Not to be confused with old-school cafés, diners and luncheonettes, today’s so-called “third-wave” coffeeshops are all about micro-roasting, new brewing methods and sourcing directly from tiny, far-flung producers. Coffee connoisseurs also increasingly want strong, cold-brew iced coffee and innovative drinks that might be carbonated, shaken or otherwise messed with by the mad scientists who stand in for baristas these days. From NYC to San Francisco, the new crop of great American coffeeshops provides all this and more.
America’s best coffee shops
Blue Bottle, San Francisco
If San Francisco has an artisan coffee “grounds” zero, it is undoubtedly Blue Bottle. What started as a kiosk in a Hayes Valley alleyway has expanded around the Bay Area, L.A., NYC and Tokyo. The downtown San Francisco café tempers caffeine highs with light fare for breakfast and lunch (frittatas, soups, salads, sandwiches). The main draw, though, is single-origin, small-batch and ridiculously fresh coffee not more than 48 hours out of the roaster. The fascinatingly complicated coffee-making equipment is part of the appeal: A five-light siphon bar is the first of its kind in the United States; the beakers and flasks that drip Kyoto-style iced coffee are something out of a mad scientist’s lab. Order a Gibraltar (you have to ask; it’s not on the menu)—the perfect blend of espresso and foam served in a short glass.
Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Boulder and Denver
A 1929 Gothot Ideal Rapid roaster from Germany is responsible for some of the Rocky Mountain area’s best beans, produced in small batches by Boxcar Coffee Roasters. The company started with a shop on Boulder’s Pearl Street in 2011 and moved roasting operations to the Source artisan food market in Denver’s River North District in 2013 for its second café. To address the low boiling temperatures resulting from Colorado’s mile-high elevation, Boxcar has pioneered a high-altitude brewing contraption dubbed the Boilermaker that immerses grounds in boiling water, similar to the way old-fashioned “cowboy” coffee is prepared.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Joselito H. Tagarao
Café Grumpy, NYC
Husband-and-wife-owned Café Grumpy has an extensive drink menu at its half-dozen locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but that hasn’t diluted the staff’s utter dedication to the almighty bean. Clover coffee machines hum nonstop, brewing fresh individual cups off the ever-changing bean menu—the baristas will talk up a storm about the coffees if you let them—and pastries are available from Blue Sky, Balthazar and other bakeries.
Cafecito Organico, L.A.
Tourists may wait in 20-minute lines at Intelligentsia up the street, but locals prefer Cafecito, the quieter shop on Hoover. Here you’ll find less pretension, more privacy—as well as the addictive Espresso Clandestino. The shop is small with only a bit of counter space inside, but a spacious, covered (and pet-friendly) patio is a good place to get work done, catch up with friends or make eyes at your neighbor.
Crema Coffee, Nashville
Crema’s award-winning, single-origin beans are the coffee of choice for some of Nashville’s best restaurants, including Husk and Pinewood Social. The company calls its style “profile-roasting,” a method aimed at bringing out the strengths of impeccably sourced individual bean varieties. The homey Rolling Mill Hill coffee “brewtique” offers frequent, often sold-out coffee education classes and popular seasonal drinks like coffee soda: a carbonated, lightly sweetened iced-coffee drink. As a pioneer of the city’s third-wave coffee scene, Crema helped found the Nashville Coffee Collective in 2014, an organization aimed at raising the city’s specialty coffee profile.
Dwelltime coffeebar and bakeshop, Cambridge, MA
An offshoot of local roaster Barismo, Dwelltime opened in a circa-1940s auction house on Broadway in 2012, restoring the original facade and tin ceiling. There’s cold brew on draft, dispensed by taps made from a coffee-tree stump, and the brand’s popular Cambridge Coldbrew is available in bottles and growlers. The shop is a Boston-area pioneer of such coffee-nerd contraptions as the Hario Woodneck pour-over drip pot—you can sample the results during weekly tasting sessions (Wednesdays 10am–2pm).Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Sarah Nichols
Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago
This local coffee chain is all grown up, with outposts across the country, including coffee bars in L.A. and a “lab” in Manhattan. Back home in Chicago, where it all started in 1995, there are now six Intelligentsia locations scattered around the city, which vary in size and vibe. At all of them, knowledgeable baristas keep it real with brisk service, perfect cappuccinos and straight-up drip alongside single-cup brew.
