Just a few decades ago, Americans' coffee choices were largely limited to regular or decaf. No more, obviously. The explosion of cappuccino- and latte-laden shops of the eighties and nineties gave way to the so-called "third-wave" movement of the early aughts, in which owners (smartly) began treating coffee beans technically seeds from coffee berries as a proper ingredient and not some simple commodity. That point of view has evolved even further, and it's now easier than ever to find a shop staffed with coffee obsessives who will happily blow your mind with their knowledge and skills.
Here's what defines the modern American coffee shop, circa 2013: a desire to source coffee responsibly (or buy beans from someone who does), trained (but not grumpy) baristas who can pull perfect shots and turn them into top-level espresso drinks, and a mind-boggling array of coffee-extracting techniques (awesomely named things like Chemex, v60, and Steampunk).
That's not to say all of these new-look spots are created equal: As with all things in life, some are better than others, which is why Grub Street tracked down every coffee expert we could think of people like Oliver Strand, Atera chef Matthew Lightner, and coffee entrepreneur Duane Sorenson to tell us which spots they think are the best in class. The results include industry hangout Joe Pro Shop & HQ in New York, Octane coffee in Atlanta (which specializes in Coke-and-espresso shots), and Barista Parlor, tucked into an old auto garage in Nashville.
Everyone has a favorite coffee shop, and the reasons for a customer to pick one place or another vary greatly. But the spots on this list aren't just dedicated to pouring excellent coffee; they're also committed to pushing the movement forward with next-level food, booze, and hospitality programs, continuing to make America an even better place to grab a cup of coffee.
New York City
150 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg, 718-388-8037; bakeribrooklyn.com
This Williamsburg café offers the complete package: a gorgeous atmosphere, made-to-order tartines, and high-quality drip Counter Culture coffee. To prepare espresso, lead barista Catherine Stack uses a Mazzer Robur Electronic grinder and a La Marzocco Linea, and for coffee, a Bunn grinder and Fetco brewer. "I love cafés that have more to offer than just coffee," says Counter Culture Coffee's Katie Carguilo. "Bakeri is the prettiest café in all of New York."
What to Order: Keep it simple and get a cortado.
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Bay Area; New York City
Multiple locations; bluebottlecoffee.com
You'll be hard-pressed to find a real-deal coffee lover who doesn't freak out over Blue Bottle — but everyone has a different reason. Coffee writer Oliver Strand loves the pastries, Medium’s Charlotte Druckman calls the coffee itself "perfect," and Dooby's Coffee's Phil Han praises the shops for fitting so well into their respective communities. In other words: Blue Bottle lives up to the hype. Owner James Freeman focuses on details like sourcing single-origin milk, and it makes a difference. Next up for Freeman and his team is a Boerum Hill outpost, scheduled to open late this year.
What to Order: The growing chain is known for its New Orleans–style iced coffee and the SG-120, a single-origin mini latte named after the Japanese glass in which it's served.
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New York City
Multiple locations; cafegrumpy.com
After getting immortalized in Girls and announcing the opening of a Times Square outpost, you could argue that Grumpy has become too famous for its own good. But don't let that distract you from the excellent, independently roasted coffee: Three members of Grumpy's staff are certified Q Graders, which means they're professionally accredited to assess the quality of coffee and had to pass a five-day exam consisting of 22 individual tests.
What to Order: A cappuccino, made with Grumpy’s own Heartbreaker espresso blend and Battenkill Valley milk.
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New York City
210 Court St., Cobble Hill, 718-855-7129; cafepedlar.com
The guys behind Frankies Spuntino and Prime Meats own this bright and airy (and exceedingly popular) Cobble Hill coffee shop. They roast Stumptown and Four Barrel coffee, serve braided pretzels with Vermont butter, and offer In Pursuit of Tea's loose leaves. Treat yourself and order a buttermilk biscuit.
What to Order: A cup of pour-over coffee, brewed with a v60.
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Fair Folks & a Goat
New York City
96 W. Houston St., 212-420-7900; fairfolksandagoat.com
The idea of a "membership café," which this is, seems pretentious. But Fair Folks is actually one of the most welcoming shops in town. Anyone can join, and for $25 a month you get access to unlimited coffee and tea — which includes the excellent cold brew made with coffee from New Orleans (where the owners started their business). Plus: The space is filled with paintings, jewelry, and furniture from up-and-coming artists, and everything is available for purchase.
