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Coffee in a New York Minute

From the big chain to the corner cart, who’s got the fastest coffee in NYC and is it worth the price? Ben Popken puts the coffee shops to the test.

Coffee drinkers can be forgiven for being a little antsy.

Amid a global rise in coffee prices, that toe-tapping wait for a cup has gotten a bit more unbearable. Starbucks was forced to raise its prices as much as 15 cents a cup. Homebrewing is no escape either. This week, Kraft Foods announced it would be raising the prices on most of its single-serve coffees, notably its popular line of single-serve "K-Cups," for the first time.

So, it's back to the counter for consumers. But when all they need is a pick-me-up from just a basic cup of black coffee, waiting through inefficient counter service can be a let-down. Especially in a place like go-go New York, where it seems there's a coffee shop on every corner and a line to go along with it.

Perhaps that is why Starbucks announced in 2015 that it will be launching new streamlined stores in New York. They're supposed to be faster, with smaller sizes and a more limited menu. To speed transactions, they'll only accept credit cards or pay-by-phone.

Just how bad can the wait get if the nation's biggest coffee retailer has to streamline operations? And what's the tradeoff between time and quality?

Pre-made coffee, ideally, should just be pour, pay, and go. But you can lose on flavor.

"If you pregrind your coffee, your volatiles start disappearing because you've increased the surface area over 100 times," said Wes Johansen, a Los Angeles-based barista and star of Buzzfeed's "Cheap Coffee Reviewed by a Coffee Expert" video.

"Those are what gives coffee its special flavor," he said, as well as some of its reported health benefits.

That might push a coffee drinker to a fancier place that charges more for a pour-over, where the coffee is personally brewed in front of you. Or inside a special beaker, like a trendy Chemex.

But when you're choosing stores, "the real differences are pretty minor," said Kevin Sinnot, author of "The Art & Craft of Coffee." Mainly, he said, it's how high-quality the beans are, and how freshly brewed the coffee is.

As for everything else, "sometimes people enjoy smoke and mirrors," he said.

To cut through the haze, decided to put a few of Gotham's coffee joints to the test. We grabbed a timer and our cameras to see who's got the fastest and best "cuppa joe" in the city among a few representative coffee shops. The clock started the moment we crossed the threshold and got on line, and stopped once we were served and walked out the door.

It was a bit like playing coffee detective...