Joe Coffee, NYC
Coffee devotee Jonathan Rubinstein now serves grade-A espresso at a dozen Joe locations (including two in Philly). In addition to espresso-based drinks, a single-cup, drip-coffee bar dispenses a rotating selection of brews, while baked goods from companies like Donut Plant provide just the kind of snacks a coffee drinker needs. For real bean aficionados, the boutique-coffee chain offers classes at the Joe Pro Shop at 131 W 21st Street.
La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia
You might recognize La Colombe co-founder and CEO Todd Carmichael from the Travel Channel series Dangerous Grounds, which has him traveling to some of the world’s most remote and perilous reaches, from Bolivia to Borneo, to source great beans. Stateside, the brand has expanded since its original Philadephia shop opened in 1994 to more locations in the City of Brotherly Love and outposts in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Almost two decades in, La Colombe is still innovating: Its flagship coffee lab in Fishtown, Philadelphia, recently started pouring the world’s first iced latte on draft.
Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids, MI
In 2008, Madcap opened inside a onetime candy store in downtown Grand Rapids. Ryan Knapp spends several months a year traveling the globe to maintain strong ties to producers. Coffee buffs can nerd out over the Varietal series, which offers three coffees from the same farm, meant to be experienced in a side-by-side tasting. In the warm months, sidewalk tables out front are the right perch for enjoying summer seasonal drinks like an affogato (espresso over ice cream) or Shakerato (coffee, cane sugar and cream, shaken with ice), and the brick-walled interior is cozy during the winter. The company has since opened a lab and training facility inside the WeWork co-working space in Washington, D.C., which offers free public tastings every Friday morning.
Morning Glass Coffee, Honolulu
As you’d hope from a Honolulu coffeeshop, Morning Glass offers Hawaiian coffees, roasted in-house daily and offered by the Chemex-brewed cup alongside beans from well-known roasters like Stumptown and Four Barrel. This enthusiasm for local ingredients extends to the milk, which comes from Big Island, and a full food menu spotlighting many excellent products from the Aloha State including honey from Oahu and beef and tomatoes from Big Island. In addition to the original funky coffeeshop on Manoa Road, Morning Glass also has a location inside home furnishings store Fishcake across town.
Panther Coffee, Miami
Panther Coffee continues to set the standard for Miami’s third-wave scene. Beans are sourced directly from small producers all over the world and roasted in a 1927 Probat Perfekt roaster before being served in Panther’s three locations, as well as top restaurants around town. The brand recently introduced the world’s first single-origin, brewed-to-order iced coffee using high-tech Reverse Atmospheric Infusion technology to extract the same amount of flavor that hot water would. All three shops host frequent live music and art events.
Peregrine Espresso, Washington, D.C.
Peregrine is D.C.’s coffee darling, having picked up numerous awards and accolades for its coffee and friendly service since the first location debuted on Capitol Hill in 2008. Two more shops—in Midcity and inside Union Market—have opened since, all offering top-notch espresso drinks and by-the-cup, single-origin pour-overs (selections change daily). A popular summer offering is the Taipei Shake: extra-strong, Japanese-style iced coffee with lychee syrup, fresh basil and raspberries.
