The Jew And The Carrot

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Makes New York Debut

By Michael Kaminer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Flickr: randomwire

Starbucks may have famously flopped in Israel back in 2003. But with 14 stores and counting, LA-based chain Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has managed to gain a healthy foothold among Holy Land locals and American expats — partly because, as local-info site has noted, the stores are all kosher.

Now, with a similar tweaking of its global offerings to suit local tastes, the chain has finally opened a New York City outlet.

The new store, at Broadway and 39th Street in Manhattan’s shmate district, lacks the slightly shopworn charm of its LA locations — a comfy vibe that belies a mammoth footprint in 22 countries — but brings a fresh face to the city’s saturated hot-beverage market.

As with Coffee Bean’s Israeli and West Coast outlets, all the food here is kosher. Sandwiches and salads come from upscale Brooklyn megamarket Pomegranate, while baked goods have been sourced from a Bergen County, NJ purveyor. Edibles have been designed specifically for New York tastes, according to Bob Kaufman, the chain’s vp of business development. “New York’s the culinary epicenter of the kosher world,” said Kaufman, who happened to be taking a meeting at the new store. “You gotta bring your A-game.”

The 1,500-square-foot space has also been “Manhattan’ed up”, as Kaufman put it. A decades-old terrazzo floor, unearthed during renovations, has been restored to its full glory. Giant color prints by longtime nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan line one wall, while tufted white fabric lines the opposite. Banquettes are fashioned from reclaimed coffee-bean sacks.

Founded as a single humble Brentwood café in 1963 by Mona and Herbert Hyman, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is now an 800-store behemoth owned by Singapore-based Jewish brothers Victor and Sunny Sassoon; Sunny oversees operations from an LA base. Along with its Israeli outlets, the company boasts franchise locations across the Middle East. In Los Angeles, the chain’s developed a rabidly loyal following, as well as a healthy sprinkling of glitter from celeb traffic. Coffee Bean has even earned its own “Celebs love it!” page, featuring on-the-run, cup-clutching stars, on fashion-gossip site

Why did the chain wait so long to head east? “New York’s always been a market that’s been a goal of the company,” Kaufman said. “But we needed the right strategy. It’s not just about opening a single location. We’re coming in prepared to push hard and open enough stores to solidify our presence in the market.” The chain plans to open 5-10 stores a year in New York, with three more planned for 2011 alone, Kaufman said — though he declined to name locations.

By then, hopefully the chain’s coffee will improve. A Forward reporter ordered a “for here” espresso; a barista pulled the shot from one of the store’s two hulking Simonelli machines into a large paper cup. A request for a proper porcelain espresso cup was cheerfully accommodated, and another shot dutifully pulled. Though it came with a decent crema, the espresso lacked depth or complexity. A cup of Viennese roast — the day’s “bold” brewed-coffee offering — suffered from a slightly burnt edge that strangled its flavor.

At the counter, coffee accompaniments include gimmicky but tasty pastries like a jalapeno cheese bagel ($1.25) and “pretzel donut” ($2.95) whose sweet coating resembles salt crystals. The store’s veg-friendly lunch offerings — all branded Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf —— include plump sandwiches like pepper jack and Portobello ($7.25) and Japanese eggplant ($7.95), along with generous wraps like spicy burrito ($7.95) and avocado ($7.95). Straightforward nicoise ($7.75) and salmon ($8.25) salads offer decent value, especially in a part of town rife where exorbitant, mediocre lunch tables predominate. Out-of-towners can also take home Dylan’s Candy Bar souvenir chocolate slabs ($5), strategically placed at cash registers.

Coffee Bean also packages its namesake product ($13.95) in pedestrian varieties like Bali Blue Moon and Colombia Narino Dark. More intriguing signature teas — pomegranate blueberry ($10.20 for box of 20 bags), apricot Ceylon, Japanese cherry, and strawberry cream (all $8.20) — come in tall tins.

Perez Hilton, Jessica Alba, Rachel Bilson, Charlize Theron, Mila Kunis, Eva Mendes, and an endless list of celebs may “love their Coffee Bean,” as Stylelist proclaims. But before the chain’s bright purple cup-sleeves achieve showoff status here, the java itself will have to strive for the same “A-game” as the food.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tea Leaf, Kosher, New York City, Coffee Bean

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.