What to Order: A giant 64-ounce growler of cold-brew coffee.
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New York City
Multiple locations; fikanyc.com
Great coffee shops don't have to be obscure warehouses with monastic staffs and bare brick walls. Proof: Fika, the small Swedish coffee chain with five handsome locations around New York. "It's sort of random, but that's what I like about it," says Charlotte Druckman. With Scandinavian-style coffee blowing up among coffee nerds, Fika is perfectly calibrated to capitalize on the hype.
What to Order: A cappuccino made in Fika’s Synesso espresso machine is always a good choice.
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Jack's Stir Brew
New York City; Amagansett
Multiple locations; jacksstirbrew.com
When the first location opened in the West Village in 2003, Jack’s stood out for sourcing organic, fair-trade, shade-grown beans and using a boutique roaster in Vermont. Through the signature stir-brewing method, the baristas aim to create evenness in coffee, ensuring that each sip tastes exactly the same.
What to Order: The Happy Jack (a honey-cinnamon latte) — and one of Aunt Rosie’s famous chocolate-chip cookies.
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Joe Pro Shop & Headquarters
New York City
131 W. 21st St., 212-924-7400; joenewyork.com
Joe's HQ in Chelsea is a destination for coffee geeks: You can buy high-tech espresso machines, sample the best beans from roasters all around North America, and even take "Joe University" coffee classes. "It's the industry hangout," confirms Oliver Strand. "It's a very utilitarian space — like a bad Ikea apartment. It's not trying to seduce you with a marble countertop. It's kind of awkward, and that's awesome. It's a pro shop for purists."
What to Order: A cup of black pour-over coffee.
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New York City; Philadelphia; Chicago
Multiple locations; lacolombe.com
Coffee snobs tend to be divided on this Philly-based roaster, often because of its outspoken co-owner Todd Carmichael. Grub Street has to give this spot the nod, though, because of its legion of fans and commitment to ethical sourcing.
What to Order: Either a Gibraltar, made with two shots of espresso and a dash of warm milk, or La Colombe's pre-bottled Pure Black iced coffee.
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New York City
667 Lexington Ave., 212-308-1969; littlecollinsnyc.com
Named after a street in Melbourne, Little Collins evokes an Australian coffee sensibility. That means an industrial interior, straightforward drinks (made with Counter Culture coffee), and a food menu filled with "Brekkie" options. Plus, Little Collins, which opened in August, is the first coffee shop in the city to use a Modbar modular-brewing system. It sits below the counter, removing the normal barrier between the barista and the customer.
What to Order: A piccolo latte, a traditional Australian drink with a double shot of espresso and a small amount of steamed milk. It’s similar to a cortado.
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New York City
2 Lexington Ave., 212-777-2410; maialinonyc.com
In June 2012, Danny Meyer totally revamped the coffee program at his Roman trattoria inside the Gramercy Park hotel, deciding to switch to Counter Culture coffee. He trained his staff to treat coffee more like wine, making it one of the country's most committed restaurant coffee programs. It's an elegant place to spend your morning, but there's also a to-go counter.
What to Order: The cold-brew coffee is made fresh daily, but a classic Italian Shakerado is also a good bet: Espresso and raw simple syrup are shaken over ice and garnished with an orange slice.
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New York City
251 W. 23rd St.; portsnyc.com
The cliché of the snobby barista is largely a thing of the past, but some customers still get intimidated at serious coffee shops. In response, Ports makes accessibility a priority: "They have this great way of speaking about the coffee without speaking down to anybody," says Jonathan Rubinstein, owner of Joe and writer of Joe: The Coffee Book. "With great coffee, a smile, and a cute little shop, they nail it."
What to Order: The hand-bottled “cold-brew latte,” which is made in small batches using dairy milk.
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Portland; Seattle; New York City; Los Angeles
Multiple locations; stumptowncoffee.com
Duane Sorenson opened the first Stumptown location on Division Street in 1999, revolutionizing the way coffee companies source beans and turning Portland into one of the top coffee destinations in the country. Through forging direct-trade relationships with farms, Sorenson has set the industry standard for how to source beans responsibly from Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia. A gorgeous West Village location is the newest in the empire (and a favorite of Atera chef, and former Portland resident, Matthew Lightner's), and Stumptown's first L.A. location is scheduled to open soon.
What to Order: The beloved “Hair Bender” espresso blend features coffees from the three major coffee-producing regions: Latin America, East Africa, and Indonesia.