Philz Coffee, San Francisco
If drip is your thing, your best cup of coffee is at Philz, where more than 20 different secret blends known only to founder Phil Jaber and his son, Jacob, are individually filter-drip brewed and poured to your exact specifications (the barista will help you choose a blend that they think you’ll like). The original café on Folsom and 24th Street that opened in 2003 has since been augmented with more than 20 locations sprinkled throughout San Francisco, the North, East and South Bays, plus an L.A. outpost. Local favorite blends include nutty Jacob’s Wonderbar, rich Mocha Tesora, and the ultra-strong Code 33, crafted for the SFPD.
Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Co., Minneapolis
Twin Cities caffeine favorite Spyhouse has three very different locations around town, but the most Instagrammed of the trio is the stylish middle sibling, which opened in 2008 inside a 1907 brownstone in Uptown with an irresistible Americana decor scheme. The original shop has been serving regulars in Whittier since 2000, while the company’s huge café and roasting facility, which employs a vintage Probat UG 22 roaster, opened in 2013 inside a restored warehouse with plenty of space for cupping classes and other events.
Star Lounge, Chicago
Jesse Diaz has turned this unassuming West Town café into a coffee destination. Sidle up to the “bar” at Star Lounge for a taste of Dark Matter coffee, which is roasted in eight-pound batches above the café in unusual flavor profiles that have caught the attention of area restaurants. Diaz’s unconventional roasting approach extends to iced coffee, which achieves its delicate flavor using heat-extraction rather than trendy cold-brewing. No clue what we’re talking about? One of the veteran baristas behind the bar can walk you through it.
Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, Kansas City, MO
Kansas City’s finest roaster branched out with a coffeeshop in 2014 in the East Crossroads neighborhood. Thou Mayest’s two-story space slings coffee, craft beer and cocktails from morning until night, with HDTVs, board games and plenty of space for laptopping and socializing. The Ambex YM-2 roaster sits front and center as part of the decor, while the deck off the second story is the right spot for catching a sunset—and shows at the Crossroads KC outdoor concert venue, just below.
Thunderbird Coffee, Austin
It’s Austin, so of course Thunderbird’s two locations specialize not only in direct-trade coffee but also craft beer. There’s a small menu of café fare (baked goods, sandwiches, salads), and plenty of room for the city’s many laptoppers. Thunderbird sources its beans mainly from local roaster Cuvee Coffee Roasting Company as well as Intelligentsia and Counter Culture. You can geek out with single-origin pour-overs or just grab a Thai iced coffee if that isn’t your thing. In the morning, don’t miss breakfast tacos made by local favorite Tacodeli.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kaleb Fulgham
Water Avenue Coffee, Portland, OR
Father-and-son team Bruce and Matt Milletto founded Water Avenue Coffee in 2009 after purchasing a vintage 1974 French Samiac roaster from a company in Switzerland. Water Avenue quickly established itself as one of the top micro roasters and specialty coffee shops in town, cultivating a loyal following for its perfectly steamed lattes and award-winning whole beans. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the SE Industrial District space, decked out with reclaimed-wood counters and tables and a large blue neon COFFEE sign, shares a building with the American Barista & Coffee School, a training facility the pair established in 2003.
The pastel-hued dining room at this West Village restaurant is filled with natural light, thanks to a large skylight in the center of the room. Brunching here will give you the full benefit of the sunny room, but you’ll need to come for dinner to taste the full menu of Latin and Mediterranean fusion dishes. Whet your appetite with the guacamole topped with fresh pomegranate seeds ($14) or the spinach, corn and cheese empanadas ($13). Order a bunch of smaller plates to share, like the burrata salad with roasted root vegetables and beet sauce ($16), tuna steak tacos with truffle mash ($16) and grilled baby octopus with spicy aioli and papas bravas ($17). For heartier fare, try the Catalan paella with shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels and chorizo ($30). Thirsty? Order up a carafe of the Mediterranean sangria with rose and elderflower or a few lavender, cucumber or blood orange margaritas.
Venue says: “Seasonal Latin Mediterranean Cuisine and light fresh cocktails in the West Village. Join us for Happy Hour Monday through Friday 4pm-6:30pm”