The South’s Best Coffee Shops
Forgive us for the poeticism, but it’s true: a coffee shop can be so much more than it suggests. Yes, it’s somewhere that can give you the liquid jolt you need to vanquish your to-do list, but a coffee shop can be where you take a moment for yourself, the nexus for a community, a retreat from the life’s background of buzzes and beeps, a catalyst to new projects, even a second home. Whether you’re more of a Gallery Espresso-type person or a Revelator Coffee regular, sometimes your favorite local coffee shop can even become an extension of your personality. While the South has never had a shortage of these kinds of gathering spots, a new batch of shops has started to percolate--ones that take their coffee just as seriously as their place in a community from their sourcing practices to their techniques. Here are our new and old favorite coffee shops in the South for 2016.
Woodlawn Cycle Cafe: Birmingham, AL
The only thing that could make Woodlawn Cycle Cafe better is if it were located closer to Southern Living’s offices. Despite that, this bright new beacon in the Birmingham cafe scene has become our editors’ de facto meeting spot. Come in for a cup of Madcap-roasted coffee, stay for an escalivada sandwich and the choice vinyl selections spinning on their record player. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you can park your ride inside at this bike-friendly shop.
Rivertown Coffee: Florence, AL
In the small, but progressive town of Florence, Rivertown has transcended its role as coffee shop and become something more of a city hall. Inside you’ll find musicians, fashion designers, financial advisors, doctors, artists, professors, and everyone in between talking about their new ambitions and latest projects over cups of powerful Muletown-roasted coffee. Owner and chef John Cartwright also has a knack for serving sophisticated sandwiches, salads, and burritos that belie the ultra-affordable prices.
Onyx Coffee Lab: Bentonville, AR
The stunning interiors of this new local coffee shop chain in Northwest Arkansas will have you saying sooie for a whole other reason. Our favorite location is their Bentonville shop that features a curved honeycomb tile counter and wood paneled walls with a long bar perfect for watching the baristas performing the mesmerizing, acrobatic-like process of making lattes and pour overs during their busy hours. Onyx roasts their beans, which they source from small, mainly organic farms, in batches under twenty pounds. We always pick up a bag of their Sugar Skull blend (milk chocolate, candied walnuts, orange zest) to take home with us.
The Wydown: Washington, DC
Southern Living Assistant Editor and former D.C. resident Katherine Owen is fan of this new U Street shop that started out as a raved-about pop up by brothers Chad and Alex McCracken. The brothers jerry rigged a 1970s hot water boiler to make their coffee super consistent and efficient.
Big Bear Cafe: Washington, DC
Big Bear is a fixture in the Bloomingdale neighborhood where Washingtonians come for coffee sourced from Durham-based Counter Culture and local roaster Apothekary DC. The ambience of their shop is so serene that they offer it as a venue space for weddings.
Lineage Coffee Roasters: Orlando, FL
We learned about Lineage while pursuing Rifle Paper Company founder and Winter Park resident Anna Bond’s Instagram account. You can find this husband-wife owned shop in Orlando’s East End Market, a bustling collection of shops and cafes, which is giving the Disney World-and-chain restaurants image the city might be known for a fresh new look.
Panther Coffee: Miami, FL
The colorful muraled walls of Panther Coffee are just as intense as husband-wife team Joel and Leticia Pollock’s devotion to letting their customers know where they source their beans for each cup of coffee they brew at this Miami favorite.
Foxy Loxy: Savannah, GA
Located away from the tourist-centric downtown in a house just down the street from Savannah College of Art and Design’s liberal arts building, you’ll see students, professors, and residents of the city’s Victorian District gathering in the living room-like space. The walls are papered with screen prints and postcards--an homage to owner Jennifer Jenkins who was a printmaking professor at SCAD before opening Foxy Loxy and their second location downtown, Coffee Fox. One of Savannah’s best kept secrets may be their tropical-Grecian courtyard where patrons roast marshmallows for s’mores to pair with locally roasted PERC coffee or Lone Star longnecks.