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New York City
Multiple locations; sweetleaflic.com
Sweetleaf's outlook on coffee is that it should be balanced and consistent throughout, so the baristas oversee the time, temperature, and pressure of extractions with the utmost precision. As a result, the shops are filled with scales. "They do a lot of small, scientific-based procedures," says A Cuppa Day's Mike White. "It's technical."
What to Order: Stick to a shot (or three) of single-origin espresso.
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New York City
Multiple locations; thirdrailcoffee.com
"It's small, it's always crowded, and the baristas' focus on coffee is spectacular," says Stumptown's Duane Sorenson. He's referring to Third Rail's tiny outpost on Sullivan Street, but in June, owner Humberto Ricardo opened a second location, off Stuyvesant Street. Baristas filter single-origin beans from Stumptown and other roasters into Chemex flasks.
What to Order: Whatever's being offered from "guest" roasters — although the beans cost more, Ricardo charges the same price so customers are more willing to try them.
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New York City
125 N. 6th St., Williamsburg, 347-457-6160; tobysestate.com
Toby Smith opened his first coffee shop in Sydney in 1997, and in 2012, a Stateside outpost launched in Williamsburg. Although Smith doesn't actually own the Brooklyn location, he serves as the creative director and has Q Grader Deaton Pigot overseeing operations. Pigot travels the world to select environmentally conscious green beans to make single-origin coffee and espresso.
What to Order: A flat white, an Australian speciality similar to a cappuccino but with micro-foam from the bottom of the frothing pitcher.
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New York City
14 Christopher St.; facebook.com/whynotcoffeeNYC
Whynot opened in May in the West Village, but owner Emil Stefkov already has plans to open two more locations in the city — all with different themes. The décor on Christopher Street evokes sixties Paris, but the East Village outpost will be rooted in tattoo culture. With Blue Bottle coffee, pastries from Mille-feuille, and a wide variety of milks, this shop knows its neighborhood.
What to Order: Any drink made with fresh, organic almond milk.
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375 Valencia St., 415-896-4289; fourbarrelcoffee.com
What makes Four Barrel — started by the co-founder of nearby Ritual — stand out in a city filled with next-level roasters? It's the energy, says Oliver Strand. At the Valencia Street outpost you'll find art exhibitions, pop-up food events, and vinyl-record release parties. This August, for its fifth anniversary party, there was even a petting zoo. As for the coffee, it's made old-fashioned-style in a vintage German roaster. Look out for a new shop in Portola.
What to Order: Four Barrel boasts a huge menu of seasonal single-origin coffees, so you should let the baristas guide you.
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150 Mississippi St., 415-701-9700; frontsf.com
This small micro-roastery's coffee bar is literally at the front of an electric film and robotics studio. The baristas roast on a Probatino machine, aiming to highlight the origin and harvest time of the beans. No detail gets overlooked here; even the glassware is selected with care.
What to Order: The cold-brew coffee with housemade almond milk. It's served in a mason jar.
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3417 18th St.; lineacaffe.com
This small, standing-room-only espresso bar is a collaboration between Andrew Barnett (the founder of Ecco Caffe) and Mission Street Food's Anthony Myint. While Myint's making Brussels-style sweet and savory waffles and fresh salads, Barnett is running the micro-roasting operation. "There was a period where coffee went through this purist phase, when people didn't care about food," says Left Coast Roast's Hanna Neuschwander. "The concept here is to give people a full, rounded experience, and it's really excellent."
What to Order: Pair a simple espresso with a not-so-simple pastrami-and-latke waffle.
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Multiple locations; ritualroasters.com
Ritual's renowned as one of the best roasters in the country, but the company's actual coffee shops are pretty special, too. Oliver Strand's favorite is the location in Flora Grubb Gardens. "You're surrounded by these freakishly beautiful, unrecognizable plants, and then there's a coffee bar in the middle," he says. "And it's in a part of town that is always drenched in sunlight." In short, he says, "It's one of the greatest shops in the country."
What to Order: A Gibraltar.
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270 Seventh St., 415-861-1313; sightglasscoffee.com
This independent coffee company is owned by two brothers, Justin and Jerad Morrison, who are both Blue Bottle alumni. The Morrisons set up shop in an old sign-making warehouse in SoMa, where they mix old and new: They use a vintage 1961 Probat with a cast-iron drum to micro-roast, but make espresso with a high-tech La Marzocco machine. "Sightglass has possibly the most beautiful coffee bar and roaster I've ever seen," says Oliver Strand. "It's like a secular chapel for coffee."
