Meet New York's "Coffee Nazi"

New York Post: It was after the third “act of violence” at Ninth Street Espresso (left) in the East Village that owner Ken Nye held a staff meeting. The strict policies of the coffee shop — including the refusal to sell espresso to go — had so enraged one customer that he threw a tip jar across the store in protest.

Now, the to-go espresso “is not a die-hard rule — it’s just a very strong suggestion,” says Nye, who may be the city’s original “coffee nazi,” as he was dubbed by the press when his shop first opened in 2001.

Yes, coffee can incite near-riots for caffeine-starved New Yorkers who want their brew exactly how they’re used to it — and fast. Just ask Alec Baldwin. Last week, the actor threw a tantrum in a Starbucks on 93rd Street over the apparent “attitude problem” of an “uptight barista” who couldn’t get his order right.

But serious — some might say uptight — coffee culture, which has roots in the Pacific Northwest, has been picking up steam in New York. Often referred to as “third-wave coffee,” its proponents take roasted beans as seriously as wine. At these serious locales, you don’t want to order your coffee light and sweet, deli-style. Or commit the sin of drinking your espresso out of a paper cup. (Both ordering habits ruin the flavor.)

Nye, who now operates three Ninth Street Espressos (the first at 700 E. Ninth St.; plus two other locations), is proud to be an early adopter of the specialty coffee movement. “[Ten years ago] there was no commercial coffee culture in NYC,” says the native New Yorker. “Not a single high-end specialty coffee place. It was chain places, delis, diners.”

Still, not everyone appreciates the passion of the self-professed “coffee geek.” When the store opened, “I literally got called a coffee nazi!” he exclaims, still sounding slightly hurt.

“Which, I guess there was truth to, because I would definitely say no to customers on a pretty regular basis. I would say no [to something] every day. But not to be elitist — I would be willing to share my understanding and explain to them why I thought that.”

His most famous “no” was espresso to go. “Espresso over ice was another one. Then there’s just all the clichés created by the big-chain coffee companies, where you can ask for 40 specific things, like ‘tall skinny half-decaf, extra-hot . . .’ We’d just listen to them, let them finish, and we’d just say no. And [then] we’d explain why.”

Alec Baldwin, consider yourself warned.


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