Primrose & WTF Coffee Lab - Two Cafe Visions in Brooklyn

Primrose & WTF Coffee Lab - Two Cafe Visions in Brooklyn

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:39 pm

Over the past few weeks, I stopped into two recent cafe additions to the still-shifting Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill - Primrose and WTF Coffee Lab. However, a number of differences in texture, attitude, and sadly, espresso quality, divides these two. But despite the quality differences, the two cafes are great examples of differing takes on the cafe, and the different purposes they serve, even though they are just a short walk or bike ride from each other.

A word or three on Ft. Greene and Clinton Hill. These two adjacent neighborhoods are mixed between startlingly lush tree-lined long avenues of classic brownstones with hidden gardens and overgrowth, and towering housing projects that bisect the regions and counter the continuously encroaching gentrification and increasing influx of affluence. Somewhere on the map, more Ft. Greene than Clinton Hill is the art school, the Pratt Institute. As with all areas, the borders between the communities are a matter of real estate broker perspective.
Clinton Hill is still the less gentrified area, with the greater number of housing projects, and bordering on Bed-Stuy and Prospect Heights. Ft. Greene borders on the Brooklyn Academy of Music and downtown Brooklyn, and contains the lovely Ft. Greene Park. Regardless, the entire area lends itself to seasonal walks through the leafy streets or cozy sits inside with a coffee and a lover.

The cropping up of cafes concentrating on craft coffee/espresso (and organic scones and such) is the modern urban indicator of how much a neighborhood is gentrifying. While just a couple of years ago, the restaurant, General Greene was the only place to have a decent espresso between the now-mediocre Gorilla in North Park Slope and Gimmie! in pre-Blue Bottle (and others) in Williamsburg, the addition of at least WTF, and some say Primrose, have made the neighborhoods a coffee tour destination, even earning both a mention in the NY Times' coffee guru Oliver Strand's coffee map (available on The Scoop NY Times app).
[Granted, some might counter that the mainstay Smooch (depicted in the brilliant HBO - Jonathan Ames series Bored to Death) should also be mentioned, but the coffee/espresso there is fair to terrible. However, the sandwiches are delightful and the seats inside and out are usually filled with sexy Brooklyn writers tapping away on laptops-the second best reason to stop into a cafe.]

WTF (website: is quietly nested on a tree-lined stretch of Willoughby between Adelphi and Clermont, just east of Ft. Greene Park. Inside, the cafe is bright, but quite small, with raised counters on either end. Above the counters, the side-walls are lined with the chemistry-lab like glass drip equipment that west coast and now NY stalwarts of Blue Bottle and Stumptown have introduced. There is no seating. This style has become more prevalent and is indicative of the at-the-bar manner of having an espresso rather than the long sit at a cafe. True to the Coffee Lab name, the concentration here is on various methodologies of extraction, from espresso pulled on the La Marzocco to long coffees prepared via Siphon, French Press, pour over methods, or Cold Brew through the aforementioned drip chemistry equipment. WTF also offers a number of routinely-changing bean choices from Coffee Lab roaster in Tarrytown, just upstate from NYC.
The large front windows allow for the tree-diffused light to brighten the storefront. A small group of cafe-typical pastries fill a short case. There is no other food available. Thus the real concentration is on coffee. And both times I've dropped in, the espresso has been excellent - tight shots with neither a hint of bitter nor sour. The baristas on the days I visited were more Williamsburg or Greenpoint than For Greene/Clinton Hill, (but that demographic is also shifting) and were a bit unfriendly, even douchy, obvious grads of the of the holier-than-thou, too-cool barista no-charm school. However, the music was pristine on one visit with Godspeed You Black Emperor pouring out into the streets - a great and unusual choice to offset (or maybe accentuate) the almost pretentious atmosphere. Baristas aside, the area was begging for a real coffee geek joint, and now thankfully has one.

Almost everything that WTF is, Primrose is not. Primrose ( is located on Greene St., between Waverly and Washington, just southeast of WTF. The cafe is located on the groundfloor of a brownstone, across the street from the play yard of a busy elementary school. Outside the entrance, just in from the street is a table, a bench and a few chairs for outdoors enjoyment. The inside is cozy and cave-like, with numerous tables in both front and rear sections. This is a writer's cafe, a winter cafe, a cafe to chill out away from the world with the latest Paul Auster book, a cafe in which to have a sandwich or croissant, a cafe to glance up at a potential crush. (Yours truly even found a moment of romance, receiving a sweet smile from a packing up blonde upon entering.) But this is not a cafe at which to get decent espresso.

When I asked the barista for an espresso, his voice had some notable concern in telling me "We only do double shots, is that ok?" This double-shot warning is seldom a noted detail with almost every self-respecting barista now puling double or triple shots and usually in the short, intense ristretto style. So I queried back "double ristretto, yeah?" to which I received a puzzled look. So I asked again, this time translating to "short." He was still unaware, and I said to forget it. At that point I knew I was doomed. The shot came out with thin, light crema and was somehow bitter and sour - he must've been trained by a Parisian. Although I was satisfied to sit out front, finishing off a book, the espresso remained in the cup.

Next time I'm biking in the area, I'll stop in to WTF for espresso, then head to Primrose for a pan au chocolat while I write the next review.
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Re: Primrose & WTF Coffee Lab - Two Cafe Visions in Brooklyn

Postby CAP » Sun Oct 21, 2012 11:08 pm

Note to British Readers: The term prat (or Pratt) carries no risqué connotations in America, unfortunately. :lol:
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