What to Order: All of the pour-over drip coffees are great, but the excellent Guji, Yetatebe is a fresh-crop Ethiopian coffee, so it’s only available for the next few months.
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Los Angeles; Culver City, C.A.
Multiple locations; popupcoffee.com
Yeekai Lim proves that it's a sound strategy to launch a business as a pop-up first: He started Cognoscenti inside his brother's restaurant Urban Eats, then launched a pop-up shop inside Proof Bakery, and, finally, opened a stand-alone shop in Culver City earlier this year. Lim's always changing his roster of roasters, and you'll often find Wrecking Ball, Phil & Sebastian, Ritual Coffee, and Bows & Arrows.
What to Order: All of the coffee's good, but the off-menu hot chocolate (with Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolate and sweet whole milk) is excellent, too.
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Go Get Em Tiger/G&B
Multiple locations; ggetla.com
Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski worked at Intelligentsia's Venice location before departing to start their own high-concept coffee bar in L.A. Both men are U.S. Barista Championship winners, and they're operating a stand at Grand Central Market and a new shop in Larchmont Village called Go Get Em Tiger. "G&B is like a cross between a crisp white apron and a warm wool sweater," says Hanna Neuschwander. "It combines the meticulousness and precision you'd expect of the best restaurant with the warmth of your favorite pullover. G&B doesn't parade itself as one of the best cafés in the country — it just is."
What to Order: A latte with housemade almond milk.
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582 Mateo St., 213-621-4194; handsomecoffee.com
The first thing that everyone notes about Handsome is that the actual shop is, well, handsome. "It's a gorgeous build-out," says Hanna Neuschwander. "And they try to keep everything really fun and flirty — but dude-flirty as opposed to female-flirty." The coffee's just as impressive as the aesthetic: Owners Tyler Wells, Michael Phillips, and Chris Owens all used to work at Intelligentsia, and Phillips is a World Barista Champion. Coffee-obsessed chef Hugh Acheson is another fan: "It's a beautiful shop, with tables outside, usually a food truck nearby, and Vincent Gallo ordering coffee," he says.
What to Order: A pure five-ounce espresso with steamed Clover Farms Dairy whole milk.
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Los Angeles; New York; Chicago
Multiple locations; intelligentsiacoffee.com
Coffee-company pioneers James Freeman (Blue Bottle), Duane Sorenson (Stumptown), and Jonathan Rubinstein (Joe) can all agree: Intelligentsia, started in Chicago way back in 1995, does a damn good job. "On a national level, it's still cutting-edge," Rubinstein says. This year, founders Doug Zell and Emily Mange have focused on New York operations, opening a coffee bar at the High Line Hotel and launching their first coffee truck in the city. The New York expansion is just the beginning, as Intelligentsia is opening several new retail coffee bars this year — including one in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood.
What to Order: Classic cappuccinos are made using rich 5 percent milk.
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1636 Silver Lake Blvd., 323-663-4441; lamillcoffee.com
It's appropriate that Silverlake's LAMILL boutique looks like an overstyled movie set: Green leather seats, an ornate chandelier, and bold red accents all factor into the décor. Underneath the gloss, though, is a very serious coffee shop. A variety of extraction methods — Chemex, Eva Solo carafes, siphon, and lots more — are on offer alongside food and specialty coffee drinks.
What to Order: The straight coffee options are top-notch, but LAMILL also offers elaborate drinks such as an orange-infused cappuccino.
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Multiple locations; vervecoffeeroasters.com
"It's inspiring to go to a part of the country where you don't have to choose style or substance," says Oliver Strand of this hip-yet-grounded California spot. This company's rooted in surfer culture, and Verve even has an in-house designer making skate decks and graphic tees (with pirate and bear motifs). The Verve owners also offer predominantly single-origin coffees that change with harvest seasons, but they make a few blends. “The 1950,” a custom blend originally made for Google, is very popular.
What to Order: The One-and-One, a single macchiato and single espresso placed together on a shared saucer. A Verve employee presented it at the 2012 Southwest Regional Barista Competition, and it’s become a popular industry drink.
