Tucked under the High Line in Chelsea is a brand new cafe that also serves as a bit of a testament to communities of interest. Under Line Coffee opened its doors just a few weeks ago, in a quiet little space tucked off the main beaten path just North of Chelsea Market. The space is designed simply, with little flash and tastefully subtle details - a floral design is painted on the floor, a scrap of leather is fitted into one of the front tables, the main bar features a thermally reactive coating that reveals a poem written by hand beneath the surface. Walking in, it was a bit dark, perhaps due to the color palette, or perhaps because the lighting had not been fully realized by the time I stopped in. Indeed, while the doors were open, the cafe was still gearing up for its full service potential, and had not begun using its ceramic serviceware for most drinks, except perhaps for straight espresso.
Image source: underlinecoffee on Instagram
But its raw bone structure showed promise, and gave strong hints of a unique character to come. Rather than the typical ACF or d’Ancap, or the more modern Not Neutral ceramic serviceware you might find at most cafes, Under Line chose to go with a rather unique porcelain - each piece featuring a series of decorative dimples that betrays just how thin and delicate the cup or plate is. They are light and plain, but not unrefined. Perhaps in contrast, the Kees van der Westen Mirage Idrocompresso behind the bar, with its gleaming curves and lever handles proudly lofted upward, is one of the more glamorous and eyecatching espresso machines available today.
Most interesting to me are the custom-made copper pour over stands and kettles. Made by Monarch Methods, the radiant copper stands weren’t fully mounted during my visit, but certainly stood out against the dark bar. The small pouring kettles are wrapped in thick leather, forgoing handles entirely. I do wonder if they will have sufficient volume for a full Beehouse brew, but that will be determined by a future visit, I’m certain. Still, the sanded copper locks in some warmth to the color palette available to visitors - imagine deep red-brown coffee blooming in a stark white Beehouse dripper, against bright copper on a dark background. I can already see myself sitting for a few hours at that bar, chatting with the barista.
So, let’s talk about the coffee then, the key component of this formula. I’m no stranger to the Toby’s Estate beans they serve, and the small cappuccino I was served featured the Flatiron blend well. It was clear that my barista was still working on his milk steaming technique, and the blobby foam suffered from the blandness of a touch too much air. Beyond that, the flavor was good and sweet, the espresso offering a caramel and dark chocolate counterpoint to tie the drink together. If drip-brewed coffee had been available, I would have sampled that, but I suppose I’ll need to wait for a future visit. I did note that batch french press brews were available, but I opted to skip this time.
The whole reason I stopped in, however, was because of a simple and gracious post on Reddit’s /r/coffee subreddit. Brandon told us how the community had helped him grow as a barista, and refine his passion for coffee - which allowed him to contribute that much more to the formation of Under Line. As a frequent contributor to the community myself, I was a bit proud of my fellow coffee enthusiasts, as this felt like a success story for a group of people more often known for perceived snobbery. I freely admit to being a bit of a snob myself, but only because I think it has done wonderful things for my own coffee experience, and I’d love to share that same feeling with others who may be open to it. I think that’s exactly what Brandon is doing, and you can see it in his own posts on social media. He’s proud of his progress, he’s thankful for the help he’s received, and he’s appreciative of the community that has come together to help people just like him. That’s one of my favorite parts about online social media, so I jumped at the opportunity to come experience the culmination of his hard work myself.
I think Under Line has a few growing pains to work through, and needs a little more time before they’ve fully come to their own and refined their coffee program, but I would still recommend a visit. It’s easy to gravitate toward the well-oiled and more dominant machine of Intelligentsia nearby, but Under Line is set to give them a good bit of friendly competition I think. Hell, if you’re up to it, stop by both and grab an espresso from each - I think you’ll find they are both worth the money and the caffeine jitters.
Image source: underlinecoffee on Instagram