Inside 9 Bar Cafe, a Roman Espresso Bar in Downtown Jersey City
Cannoli flown in from Sicily served on an LED-embedded table at 9 Bar Cafe in Jersey City
All photos by Adam Robb for the Village Voice
While Top Chef alumnus Dale Talde's forthcoming Carrino Provisions and a second location of his eponymous Park Slope restaurant are partly responsible for arcing Jersey City's Newark Avenue restaurant row northward to a residential stretch of Erie Street, they're not the only impetus. Now open next door to their long-papered windows is 9 Bar Cafe (18 Erie Street, Jersey City), a Roman-inspired espresso bar from longtime neighborhood resident Stefania Cocozza.
Cocozza is an industry veteran with two decades of experience in coffee education. She also sold Italian roasters like Torrefazzione and Illy in cities from Seattle to New York. "I was born and raised in Rome, and coffee is our culture — it's a daily routine. It's a way to socialize, to get out of the office, to meet friends," she says. "But my education started when I came to the United States twenty years ago and worked for a third-generation Italian roaster in Seattle." And while the first brand she represented was bought out by Starbucks, that roaster's son now produces 9 Bar Cafe's house blend.
While she's reluctant to give the brand too much buzz, Cocozza conducted two blind tastings with chef friends to select this West Coast roast she now serves in every beverage from cold brew to off-menu marocchinos. She's keeping the blend a house secret until she's ready to commence selling beans and leading after-hours workshops.
"I am going to retail the coffee — but I'm very overprotective about it," she says. "It's not so much not telling what it is, but to make good coffee, espresso, to produce a perfect shot, it's not just the coffee. It's the machine, the temperature, the barista. If you don't know the process, I tell people, don't spend the money; get the cheapest coffee you can get. It doesn't matter, you'll never get a good cup of coffee."
Owner Stefania Cocozza prepares an off-menu marocchino on her Faema espresso machine.
Not all the cafe's sources remain confidential, however. Every morning, the counter is stocked with baguettes and pastry from Amy's Bread, which also provides the focaccia for a lunchtime Caprese sandwich layered with fresh mozzarella from Lisa's Italian Deli in Hoboken. Desserts, meanwhile, are made near and far. Pistachio cheesecake and Grandmother Cake, a light custard topped with pine nuts, are supplied from a baker friend in-state, while chocolate-lined cannoli shells plump with thick, sugary ricotta are shipped from the bakery of family friends in Agrigento, Sicily.
Sweetness also finds its way into the porcelain cups dotting the back counter, where the neighborhood's still prominent Italian population pops in day and evening to congregate over shots. The cafe uses Amadei chocolate for hot chocolate and mocha drinks, and has plans to collaborate with its new neighbor.
The Caprese sandwich, made with focaccia from Amy's Bread, and fresh mozzarella from Lisa's in Hoboken
That's not Talde, by the way. "They come here every single day. But I don't want to ask them any more [when they're opening]. It's painful when people keep asking — you have to go through a lot of procedures," Cocozza says.
No, she plans on joining up with next-door ice cream parlor Torico's on an affogato, which she'll offer later this year, alongside espresso and lemon granitas. "I want to support my neighbors," she says.
And already, she finds her neighbors support her. "I have a lot of the Italians, they come and have their shot two, three times a day. I like to see them coming back, they give good comments," she says.
Find Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.