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Little Goat Bread
820 W. Randolph St., 312-888-3455; littlegoatchicago.com
Most serious coffee destinations have stripped-down interiors and no-nonsense attitudes. Not Little Goat Bread, which is adjacent to celeb chef Stephanie Izard's Little Goat diner. The look is one reason why Duane Sorenson heads there whenever he's in town: “I love the aesthetic," he says. "It has a cool diner feel, but the coffee is far from typical diner coffee. The baristas are trained well, especially for that size of a restaurant."
What to Order: Any drink with optional goat milk added.
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The Wormhole Coffee
1462 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-661-2468; wormholecoffee.com
This Wicker Park coffee shop is an homage to eighties pop culture, and it has arguably the best décor of any shop in the nation: There's a life-size replica of the Back to the Future car and a working Nintendo. Oh, and the coffee comes from Chicago's HalfWit Coffee Roasters, but this isn't the place to go for a pure, perfect shot of espresso. Live a little and order one of the Wormhole's unique, specialty coffee drinks.
What to Order: The homemade vanilla-bean latte.
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Multiple locations; baristapdx.com
Award-winning coffee maven Billy Wilson opened Barista's Pearl District outpost in 2009, helping to shape the model of a successful multi-roaster café. Wilson is a loyal supporter of Stumptown, and he’s opening a fourth Portland location on Northwest 23rd Avenue soon.
What to Order: Besides Stumptown, Wilson also offers coffee from small, local roasters — so try whichever new one’s available.
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Coava Brew Bar
1300 SE Grand Ave., 503-894-8134; coavacoffee.com
Matt Higgins started Coava in true DIY fashion: He launched the shop in his garage while repairing motorcycles so he could afford a roaster. After selling single-sourced beans to coffeehouses around the greater Portland area, he opened his own brew bar and roastery in 2010, sharing a space with a bamboo design company. "It's a collaborative space, with bamboo surfaces and crazy industrial equipment," says Hanna Neuschwander. "The reason the space matters is because it's such a rich reflection of the coffee they serve. The whole aesthetic is about craftsmanship and competence, just like the coffee."
What to Order: You can’t go wrong with a cappuccino, made with milk from local Sunshine Dairy.
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923 SW Oak St., 503-545-6444; couriercoffeeroasters.com/
Matthew Lightner says this indie coffee shop represents "quintessential Portland." Owner Joel Domreis started Courier as a bike-delivery coffee business, and at his brick-and-mortar you'll find a turntable playing records, hand-pulled espresso machines, organic-cotton-cloth filters, custom-made mason jar cozies, and fair-trade beans. Staying true to its roots, Courier still delivers freshly roasted coffee via bicycle.
What to Order: A cup of pour-over drip coffee.
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2211 E. Burnside St., 503-206-6602; heartroasters.com
Finland native Wille Yli-Luoma left professional snowboarding to launch his coffee-roasting company: an ambitious endeavor, especially considering this was his first coffee-related job. Heart specializes in lightly roasted beans, and blogger Mike White says the quality of the sourcing and the roasting is at the highest level (he says Heart's his favorite coffee shop in the country). Yli-Luoma, competing on behalf of Finland, placed second at the 2013 World Aeropress Championship, and he's opening a second location in Portland this fall.
What to Order: Heart’s known for its espresso, which it makes in a volumetric Spirit espresso machine.
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Multiple locations; ristrettoroasters.com
Ristretto is the first Northwest coffee shop to use the next-level Steampunk brewing system, a $15,000 semiautomated single-cup brewing device that allows for greater control than many other machines. Fully programmable, the Steampunk machine is the kind of whizbang technology that offers skilled baristas plenty of options for consistency in extraction, and always impresses customers.
What to Order: A cup of floral and fruity Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Aricha coffee.
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171 Mass Ave., 339-368-7300; barismo.com
This quirky micro-roaster is located six miles outside Boston, and it's become a destination café for coffee geeks. "It's in the strangest neighborhood," says Matthew Lightner. "There's not a lot of foot traffic. It's unassuming, but it's really well done." Part of the reason why is the shop's precision: Often-overlooked variables such as temperature control and water-flow rate (i.e., how fast water flows through ground espresso to make a shot) are meticulously monitored.
What to Order: Siphon-brewed Finca Salaca Villalobos, a brand-new Costa Rican coffee.