Jittery Joe's Coffee: Athens, GA
An Athens mainstay, Jittery Joe’s, which opened their first location in 1994 next door to the legendary 40 Watt Club, is a favorite of local Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and former resident Patterson Hood of the Drive-By-Truckers. JJ’s did single-origin sourcing and latte art way before it was cool.
Gallery Espresso: Savannah, GA
If you’re looking for the best people watching spot in Savannah, you’ve found it according to Southern Living travel editor and former Savannah resident Hannah Hayes. Order an iced latte and grab a table on the Bull Street sidewalk overlooking Chippewa Square, but if it’s chilly outside, the arm chair by the far window makes for a comfy vantage point.
Octane: Atlanta, GA
This Atlanta-based chain is partly famous for it’s powerful Gravy and White Lightening Espressos and partly renown for their contemporary, blonde wood-paneled spaces. We’re a fan of their Grant Park location with soaring ceilings and floor to ceiling garage-style windows.
Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party: Atlanta, GA
Okay, Dr. Bombay’s might be more of tea-focused spot than coffee, but the whimsical environment that is part library, part Indian bazaar, part front parlor keeps this place on our lists of Hotlanta haunts. The shop also uses a portion of their profits to support projects that advance education for impoverished girls in India.
Brash: Atlanta, GA
If you’ve shopped till you dropped in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District, look for the navy and white railway cars near Billy Reid and Preserving Place. It may be cozy, but it’s the perfect spot to sit a short spell in front of their floor to ceiling windows with a cup of liquid fortitude before you head back out for round two. About to head on a mission of mercy at the nearby IKEA? They have nitro cold brew on tap for that.
Please and Thank You: Louisville, KY
This record shop-coffee joint hybrid is a Market Street must visit with coffee by local roasters Good Folks and treats like chocolate chip cookies and Derby Bars that are mandatory for first-time visitors. More of a tea person? Their iced green comes with a ponytail-like sprig of fresh mint.
HiVolt: New Orleans, LA
This shop is the place to be if you’re looking for caffeination in the LGD . Locals come in for their vegan options like veggie-packed quinoa bowls, but there’s also more meaty mains like a pork loin sandwich with fig jam.
Pagoda Cafe: New Orleans, LA
This tile-roofed gem is a favorite of travel editor Hannah Hayes and the perfect spot to fuel up for Jazz Fest on your walk toward the fair grounds. Order a locally roasted espresso from French Truck or a Ginger Tonic if you’ve had too much fun the night before and pull up a stool at the outdoor bar (outside seating is the only option here) overlooking the intersection of Bayou Road and Dorgenois Street. Then, head a block down the street to Domino Sound Record Shop to check out their selection of New Orleans and world music vinyl.
Stumptown Coffee: New Orleans, LA
Adjoined to New Orleans’ newest hot spot, the Ace Hotel, this outpost of the Portland, Oregon-based coffee collective, complete with a cavatappi-noodle shaped light fixture above an elegant bar, specializes in cold brew--fitting for the city’s high humidity levels.
Revelator Coffee: Various Locations
The South’s answer to highbrow coffee franchises like Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and La Colombe, Birmingham-based Revelator has recently opened additional shops in Atlanta, Nashville, Chattanooga, and New Orleans, with more on the way in cities like Charleston. Their Birmingham shop is a favorite breaktime gathering spot for our editors where you’re likely to find them sipping iced coffee in the minimalistic, mid-century-inspired living room set up. They’re also known for their coffee cocktails like the Weekender: tangerine juice, espresso, half and half, and sparkling water with a hint of vanilla.
Sneaky Beans: Jackson, MS
Sneaky Beans serves as the unofficial-official community center for the revitalized Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi. Come by on First Thursdays when the entire arts district plans special events and pop ups including live music on Sneaky Beans’ front porch.
Bankhouse Coffee: Long Beach, MS
In between the ocean-side Mississippi towns Pass Christian and Gulfport, Bankhouse Coffee makes its home inside the old Hancock Bank where owner Shawn Montella processes beans with his nearly 100-year-old antique roaster under the name Coast Roast Coffee. Pull up a seat at Bankhouse’s old school library-inspired fusion tables with a cold brew before you hit the beach.
