What is it about the perfect cup of coffee that gets us out of our homes and into our favorite local coffee shop? Is it the artisanal, hand-roasted beans? Perfectly balanced lattes prepared by trained professionals? Maybe it’s just the comfy atmosphere of a great coffee shop that keeps us coming back for more.
A truly great coffee shop has to feel special: some are like a cozy home away from home, others ideally sparse, like a clean blank slate in which you can revitalize. A place to recharge with a good book and a steaming drink or to chat up a friend over that perfect pastry you’re definitely going to stop eating after one more bite. The best spots have a bit of magic to them: ambiance with no pretense, friendly baristas, and of course, delicious coffee. Choosing your perfect shop takes time and patience, but once you’ve found it, you’re set for life.
Luckily, we’ve done some of the legwork for you with our latest list of the top spots for coffee in America in 2014. We scoured the nation from Portland to Florida looking for truly remarkable spots to pop into for a little cup of heaven. We measured the spots based on a wide range of criteria. First off, of course, we evaluated the coffee. The shops on this list use high quality beans and have close relationships with their roasters — or are the roasters themselves. Next, we evaluated the culture of the shop. What’s the point of going out for coffee if the space is dreadful? The shops on our list have created great coffee cultures, and even if they have multiple locations, each one feels like a unique, tight-knit community space. We also took the baristas into consideration. Preparing and serving complicated coffee concoctions is an art form, and on our list, we’ve included some of the best-trained, most knowledgeable baristas around. Don’t worry, we didn’t forget the food! Although we didn’t weight the food as heavily as the coffee, we certainly paid attention to it. You’ll find coffee shops serving up James Beard Award-winning snacks along with some of the prettiest pastries around. A great coffee shop always leaves its customers eager for a return visit, and our list includes some exciting up-and-comers as well as established trend-makers too good for coffee lovers to miss.
To help us determine which shops around the country really stand out as spectacular, we asked a panel of experts to help us cull through all of the excellent submissions. Sarah Allen, editor and co-founder of Barista Magazine, weighs in on the process:
"I love and also hate nominating my favorite cafés in the United States — there are so many amazing ones to choose from, way more than ever fit onto one list. But really, this is a pretty great problem to have. The level of quality in both product and service in coffeehouses in the U.S. has put our country at the forefront of the specialty-coffee community worldwide. From micro-roasters with a fierce commitment to remaining completely hands-on from farm-to-cup, like Coava Coffee in Portland, Ore.; Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Colectivo Coffee in Milwaukee, Wis., to name a few; to the old guard that's been succeeding at the specialty game for more than 20 years like PT's Coffee out of Topeka, Kan.; to cafés that don't roast their own coffee but insist on the very best from the brands they carry — I'm talking about you, BARISTA in Portland, Ore. — we have the kind of leaders in specialty coffee that other industries envy. They are smart and driven, insightful and humble, and passionate to the nth degree. I'm honored every day to walk among them."
—Sarah Allen, editor & co-founder, Barista Magazine
Several of our panelists wished to remain anonymous, but we are pleased to acknowledge the invaluable help received from the following authorities in the field:
Sarah Allen, editor & co-founder, Barista Magazine
Park Brannen, Northeast Barista Champion
Pete Licata, World Champion Barista
Bill Walsh of The Pure Coffee Blog
Kansas’ most well-known roaster-turned-coffee-shop is a standard for coffee in the area, thanks to the dedication of the owners, Fred Polzin and Jeff Taylor. After opening PT’s Caffe Espresso in 1993, the two quickly learned what it meant to serve great coffee, not mediocre coffee, which is why the duo soon began roasting their own coffee.
"We could have sold our small business many times and retired or launched another career that would have probably made us more money," Taylor has written about PT’s. "But that’s not what we’re about. We are here to make great coffee and help our friends do the same."
Their dedication has paid off with some much-praised roasts (including an award for 2009 Roaster of the Year from Roast Magazine), as well as PT’s at College Hill. The coffee bar serves Flying Monkey espresso as the standard for its stand-alone espressos, lattes, and other drinks, as well as its drip coffees in Chemex, French press, Trifecta, and pour-over. All that, plus a food menu that will make you drool (hello, Flying Monkey chef salad), and a rotating craft beer tap and cocktail menu. PT’s at College Hill puts Topeka, Kan., on the coffee map.