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Multiple locations; espressovivace.com
According to Jonathan Rubinstein, Espresso Vivace "wrote the bible on espresso extraction." This Capitol Hill shop, which has been in business since 1988, is beloved for its "career baristas": professionals who have worked there for more than a decade. Blue Bottle's James Freeman echoes the sentiment, saying he's tremendously inspired by the dedication of the staff. There are only two types of espresso offered (Vita and Dolce) and one decaf option.
What to Order: A straight shot of the Dolce espresso, of course. (The Vita is only used in drinks with milk and sugar.)
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Milstead & Co.
770 N. 34th St., 206-659-4814; milsteadandco.com
"People think of Seattle as a coffee city, but for the last fifteen years, Seattle's name has been mud," says Neuschwander. "In the past two years, that's started to change, and one of the big drivers is Milstead & Co." The multi-roaster boutique café boasts a stunning pour-over bar, La Marzocco espresso machines, and a clean, simple design. The credit goes to award-winning barista Andrew Milstead, who Neuschwander describes as a "meditative coffee poet."
What to Order: A coffee made at the beautiful pour-over bar.
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Slate Coffee Roasters
Multiple locations; slatecoffee.com
Family members Lisanne, Keenan, and Chelsey Walker started Slate by serving coffee out of a converted 22-foot Airstream tricked out with a La Marzocco espresso machine, and now they have a brick-and-mortar in the Ballard neighborhood. Slate doesn't offer any sweeteners, syrups, or nonfat milk — which is fine, as its coffees are naturally sweet and buttery.
What to Order: An “espresso neat,” served in its purest form in a Glencairn glass.
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Washington, D.C.; Fairfax, V.A.; Bethesda, M.D.
Multiple locations; dolcezzagelato.com
Most customers come for the handmade artisanal gelato, but owner Robb Duncan takes coffee just as seriously: He works with roasters like Verve, Intelligentsia, Madcap, Ritual, and Stumptown. The coffee tastes good on its own, but it’s even better when washed down with a scoop of lemon-ricotta-cardamom gelato. Duncan's currently working on opening a 4,000-square-foot gelato factory and coffee lab near Union Market.
What to Order: A Gibraltar.
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The Coffee Bar
1201 S. St., NW, 202-733-1049; thecoffeebardc.com
Cait Lowry opened this shop barely a year ago, and she boasts that hers is the only one-woman-owned coffee shop in D.C. Multi-roaster cafés are also surprisingly rare in the area, and Lowry serves coffee from Ceremony, Handsome, and Batdorf & Bronson. Her shop — in a historic building from the 1890s — is decorated with salvaged signs, barn doors, and old fireplace mantels. "I took the theme of ‘if Anthropologie was a coffee shop' and ran with it," Lowry says.
What to Order: The Honey Badger, made with espresso, half-and-half, and honey. It’s a frothy drink that’s shaken over ice.
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Multiple locations; ultimocoffee.com
At its South Philadelphia location, Ultimo shares a space with a beer-bottle takeout company and serves American Sardine Bar's sandwiches. This business is categorically quirky, but it doesn't skimp on quality. Ultimo serves coffee from Counter Culture (and a guest roaster) that's hand-poured in Chemex brewers or made in Beehouse drippers. "They were one of the first in the city of Philadelphia, if not the first, to be so fanatical about quality," says Jonathan Rubinstein. "Every time I go into one of their shops, I'm incredibly inspired. They get back to the roots of what the perfect one-or-two-shop business should be."
What to Order: The drink of the month is a "Sprojito." Baristas steep simple syrup with cucumber, basil, and mint leaves; add lemon bitters; shake the espresso; and pour everything over seltzer and lime juice.
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Grand Rapids, M.I.
98 Monroe Center NW, 888-866-9091; madcapcoffee.com
In downtown Grand Rapids, this small, bare-bones shop caters to art students from nearby Kendall College, with responsibly sourced beans and slews of brewing techniques. Espresso drinks are as solid as you'd expect, but the better move here is to try one of the shop's brewed coffees. Madcap is growing beyond Michigan too: The owners are planning to open a Washington, D.C., location soon.
What to Order: The pour-over-brewed Third Coast blend.
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519 Gallatin Ave., 615-712-9766; baristaparlor.com
Among coffee snobs, this multi-roaster shop often flies under the radar because it's tucked away on a quiet block in a space that used to house a car-repair shop. But once you enter through the garage doors, you'll find coffee that's made using v60, Chemex, siphon, and Woodneck brewing methods, as well as housemade pastries like French macarons and peach handpies.
