For many Austinites, coffee is the most important component of the day (quickly followed by our best tacos and top BBQ). The city has a legacy of great coffee, from trailblazing roasters like Texas Coffee Traders and Cuvee to unforgettable cultural landmarks like Little City. Today the espresso landscape is dotted by the best coffee shops in Austin—including homegrown mini empires like Caffé Medici and Houndstooth—and although many use beans imported from around the country, the last few years have seen a boom of upstart roasters helping Austinites start their days. Here's four that are appearing in cups across the city.
Austin's rising coffee roasters
After a lifetime of brewing coffee roasted by others, the natural next step is to cut out the middle man. Longtime baristas Ryan Hall and Kathleen Carmichael have worked behind espresso machines since back when Thunderbird Coffee was called Clementine, saving their tips to open a shop of their own. Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors launched in 2014, quickly becoming a neighborhood institution, then three years later they began roasting their own beans.
“Coffee has been my passion for a very long time,” says Carmichael, who leads the roasting operation. “To be able to make that passion into a career and keep growing has been a beautiful thing.”
Naturally a long career in coffee results in very particular tastes. They seek out less traditional coffees, wild and funky Kenyans for espresso and light, floral-washed Ethiopians for pour overs. Although nearly half of the coffees offered daily are now roasted in-house, they don't plan to stop showcasing their favorite roasters from across the country. On a typical day, you'll not only find their Figure 8 coffees, but also beans from Dallas-based Tweed, Portland's Coava and Seattle's Koma.
“Being able to offer excellent coffees from other roasters is part of what we want to offer to the community that has grown at Figure 8. To be a part of a bigger picture and include others is important,” says Carmichael. “Their talents and excellence should be supported and enjoyed!”
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jin C.
“The condition in countries where coffee comes from are on the forefront of every specialty roaster's mind, but we forget that there are people in our neighborhoods that need help too,” says Greater Goods co-founder Trey Cobb.
The company launched in 2015 with the mission to not just create perfectly balanced coffees, but also make a difference in the community. Customers can choose a bag of beans not just by origin country or roast level, but by which specific charity it benefits, from the A.M. Rescue Breakfast Blend (Austin Pets Alive) to the award-winning single origin espresso called Spark (Boys & Girls Club of Austin)
Their beans are found around town in coffee shops like Batch and restaurants like Le Politique and Il Brutto, but the best place to try them is at Greater Goods’ recently opened café. Previously a forgotten warehouse, it was re-envisioned by architect Michael Hsu into a welcoming living room-esque space flooded with natural light.
In addition to serving as a neighborhood café and workspace, Greater Goods also roasts on-site and runs a series of barista training and public education programs, spearheaded by Cobb's wife Khanh Trang and Sarah Oermann. Each are certified Q graders, essentially the highest distinctions a coffee professional can earn, but the roasts offered at the shop don't require a coffee PhD to enjoy. A consistent theme across all their beans is sweetness, and a wide range of roast levels means there's trendy light coffees as well as darker roasts for old school drinkers.
“We really want to bring in as many people as possible, so that they'll hopefully appreciate better coffee,” says Cobb.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Kaleb F.
“Choosing a favorite coffee—that's like choosing a favorite child,” says Seth McCain, who co-founded Praxis Coffee with his wife Lauren in 2016.
Like a proud father, Seth gushes about all of his coffees equally. Their Brazilian from the Sul de Minas region with traditional caramel and cocoa butter flavors is farmed by a family with branches in Austin. Their Panamanian comes from Elida Estate, which has been growing coffee in the region since 1918 and naturally processes their beans with a sun-drying technique that brings out funkier flavors like candied strawberry and blueberry. Their Kenyan, featured recently at Bougie's Doughnuts off 290, tastes of sun ripened tomatoes, blood orange and honey.
Bringing out these unique flavors requires roasting each bean to its unique potential using skills the couple learned by training at Counter Culture Coffee in Asheville, North Carolina, and The Brown Coffee Company in San Antonio. Seth handles most of the production, while Lauren works behind the scenes on the business side to keep the caffeine-fueled ship afloat.
Currently their coffees can be found around town at Bougie's and Stonehouse, as well as at restaurants like Uchi and Tiny Boxwoods. They don't have any plans for a café of their own, but the next move is a flagship tasting room where customers can sample a wide range of coffees at once, finding what best fits their palate.
Photograph: Courtesy Praxis
What goes up, must come down. That's part of the philosophy at Spokesman, which combines coffee and beer in a no-frills, warehouse-like space at The Yard off St. Elmo Rd. Although they do have regulars, the industrial surroundings make it more of a destination.
“You have to try to be here—it's not off the main road, so that keeps us sharp,” says co-founder Trey Ramirez. “But you see people from the neighborhood ride up on bikes and make a weekend of it. We just want to represent great coffee in this part of town.”
One of the things that makes Spokesman stand out is that they were the first shop in the city legally allowed to roast in-store. Their American-made Ambex 10 kilo machine is wrapped with enough thermal protection that it looks like they're making lava, not java. Ethan Billips, formerly of Cuvee Coffee, roasts exclusively single origin beans on the machine, often during business hours. Those beans end up not only in the espresso machines, but also on the taps thanks to collaborations with St. Elmo Brewing, Zilker Brewing and NXNW. But the real value is that customers get a rare view into how roasters turn a green coffee bean into their favorite beverage.
“It's only 20 steps from our roaster to our cafe; the feedback that happens there and the communication with our customers is unique to a shop like this,” says Ramirez. “I love seeing people have that moment when they realize what's going on.”
Photograph: Courtesy Spokesman