America's Best Coffee Cities
When they took a train trip along the West Coast a few years ago, Stephanie Mantello and her husband got off at Portland on a mission.
It was for coffee.
“We sprinted off the train with only a 45-minute stop to get a coffee at Stumptown,” says the Sydney-based travel blogger. “It was well worth the potential of missing the train.”
Like many travelers, Mantello loves to try local java in a new place. And no surprise, Portland, OR—home of famed roaster Stumptown—was yet again in the running this year for the top city for coffee among Travel + Leisure readers. In the America’s Favorite Places survey, readers voted on the most magnetic features of major metro areas, from the quality of local coffee to the live-music scene.
Among the top-rated coffee cities, it’s easy to explore the growing trend toward highly customized—and often very creative—cups of joe. In Nashville, you can take short classes to discern the differences between a cup made by a pour-over or AeroPress. In Providence, you can learn to appreciate the finer points of coffee milk, Rhode Island’s official state drink. And in Atlanta, one of the most popular iced coffees blends espresso with another traditional local drink—Coca-Cola.
Such nuances in the coffee experience means that coffee lovers can savor their Slayer-brewed espresso the way wine lovers might sniff and swirl a Cabernet. Jeremy Applebaum, a real estate broker from Overland, KS, admits to being a purist when he samples coffee. “I find that if a black coffee is stellar—sans milk or sugar—then it’s truly a great place for coffee.” And, he adds, “you know it’s a great cup of coffee when you think about it all day.”
Find out where to get your fix in the best coffee cities across the country—and make your opinions heard by voting in the America’s Favorite Places survey.
No. 1 Portland, OR
The Northwest city known for its latte-friendly (read: misty) weather won the coffee contest again this year—and not just for Stumptown Coffee Roasters, which continues to expand beyond Oregon. Two lesser-known local favorites are in the city’s Central Eastside. One is Coava, a single-origin roaster whose beans are regulars at the Northwest Regional Barista Competition, and whose Zen-feeling Brew Bar shares space with a sustainable bamboo company. The other, micro-roaster Water Avenue Coffee, offers such barrel-aged coffees as Oak and Pinot Noir; one of the most popular menu items is a $1 sidecar shot of espresso.
No. 2 Seattle
The city that gave the world Starbucks fell to No. 2 again—perhaps because some T+L readers think only of the coffee giant when they come here. But Seattle, which also ranked well for bookstores and boutiques, supports plenty of smaller coffee operations (some even dubbed “nana-roasters”) that roast their own beans. Consider Slate Coffee Roasters in Ballard, or Convoy Coffee, a bike-powered coffee cart that does pour-overs, AeroPress, and iced coffee. If you can’t come to Seattle without visiting the mother ship, check out the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, a 15,000-square-foot flagship that will offer small-batch roasts when it opens December 2014 in Capitol Hill.
No. 3 Providence, RI
The coffee culture in this state capital—populated by a lot of artists and geeks, according to T+L readers—runs deep. To understand one reason why sweet “coffee milk” is Rhode Island’s state drink, go to Dave’s Coffee, which sells a high-quality espresso-based coffee syrup that locals often add to a glass of milk or use to lace their morning joe. Dave’s also does a cold-brew coffee on tap and boasts of having the state’s only Slayer machine—which helps baristas better control the temperature and pressure during espresso making. One of the best up-and-comer coffee places is in the Dean Hotel: Bolt Coffee Company, where the top order is a Chemex-made pot of coffee for two. And since nothing goes better with coffee than a little pastry, pick up some cookies from North Bakery, or scones and sticky buns from Seven Stars Bakery (Providence ranked at No. 1 for its baked goods).
No. 4 Albuquerque
The New Mexico city made the top five for its distinctive local flavor. Case in point: the New Mexico Piñon Coffee Company, offering blends made with local pine nuts, which fans say add a vaguely cocoa or hazelnut flavor. On Saturdays, the roaster offers a short coffee history class with a roasting demo and cupping. Ask Albuquerqueans for their other favorite local coffee drink, and they may send you to Golden Crown Panaderia, where you can indulge in the signature Coffee Milkshake with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and a generous dousing of espresso.
