Coffee Talk: Where to Find Great Cups Across the Country
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These days, a good cup of coffee is not hard to find. But we've searched out the cream of the crop — small-batch roasters, craft-coffee makers and artisan baristas who are pioneers in the culture of coffee.
San Francisco: Philz Coffee
Phil Jaber, the owner and roaster of Philz, knows this much is true: Frank Sinatra was born to sing, and he was born to make coffee. He's been at it for over 25 years, combining beans and creating a new way of brewing. His customized coffee station allows the barista to make each cup individually. It's similar to a pour-over process but with a twist: Every cup is hand-blended to just how you like it. If you feel baffled by the menu of blends, take a deep breath, walk up to a barista and tell her it's your first time. Like a sommelier, she will find out what profile you like and brew you the best cup of coffee you've ever had. Seriously.
Philadelphia: La Colombe
La Colombe is like the Chanel of coffee — a classic. Founded in Philadelphia 20 years ago by Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti, two self-described coffee-geek expats from the Seattle Coffee movement of the '80s, La Colombe roasts and brews its coffee with years of experience that many younger artisans lack. The company is known for its old-school dark roasts and “Italian” preparation style, and regulars go wild for the big “bold” Fetco coffee profile. But the most-popular drink may be La Colombe’s iced coffee, made with hot coffee and a double shot of espresso. It’s a brilliant way to cool down and rev up.
Los Angeles: Caffe Luxxe
This elegant neighborhood coffee shop roasts and brews its own artisan blends of coffee daily in an environment that evokes a small European cafe. Caffe Luxxe specializes in coffee as fine art, and the perfection of a beautifully pulled cup each time. Its signature is the double ristretto shot — rich, mahogany-colored foam thick at the top, with fragrant espresso beneath. While the cafe gets some of the highest marks for its espresso drinks, it also has a reputation as a calming oasis, a civilized place to sit down, hang out and talk — with coffee, of course.
Mike Salvatore didn't grow up wanting to open a bike store and coffee shop, but we're happy he did. Heritage, which he owns with his wife, Melissa, seamlessly integrates the biking and coffee cultures. That means you can come to Heritage to buy a custom-designed, hand-welded, made-in-Chicago bike; to fix a flat; to grab freshly brewed pour-over or a cold-brewed Stumptown iced coffee; or to try on a new Yakkay helmet. To eat, enjoy sweet and savory treats from some of Chicago's finest kitchens, including Southport Grocery, and then bike away the calories!
New Orleans: Pulp and Grind
Peter and Cassi Dymond, who own the popular New Orleans Satsuma empire, branched out this year to open Pulp and Grind, a Warehouse District craft coffee shop and organic juice bar. Hey Café, a super-small local roaster, makes their cold brew iced coffee, while Orleans Roasters supplies their drip and decaf. Espresso comes from San Francisco’s Sightglass. Cold-pressed organic juice blends including the Nice Greens (spinach, kale, lemon, apple) and Clarity (carrot, lemon, parsley, ginger) continue Satsuma's commitment to all things freshly squeezed, while coffee and espresso offerings cover the classics, from mochas to cafe au lait. A small selection of homemade pastries is also served, ranging from treats like cherry oatmeal cookies and ginger pecan muffins to a savory ham, brie and pear quiche. It’s a smart way to capture those looking for a buzz and a healthy start at the same time.
New York City and Philadelphia: Joe, The Art of Coffee
In 2003, Jonathan Rubenstein founded Joe — a convivial neighborhood spot in Manhattan’s West Village with the simple vision of brewing the great coffee and having really nice people serve it. (No snooty barista attitude here.) He began by serving fair and traceable coffee, working with some of the most highly curated coffees from renowned domestic and international roasters, but in July 2013 he launched his own roasting operations in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Joe now roasts 100 percent of its own single-origin and blended offerings and has expanded to 10 cafes in New York and Philadelphia. Rubenstein also launched Joe Ed (in NYC and Philly), a school for coffee lovers with classes for novices and professionals ranging from espresso technique to latte art.
