New York City, the city that has a restaurant or some sort of food place at every other turn, is a place where so many coffee and tea lovers like myself know that they’ll have plenty of options. With all of these options in mind, and bearing in mind the amount of black business owners who have suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, why not take the opportunity to be a better ally and support the black-owned businesses around the city? There are plenty of black-owned cafes to explore around the city, particularly in Brooklyn, and you’re sure to fall in love with at least two or three of these small places. Because they’re all small businesses, the owners all have wonderful origin stories, so by stopping for coffee and a pastry, you’re nourishing a dream that’s just come to life. Additionally, these places are all vegan as well as allergen-friendly!
So on your next visit to the city, be sure to bring your appetite and plenty of money to tip, because these cafes are the best around.
- Cafe on Ralph- 370 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
Well known for being the all-day breakfast spot in Bed-Stuy, Cafe on Ralph is known for their waffles, grits, and eggs benedict bowls. Their vegan options include acai bowls and pancakes, and if you’re not an all-day breakfast type, they have plenty of main courses such as smoked salmon and mac and cheese. As for their beverages, they offer a wide variety of espressos, coffees, and teas, both iced and hot, with both dairy and non-dairy milk options, including oat milk (the matcha latte with oat milk will not disappoint any matcha lovers, either hot or iced.) They also have various smoothie blends for those who don’t like coffee or tea, although the Sour Blue smoothie does contain nuts. All in all, there’s a reason for Cafe on Ralph’s numerous five-star reviews on the internet, and the prices are very reasonable considering the quality of the food and beverages.
- Bushwick Grind- 63 Whipple Street, Brooklyn, NY (Bushwick)
Bushwick Grind is fairly new, only having opened in April 2015, but that is largely a part of what makes this cafe as great as it is- the food is all up-to-date in terms of common dietary restrictions and allergens. The cafe itself was started by Long Island native Kymme Williams who frequently visited her grandmother in Bushwick and noticed that there weren’t a lot of sit-down coffee places, so she and her husband created a comfortable, welcoming cafe with high-quality coffee, tea, and food. They also emphasize their organic “superfood” ingredients, which include ginger root, sea moss, elderberry, and hemp seeds. The highlight of their original beverage creations would have to be their rooibos chai latte with almond milk; it’s a mixture of almond milk, rooibos tea leaves, and chai spice, which creates a bittersweet taste that will leave you wanting more. In light of their growing popularity, they also have begun creating pop-up shops and catering events, so be sure to follow their social media!
- Brown Butter Craft Bar/Kitchen-413 Tompkins Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
This is another fantastic Bed-Stuy option, and it’s also fairly new to the Tompkins Avenue Strip. They serve a variety of coffee and espresso, including a rich cold brew, and a wider variety of spiced teas both iced and hot, such as chamomile, mint, and ginger. Additionally, they have quite a few specialty hot drinks such as turmeric chai lattes (which can easily be served with almond or oat milk), although their number one house specialty is a Haitian Hot Chocolate (the owner herself is Haitian), which is simply raw Haitian cocoa with steamed evaporated milk and syrup. In terms of food, their pastries are the most highly praised, and everything is always served fresh. Owner Myriam Nicolas has a passion for baking, and her dedication to providing comfort food has turned her into a must-go for anyone in the area.
- Serengeti Tea and Spices-22 East 125th Street, Manhattan, NY (Harlem)
This tiny place in Harlem is home to some of the widest varieties of teas in New York City. If you’re a tea person, this is your paradise- I didn’t even know that there were that many kinds of green tea (honeysuckle cherry green tea? Is this even real?), let alone all of the other varieties. They carry a large selection of rare African teas as well as numerous African coffee brews, whose origins and cultivation stories were fascinating to learn about. Although the drinks are rather pricey, the exquisite taste is utterly worth it. It’s just a six-minute walk from Columbia University, so if you’re hanging around there, it’s absolutely worth the stroll down Martin Luther King Boulevard.
- Secret Garden Juice Bar and Tea House- 347 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn NY (Bedford-Stuyvesant)
Yet another modern, up-and-coming Bed-Stuy hidden gem, this tiny cafe is a must for anyone who loves the early 20th century England aesthetic. This little place, founded by Barbados-born Joy Thomas, almost feels like you’re in some sort of storybook. Thomas created this cafe based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same name, which was her favorite book as a child. Sure enough, when she came to the United States, she opened her very own vegan cafe that she hoped would feel as otherworldly and as welcoming as the titular garden in her favorite book always made her feel. Additionally, quite a few of the teas are named after zodiac signs, another common modern interest (for example, the Scorpio drink is black tea.) Other teas are named after references to the novel, such as “Live Again,” a peppermint green tea, and “Moon Milk,” a mixture of turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coconut, and nutmeg spices all combined with oat milk. This is another one that’s growing in popularity, so again be sure to follow them on social media!
- *Bonus* Whipped Urban Desserts Lab-95 Orchard Street, Manhattan, NY (SoHo)
As someone who frequents New York City, I have to add another incredible black-owned business that isn’t quite a cafe, but is in fact an ice cream place- a vegan ice cream place to be exact. At Whipped Urban Desserts Lab, you can enjoy soft-serve oat milk ice cream along with all non-dairy toppings. They also are very careful with allergens, as there are nuts on the premises, but everything is cleaned right in front of you before your ice cream is prepared. Although this place is known mainly from the Internet, as it has a large following, this ice cream shop started as a small pop-up created by two black sisters from Brooklyn at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their rapidly growing social media following will likely lead to more locations being opened throughout the city, but for now, it’s worth the trip to Orchard Street in SoHo to give this incredible ice cream a try.
All in all, visiting any of these cafes will not be something you regret. You can also check out Black-Owned Brooklyn for more stories and places to go, and there are various TikTok accounts that also have wonderful black-owned recommendations. So as the city begins to reopen, keep your mask up and your money ready, and be a better ally by supporting these amazing business owners!