No. 5 Houston
This business hub is one of four cities designated as a green coffee exchange port on the New York Board of Trade. For a purist’s cup, check out Siphon Coffee, in Montrose, where your coffee is prepared using the vacuum process, which promises to extract the best flavor from the beans. While Siphon’s baristas may discourage cream or sugar, they do condone snacks (like breakfast tacos and empanadas) and trying your luck on the coffee bar’s Ms. Pac-Man and Frogger machine. To taste other local brews, go to Revival Market, which offers local cheeses, charcuterie, and coffee by Houston-based roaster Greenway. Another reason to stop in: Houston also scored near the top of the survey for its foodie-friendly specialty grocery stores.
No. 6 New Orleans
For plenty of visitors, the authentic New Orleans experience includes a chicory-fueled café au lait with a beignet, like the ones at Café du Monde. The legendary restaurant can also claim to have created one of the original New Orleans–style iced coffees, which likewise include chicory, derived from endive root. At PJ’s Coffee, the cold-drip process removes two-thirds of the acid, while CC’s Coffee House offers the blended Mochasippi in such flavors as the Turtle (chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut) and the Salted Caramel. Don’t ruin your lunch, though: thanks to its classic po’ boys, the city also won the survey’s great sandwiches category.
No. 7 Kansas City, MO
Readers ranked Kansas City in the top five for both burgers and barbecue. But it’s also won numerous fans for the Italian-style coffeehouse Parisi Artisan Coffee, where you can get coffee treats like con panna, espresso topped with house-made whipped cream, or affogato, a vanilla gelato drowned in espresso. Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters—which takes its name from Steinbeck’s East of Eden—serves artisanal cups of coffee on a deck with great views of the concerts in the Crossroads Arts District.
No. 8 Portland, ME
The New England city didn’t rate highly in the survey for its nightlife, but its morning life is clearly another matter. Since the 1990s, Portland has supported strong local chains that go mano-a-Americano against the big chains. The longtime favorite is micro-roasted Coffee by Design, while relative newcomers include the Old Port’s Bard Coffee, which does a nitro cold brew on tap, and Crema, across from the Bay, where the Caffe Milky Way comes with espresso, steamed milk, chocolate, and a homemade caramel sauce.
No. 9 Louisville, KY
Coffee isn’t the first drink you associate with Louisville, but the best coffee joints in this Kentucky city play to the local palate. At Highland Coffee, you can order pour-overs; iced coffee out of a keg (which promises to maintain freshness); or an organic espresso topped with house-made, bourbon-flavored whipped cream. Red Hot Roasters, which specializes in organic small batches, does decadent mochas like the Kentucky Pumpkin Pie (also laced with bourbon flavor), a Mint Julep Mocha, and a seasonal Bourbon Ball Mocha. Of course, locals here don’t drink just bourbon-related products: Louisville also scored well with readers for its craft beers.
No. 10 Minneapolis/St. Paul
These Minnesotans ranked as the smartest, and some of the friendliest, people in the nation. They’re also happy to share their local coffees. Stalwart Caribou Coffee, for instance, now counts hundreds of U.S. locations. A few new places have carved out their own niche in the Twin Cities: the organic Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Co., whose three cafés are furnished with midcentury pieces, and Peace Coffee, affiliated with one of the earliest fair-trade coffee groups, which teaches coffee-making classes.
No. 11 Los Angeles
Adding buzz to Los Angeles’s revitalized downtown is the iced coffee at G&B Coffee in Grand Central Market, which was dubbed the best in the nation by The New York Times, thanks in part to its house-made, almond-macadamia milk. If you’re more the Westside type, check out the hot coffee at former pop-up Cognoscenti, in Culver City, which gets raves for its Vietnamese-style coffee and espresso drinks. Underscoring its need for solid morning pick-me-ups, the City of Angels also ranked in the top 10 for nightclubs and live music.
No. 12 San Francisco
San Francisco scored highly for art galleries, design stores, and great wine, and its sophisticated tastes extend to coffee. The city’s biggest contribution to coffee culture nationwide is Blue Bottle, which boasts of selling beans that have been roasted only within the past 48 hours, and now has locations in L.A. and NYC. But plenty of smaller indies have grown a loyal following in the Bay Area, among them, Ritual Roasters, which offers individually brewed coffee by the cup (using a Hario V60 glass cone), and Sightglass Coffee Roasters, which has its flagship in SoMa.