Seattle: Lighthouse Roasters
Since 1993, Lighthouse has been roasting and brewing over a dozen different coffees in small batches in vintage cast-iron roasters, building a community of coffee-loving friends along the way. Founder Ed Leebrick sources his beans from coffee farms and collectives who are as dedicated to their product as they are to their people. The shop is a popular gathering place and also serves as a gallery for local artists.
Austin: Flitch Coffee
Flitch Coffee's owner Erica Foster opened her coffee shop by raising money on Kickstarter and built it from repurposed materials with the help of her fiance’s construction business, Hatch Workshop. The couple completely gutted, renovated and built out a vintage Spartan trailer. From her trailer-as-coffee-shop, Foster operates six days a week and serves pour-over coffee and espresso drinks from two roasters: Evocation Coffee Roasters, a small-scale artisan roaster based in Amarillo, Texas, and Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, a larger artisan roaster from Wisconsin that offers a variety of direct-trade and organic coffees all over the world. “A cup of coffee can connect you with an idea, a new material, a solution or a friend,” says Foster. We couldn’t agree more.
Washington, D.C.: Baked and Wired
At this family-owned bakery and coffee shop in Georgetown, you can wake up every morning with small-batch baked goods and handcrafted espresso drinks. Their menu of creative treats is seriously good. It includes the Flapjack Cakecup, a maple brown butter cupcake with caramel buttercream and candied bacon on top, and the Soccer Mom Bar — their version of the seven-layer bar — made up of a graham cracker crust, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, pecans and lots of sweet, gooey stuff. If you're there just for the buzz, their coffees won't disappoint. They source from multiple roasters, including Stumptown, Intelligentsia, PT's and Elixr; their milk is from Trickling Springs and their microbrewed chai is from Mychai in Bend, Ore.
Durham, NC: Cocoa Cinnamon
Great coffee, a super-mellow vibe and awesome sweets are on the menu at Cocoa Cinnamon, an institution for the coffee-loving set in Durham. Owners Leon and Areli Barrera de Grodski are fascinated by the origins of everything — from the beans to the chocolate used to make drinks like their Almoka, a riff on the classic mocha featuring Kallari chocolate from Ecuador. In addition, the cafe serves two choices of espresso; three single-origin, hand-poured coffees; and monthly drink specials.
West Stockbridge, Mass.: No. Six Depot Roastery and Cafe
This small-batch roastery and cafe located in the oldest train station in the Berkshires is so sweet you may want to move to West Stockbridge after one visit. Mornings begin with eggs and thick-cut smokehouse bacon on grilled Berkshire Mountain bread or Belgian waffles with Nutella, bananas and berries. Inside the little shop, you can stock your pantry with locally made items like The Hudson Standard Shrubs & Bitters, Fire Cider, Bizalion Olive Oil and bags of No. Six Depot Coffee, in case you want to make some at home. There's also a "scoop & shake" window on the front porch serving local ice cream, using their single-origin coffee in milk shakes.
San Diego: Dark Horse Roasters
At Dark Horse Roasters, beans are roasted in-house and then ground for French-press, cold-brewed and pour-over coffees, which are served alongside treats like vegan doughnuts. This impossibly popular spot — with three locations in San Diego and another in Truckee, Calif. — also has a subscription club, through which fans can sign up and have bags of house-roasted beans delivered weekly or monthly, depending on their level of caffeine addiction.
Denver: Black Eye Coffee
This is a coffee shop with a serious chef attached to it — Alex Figura of Lower 48 Kitchen serves Pho-Braised Pork Belly Sandwiches, folks — but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the brew. The coffee is carefully curated in single-origin options and available in drip, pour-over and espresso-based styles. The cafe is also beautiful, more a restaurant than a coffee shop, with an elegant modern art deco interior and warm lighting that makes you feel like you should be drinking a Manhattan, not a latte. That might explain why the shop undergoes a “change” at 5 p.m. every day: The pastries are put away. The shelves behind the bar spin around, revealing a wide range of spirits. The cafe gets a little darker and a little cozier, and the cocktails come out to play, with Leopold’s American Small Batch Whiskey on tap.