Cocoa Cinnamon: Durham, NC
Leon and Areli Barrera de Grodski’s Cocoa Cinnamon has become a Durham institution since its opening in 2010. Now with three locations, the shop specializes in globally-influenced coffee and menu offerings like a pour over with chocolate, turmeric, and ginger to an iced seltzer with espresso, local honey, cardamom and maca in honor of Areli’s Great Grandfather Francesco Fontana who lived for in Tunisia for 10 years.
Joule Coffee + Table: Raleigh, NC
Raleigh’s ruling restaurateur Ashley Christensen founded this coffee shop counterpoint to her slew of properties as an “all day hang” where customers can come by for cortados, breeze by for for BLTs and chicken salad sandwiches, or meet up later for classic cocktails like an herbaceous Pimm’s Cup.
Black Tap Coffee: Charleston, SC
Native Charlestonians, college students, and visitors alike commune at this bright and airy spot in the Harleston Village neighborhood to escape the bustle of downtown. Choose from their selection of seasonal, house-roasted beans and sit down at their long community-style tables made out of heart pine wood, a nod to the material used to build many of Charleston’s historic homes.
Crema: Nashville, TN
While Music City has no shortage of coffee spots, our favorite is Crema, perched on Hermitage Avenue overlooking Ascend Amphitheatre and the Cumberland River. Although it’s not uncommon to catch not-so-local local celebrities on the porch, Crema maintains its low-key, friendly vibe that makes it a mainstay in a rapidly growing city. Assistant Editor Katherine Owen recommends the avocado toast for a quick breakfast option.
Radio Coffee and Beer: Austin, TX
Austin’s breakfast of champions? A cup of coffee and two breakfast tacos (cactus, refried beans, and cheese!) from the Veracruz All Natural truck parked outside of Radio Coffee and Bar. No matter what time of day, there’s no shortage of places to park yourself with a pourover or a local brew at this ranch house-like shop and bar with picnic tables under string-lighted awning and a spacious wood paneled main room.
Jo's Coffee: Austin, TX
Hotelier Liz Lambert of the neighboring Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecilia opened Jo’s Coffee in 1999 on South Congress way before the area was known by its shorthand SoCo. It remains a favorite by natives and transplants alike for it’s shaded outdoor seating, tacos, and Stumptown-sourced coffee. Ever wondered where those Instagrams of a green wall with the words “I love you so much” spray painted in red were taken? You found it.
The Wild Detectives: Dallas, TX
The coffee just feels like an added bonus at Wild Detectives, which also happens to be a gorgeous, cabin-like bookstore in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a stack of new novels to read along with your latte.
Tumbleweed Laundry: Marfa, TX
In a town as tiny and remote as Marfa, you might not expect to have so many options for coffee, but travel editor Hannah Hayes found several including Frama at Tumbleweed Laundry, a combination laundromat-gelateria-coffee shop near the courthouse. Try the Tumbleweed Roast from local Big Bend Coffee Roasters and a scoop of Mexican Vanilla just because. Camping at El Cosmico for the week? Bring your laundry too. No one wants to ride home with a car full of dirty clothes.
Lamplighter Coffee Roasters: Richmond, VA
When Noelle Archibald found the space for the first Lamplighter Coffee,, the Fan neighborhood of Richmond was still a decade away from being the hip spot it is today. Now Lamplighter is still a fixture of the area but with neighbors like boutiques Yesterday’s Heroes and Addison Homemade and Vintage along with throwback biker shop Cognito Moto and the Uptown Community Garden. Their second location and roasting lab are close by no matter where you find yourself wandering in the city.
The Quirk Hotel Coffee Bar: Richmond, VA
The lobby of the new Quirk Hotel is a must visit whether you’re spending the night there or not, but the inhouse coffee bar with a specific roast by Blanchard Coffee Roasting Company (It has notes of tobacco and candied citrus.) gives you one more excuse to relax in their pink velvet arm chairs.