No. 13 Nashville
T+L readers applauded this traditionally twangy town for its concerts and festivals as well as a hipster-driven coffee culture. Barista Parlor—located in East Nashville and the Gulch—is proud of its Slayer espresso machine, A-list beans (Sightglass, Stumptown), and a high-profile partner, musician Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Downtown’s Crema Coffee Roasters hosts brief classes with tastings, exploring the differences between pour-overs and coffees made from a press or siphon. It also makes coffee soda, a cold carbonated coffee accented with a twist of orange. You can count on affable baristas, too: the locals ranked as some of the least rude in the land.
No. 14 New York City
If an upstart coffee purveyor goes big time—whether San Francisco’s Blue Bottle, Portland’s Stumptown, or Chicago’s Intelligentsia—you can bet you’ll find an outpost in the Big Apple. Homegrown options include Café Grumpy (whose original Greenpoint, Brooklyn, location has a starring role in HBO’s Girls). These days, New York also has an increasing number of coffee bars from Australia, such as Bluestone Lane, with locations near Bryant Park and in the Financial District, and Brunswick in Brooklyn. You’ll need some new lingo, though: “flat whites” are lattes, while a “long black” is like a stronger Americano.
No. 15 Atlanta
The Sunbelt city made the top 20 for its creative takes on caffeinated classics. Aurora Coffee in Little Five Points offers “bears”: half iced coffee, half flavored milks (such as the Brown Bear, with chocolate milk, or a Polar Bear, with iced coffee, white chocolate milk, and peppermint). Getting your daily milk is wholesome. Octane Coffee, whose flagship is on the Westside, offers another local daily allowance: the Ameri-cola, half espresso and half Coca-Cola on ice. It’s no coincidence that T+L readers found these Georgians to be exemplary morning people; the city ranked well for both brunch and breakfast-focused diners.
No. 16 Cleveland
As is often the case, Cleveland gets less credit than it deserves: local favorite roaster Phoenix Coffee has been roasting its own for 20 years now, with edgy options such as its own bourbon-barrel-aged coffee beans. Relative newcomer Rising Star Coffee, located in a former firehouse on West 29th Street, focuses on small batches from Brazil, served by way of pour-overs, AeroPress, and siphon.
No. 17 San Diego
These avid exercisers appreciate the proper fuel to keep going all day. One of the best new places for a pour-over, French press, or cold brew is Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in Normal Heights, run by a Hawaiian transplant who grew up surrounded by coffee fields. San Diegans are proud of their well-ranked craft beers, too. And since you need something to while away the time until happy hour, Point Loma microbrewery and tasting room Modern Times Beer has started roasting and selling coffee beans like a Red Wine Barrel-Aged Ethiopian Derar Ela.
No. 18 Chicago
With vintage, gas-powered roasters and a nationwide reputation, Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters has become a key player in the Windy City’s coffee scene. To dig deeper, try Ipsento in Bucktown, which offers brewing classes and a cozy coffeehouse culture, while Bad Wolf in Lakeview has more of a lovable Soup Nazi approach: no chairs, no froufrou syrups (sugar and cream only if you ask), but also divine canelés—small, French custard-filled pastries (just come after 10 a.m.).
No. 19 Honolulu
Hawaii has long been known for coffee grown on Kona in the Big Island. On Oahu, Honolulu’s Glazer’s Coffee is committed to sourcing coffee even more locally—from Green World Farms in nearby Wahiawa—and to producing latte foam art. Your cup might come with a bunny, panda, or yin-yang symbol. Morning Glass, in Manoa, offers a Hawaiian coffee of the day, as well as breakfast and lunch items featuring beef from the Big Island, Lehua honey from Oahu, and the exotic lilikoi fruit from the North Shore. Look for Morning Glass’s new coffee-only kiosk in Kakaako.
No. 20 Austin, TX
In the Texas capital, anything meant to be savored—BBQ, Tex-Mex, and certainly the best coffee—calls for live music and a patio. That’s the case at Spider House Café, near the University of Texas campus, and Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, which roasts fresh batches every 48 hours and has views of Lake Austin. On East Riverside, the single-origin Buzz Mill ups the ante with a log cabin vibe and food trucks like Blue Ox and the Vegan Nom. No surprise, the hipster-friendly Austin also ranked near the top for its fine food-truck cuisine.