Cincinnati: Coffee Emporium
Every cup of coffee at the Coffee Emporium comes from beans hand-selected from family farms. The beans are then artisan-roasted by hand in small batches in the Emporium's Over-the-Rhine roastery and cafe. Specialty roasts include Bourbon Barrel Aged and Cardinal Courtship, as well as a strong and smooth cold brew, sold by the bottle.
Grand Rapids: Madcap
Since 2008, Madcap Roasters has been selecting, roasting and brewing its own coffee in Grand Rapids, with a serious commitment to sourcing coffee that can be traced directly back to the farm or cooperative where it was produced. To ensure quality, owners Trevor Corlett and Ryan Knapp travel every year to some of the most-remote areas of the world. They also like to highlight their talented team of baristas. They started a monthly barista menu with seasonal drinks created by their employees — like Growing Delights, a drink that consists of cold cereal milk, espresso and a single-shot macchiato with steamed cereal milk. Madcap indeed.
Paso Robles, Calif.: Spearhead
Joseph Gerardis, Matt Klomp and Jeremy Sizemore opened Spearhead Coffee in Paso Robles in 2015 with a dedication to farm-to-cup coffee and a focus on traceability and quality of its coffee beans from places such as Costa Rica, Haiti and Guatemala. You choose your roast (coffee is roasted by Sizemore daily), then the owners weigh the beans before grinding and making your coffee; they use a Hario V60 for pour-overs, backed up by a Fetco tower for a quick grab-and-go drip. The 2,200-square-foot cafe and roastery is flooded with light and adorned with lovely found-object decor. It also features outdoor seating and a cozy back patio. Klomp’s wife, Sabrina, is a baker and serves a menu of quiches, muffins, scones and more.
New York City: 71 Irving
What started out in 1996 as a tiny storefront in a historic brownstone has evolved to a landmark cafe for coffee lovers, on an idyllic block just steps from the Union Square Greenmarket. The owners have been roasting their own coffee from their upstate Hudson Valley farm since 1999, and have since expanded to five locations in New York City and two upstate. Coffee geeks, take note: In addition to adding new Irving Farm growlers for filling up on iced-coffee pour-overs, the guys have opened a state-of-the-art Chelsea facility for training and cupping.
Portland, Ore.: Case Study
Owners Wes Russell and Christine Herman began serving coffee back in 2007 with an espresso catering service that grew into one, two and now three unique neighborhood coffeehouses. Inspired by the mid-century architectural movement of the same name, Case Study Roasters in Portland has been doing more than just roast and serve a perfectly brewed espresso; the owners also aim to educate their customers about how coffee can be different. This year they hosted their first coffee-focused event — Fruit to Seed — highlighting the production of coffee, as well as the Oregon Coffee Board's Latte Art Throwdown. They even served three variations of the same coffee to focus on how processing at origin can bring out different flavors in the brewed cup.
Minneapolis: Five Watt Coffee
Five Watt roasts its coffees — such as Line Check Espresso and The Residency Houseblend — in-house, but it also shares the love, featuring roasts from some of the owners' favorite coffee geeks, such as Wisconsin-based Kickapoo. While you’ll find espresso, cold-press and pour-overs, Five Watt prides itself on specialty drinks like The Big Easy (cold press, chicory and nutmeg simple syrup, black walnut bitters and cream) and The Kingfield (vanilla, Big Watt coriander bitters, espresso, milk and black Hawaiian sea salt). The menu includes bakery items made fresh every morning by Patisserie 46, and there's an oatmeal bar on weekends and Sweet Science ice cream in the summertime.
Nashville: Bongo Java
Bongo, one of Nashville’s oldest and most-beloved coffeehouses, was opened in 1993 by Bob Bernstein, a "recovering journalist." What started with a single cafe has since grown to five locations and two wholesale businesses. The cafe owes its success in part to the quality of its product — 100 percent of the coffee is organic, bought almost exclusively from small-scale producers. In addition to a roster of coffee drinks, offerings include signature coffees such as The Sweeter Weather (caramel apple latte with cinnamon and graham cracker), and a full menu of breakfast and lunch dishes.