Since the first Starbucks opened in Seattle back in 1971, American attitudes towards coffee have gradually changed. A cup of watered-down Folgers is no longer the “best part of waking up,” nor is the burnt and bland roast from the local bodega. Instead, espresso and its various iterations are the desired choice among avid coffee drinkers. Taste may be subjective, but in the U.S., coffee has become more sophisticated, spiking an interest in house-roasted blends, barista skills and techniques, bean origins, and whether the brew is organic, fair trade, or neither, ushering in an American coffee culture that takes the dark drink almost as seriously as its European neighbors.
By Molly Hannon
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Seattle: Ballard Coffee Works
In Seattle, coffee is practically a birthright. Although the city is the home to the original Starbucks outpost, there are a band of scattered boutique cafés for the less-corporate inclined coffee drinker. Ballard Coffee Works, located on North West Market Street, is a family-run shop that initially began as a roasting house. The café is divided into two sections: “The Express Bar,” geared to the on-the-go crowd, and the “Slow Tasting Room,“ which is where you can sit and enjoy the flavor like a fine wine. There, you can witness the science behind roasting and brewing, sip new blends, and improve your taste, which seems fitting for the gourmet coffee town.
(Photo Courtesy of Michael Mrozek / Getty Images)
Brooklyn: Oslo Coffee Roasters
Norwegians are the largest consumers of coffee in the world, leaving the Italians and their dainty espressos in the dust. Oslo Coffee Roasters offers grumpy Brooklynites a potent taste of Scandinavia. Opened in 2003, owners JD and Kathy Merget are dedicated to sourcing the best coffee worldwide and pride themselves on only buying the beans that are sustainably and ethically produced. With two locations in Williamsburg and an outpost in Yorkville, Oslo is making its mark among selective coffee drinkers.
(Photo Courtesy of Megan Brewer)
Portland is a town known for bikes and tattoos, and its is a close second to San Francisco’s organic fresh fare, so it’s no wonder that its coffee culture is up-to-speed with the West Coast’s refined tastes. Heart Coffee Roasters, located on Burnside Street, offers an array of blends from around the world, which they roast in-house giving the café an added buzz. Their baristas compete in these so-called competitions flexing their espresso skills. Customers won’t be disappointed and will leave caffeinated and ready to bike – or even drive – to their next destination. (Photo Courtesy of Antonios Mitsopoulos / Getty Images)
Asheville, NC: Izzy’s Coffee Den
For a taste of local Asheville flavor, head to Izzy’s Coffee Den, an eclectic laid-back cafe located in the heart of downtown. Here, hipsters, old hippies, local musicians, and townies mingle to sip strong coffee or splurge on fancy espresso drinks, such as the ‘Karma Latte.’ The baristas are known for their artful approach to the coffee craft, so if you order a latte or cappuccino, expect a heart design or some state pride in the shape of North Carolina (or some milky version thereof). (Photo Courtesy of Izzy’s Coffee Den)
San Francisco: Four Barrel Coffee
Obsession can lead to success – at least this is the case with Four Barrel Coffee. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, the shop is owned and operated by Portland-native Jeremy Tooker, who believes coffee is as precious as wine, referring to the terroir of beans and how they can allow one to taste coffee better. There’s also an aging process, but no French oak barrels are required. It may sound pretentious, but Tooker is just an unapologetic purist. He only sells espresso, but in its simplest form with the only option of whole milk for the latte or cappuccino sipping crowd. There is no tea, nor is there Wi-Fi for techies to set up shop and caffeinate. But the long line wrapped around the shop everyday shows that his roasts are more than sufficient. (Photo Courtesy of Four Barrel Coffee)
Nashville: Barista Parlor
Remodeled in old garage repair-shop, Barista Parlor is Nashville’s darling when it comes to coffee. The blue and orange exterior with a horizontal anchor is its signature mark, but inside customers will find a café furnished with modern and traditional trappings. Owner Andy Mumma prides himself on his democratic approach to selecting his beans – whether it’s from North Carolina’s Counter Culture, Michigan’s MadCap, or Los Angeles’s Sightglass. There is no soy or milk available for a frothy latte or cappuccino, placing Barista Parlor next to other coffee purists like Four Barrel’s Jeremy Tooker. (Photo Courtesy of Barista Parlor)
Los Angeles: G&B
G&B coffee takes its namesake from co-founders Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, whose mission is to introduce customers to the coffees of the world. As seasoned aficionados, Glanville and Babinski have spent the last decade equipping themselves with the knowledge, experience, and palate needed to open a successful café. Their creative slant on coffee drinks, or as the call them ‘For Real Coffee Drinks’ is winning customers over – from crazy iced lattes served in mason jars to coffee shakes, there is more than your typical Morning Joe at this boutique café.
(Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)
Chicago: Bad Wolf Coffee: Best Coffee Spots
No need to be afraid of this big bad wolf, especially if he’s worked with the likes of Momofuku’s David Chang. Owner, Jonathan Ory traded in his pork belly for cannelés and coffee, opening a new kind of milk bar laced with caffeine and sugar. Located off the Addison stop, Bad Wolf Coffee may be a newcomer to the Chicago java scene, but it’s gradually becoming a local favorite.
(Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)
Washington, DC: Chinatown Coffee Co.
There's no green tea at the Chinatown location, but an ample amount of coffee, wine, beer, and (oddly) absinthe. Owner Max Brown opened Chinatown in 2011 and has hired an energetic group of young baristas, renowned for their cheerful demeanor and artful approach to espresso, who have made Chinatown Coffee Co. a hotspot in East DC.
(Photo Courtesy of Chinatown Coffee)
Detroit: Great Lakes Coffee
Although Detroit has suffered in the last few years, the former industrial town has retained its creative ability to turn abandoned buildings into writing spaces and art studios. Leave it to a coffee-lover to take advantage of the cheap real estate and set up shop to reenergize city dwellers with some decent coffee. Great Lakes offers iterations of classic coffee drinks, such as the ‘Lavender Latte,’ which is heady and aromatic, but still chock full of caffeine. Located downtown, Great Lakes is perfect for a lazy Sunday perusing the paper or a quick pick-me-up on the way to work.
(Photo Courtesy of Natalia Zakharova / Getty Images)
Charlottesville, VA: Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters
Every college town has their local haunt… usually a bar. For University of Virginia students and Charlottesville locals, it’s the coffee bar at Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters, whose roasted beans, friendly atmosphere, and pastries compliments of HotCakes blend the best of both worlds. Owner and founder Dave Fafara is up early each morning roasting beans in the back of the shop, only later to hit the road and deliver beans around town to the local restaurants. With one location on Preston Avenue and another on Ivy Road heading out to the Blue Ridge Mountains, these spots are hard to miss (or pass up). (Photo Courtesy of Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters)