. A copper-domed Rancilio espresso maker, a relic of perk past where "pulling shots" was done literally—by yanking a handle—flanks the entrance, though doesn't get the per diem use. It's fun to look at while you're waiting in lengthy lines of those whose noses also caught the baking beans or doughy, fresh-from-the-oven scones and rode it straight to the source. After all, Aldo is an artist, and any impatient customers who can't appreciate that are welcome to cross the street. Year round. Cash Only.
Estate Grown, Locally Known
Hampton Coffee Co. (Water Mill, Westhampton Beach)
Opened in 1994, Hampton Coffee Company in Water Mill is a veritable cornucopia for breakfast bon vivants. Located along Montauk Highway at Deerfield Rd, this converted auto garage compound is home to the company's roasting facilities, a full-service breakfast cafe, third party guest kiosk (most recently the Soft Serve Fruit Company) and most importantly, a to go-style espresso bar with a full line of hot and cold caffeinated beverages. You're likely to spot the Southampton Range Rovers convoy lining up on Saturday morning, but not to fear: even the worst parking situations still beat the line at Golden Pear. Once you're in, you'll be greeted by the greatness of their rich, bodied roasts, a sizable selection of Monin flavor syrups and a FourBucks-style menu boards. Owners Jason and Theresa Belkin opened a second location in Westhampton Beach in 2002, and maintain a mobile unit dispatched to cater the caffeination needs ot the Hampton Classic and other area events. Most recently, a Hampton Coffee-branded espresso bar also opened inside Sag Harbor's hip LT Burger. Year round. Credit cards accepted.
Java Nation (Sag Harbor)
Java Nation is a hidden gem, that welcome bastion of "Un-Hampton" your average tourist might not find—nor would locals want them to. A few steps in from Main Street, the side alley microroastery, decorated only by a Diedrich drum roaster and painted burlap coffee sacks, is grittier than the glitzy Golden Pear down the block, but in every way more fit for the storied whaling town historically home to salty sea captains and John Steinbeck. The concentration here is the coffee with little else to distract, which is great considering it's what you came for. My average latte here has been more of a wet cappuccino—you won't wind rosettas poured in your crema—but the product, while simple in presentation, is unfaltering fresh. It's more of a grab-and-go joint you probably won't want to linger in, but there's a few nice tables on the outside patio, and you can always imbibe over a walk down Long Wharf to gawk Jimmy Buffett's 180'+ "Continental Drifter" and the rest of the Cayman Navy. Year round.
These spots aren't all about joe and might not fancily free pour with latte art, but they're all great, local, non-corporate establishments for a brewed awakening—and each a draw in their own right:
The Golden Pear — Southampton/Bridghampton/East Hampton/Sag Harbor
Blue Duck Bakery Café — Southampton (serves Hampton Coffee Co.)
Water Mill Cupcake Co. — Water Mill
Mary's Marvelous — Amagansett
The Village Gourmet Cheese Shop — Southampton
Beach Bakery Café — Westhampton Beach
For a taste of the Hampton's most unusual perk point, stop in Sag Harbor's Sylvester & Co., a postmodern 21st century general store complete with its own self serve coffee bar. No espresso, but what did you expect?
Note: Unless noted otherwise, remember most of these fine perk purveyors do their thing open year round. So if you're out east during the off season, be sure to stop in and show them some love—they'll be needing it.
For more perk pointers from a beach bum caffiend, be sure to visit the author's coffee and culture blog: http://perksandrecreation.blogspot.com