What to Order: A simple cappuccino, made with single-origin espresso and creamy Hatcher Family Dairy milk.
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Old City Java
109 S. Central St., 865-523-9817; oldcityjava.com
Old City Java is the oldest coffee shop in Knoxville, a city with a thriving community of artists. Husband-and-wife owners Shawn Parrish and Meg Hunter-Parrish purchased the shop a few years ago, and they're modernizing it without detracting from its old-school charm. They use Counter Culture and Stumptown coffee and locally produced Cruze Dairy Farm milk. Meg bakes all of the pastries — like strawberry-Nutella "Pop-Tarts" — from scratch.
What to Order: Opt for a mocha: Old City Java uses Valrhona chocolate for its homemade sauce.
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Atlanta; Homewood, A.L.
Multiple locations; octanecoffee.com
Hugh Acheson says Octane is one of his favorite spots in all of Georgia. Octane used to brew Counter Culture, but two years ago, it started roasting its own coffee in Homewood (which is a suburb of Birmingham). In the shops, baristas make individual cups of pour-over coffee using the v60 brewing method.
What to Order: The America-cola, a shot of espresso and Coca-Cola on ice.
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109 South Hill St., 678-603-1462; safehousecoffeeroasters.com
Safehouse is a non profit micro-roaster that aims to strengthen its community by hosting artists, government officials, and entrepreneurs for meetings and performances. Hugh Acheson says it symbolizes the "next generation of coffee" in which "little shops are able to make it in really small, Podunk towns." Safehouse succeeds by taking hospitality to the next level.
What to Order: A shot of Periodic espresso, which has hints of malted chocolate and citrus.
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1500 Union Ave., 410-235-1881; artifactcoffee.com
Phil Han recently opened Dooby's in Baltimore, and Artifact is his biggest competitor. But that doesn't stop him from praising the shop, which is a spinoff of Baltimore's popular haute-barnyard spot Woodberry Kitchen. "It's basically a farm-to-table café that has killer coffee," Han says. That means in addition to Counter Culture coffee and a variety of teas, you'll also find market-driven potpies and pulled-pork sandwiches.
What to Order: The Cajeta latte, which is made with a goat's-milk-based caramel sauce.
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627 Saint Peter St., 225-384-0655; facebook.com/pages/spitfire-coffee
Englishman-turned-NOLA resident John Peters and culinary-school graduate Nicholas Viking Christian opened Spitfire in the French Quarter in February, and the multi-roaster is quietly becoming a huge hit in the city. Peters and Christian know that small, unique details are the building blocks of a stellar coffee shop: They're making their own syrups, adding hot-pink Himalayan rock salt to hot chocolate, and using a top-of-the-line Aurelia II espresso machine. The food's next-level, too: coconut-lime scones, ginger-molasses cookies, and mascarpone-iced cinnamon rolls.
What to Order: The hand-brewed iced coffee.
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407 Colorado St., 512-494-6916; hotdogscoldbeer.com
This hot-dog shop, bar, and live-music venue actually serves up some of the greatest coffee in Austin. Handsome roasts Frank’s beans to order in Los Angeles, then sends them to Austin the next day, where Frank baristas brew single cups of drip coffee pour-over-style using a Hario v60 with a paper filter. Frank’s highbrow coffee is the perfect chaser for beer-soaked bratwursts and chili-cheese dogs.
What to Order: If you’re there on a Sunday, Frank offers tableside siphon coffee service, so you can watch how the magic happens. Otherwise, go for the Frank Crank: housemade ganache, half-and-half, vanilla, and cold brew shaken over ice.
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Multiple locations; houndstoothcoffee.com
Brothers and native Texans Sean and Paul Henry started their multi-roaster business in 2010, and in June, they opened their second modern, minimalist shop downtown in the lobby of the Frost Bank Tower. The Henrys offer Handsome, Madcap, Counter Culture, and Cuvee coffee as well as TWEED, their own coffee that’s roasted by Houndstooth’s Jonathan Aldrich, the 2013 South Central Brewers Cup champion. Bonus: Houndstooth takes beer and wine as seriously as it does coffee.
What to Order: The coffee julep: espresso, vanilla, sparkling water, and fresh mint.
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1018 Westheimer Rd. 832-360-7470; facebook.com/blacksmithhoustonGreenway Coffee Company, which started in 2009, is widely considered the leader of Houston coffee's scene — a big accomplishment, considering Greenway's only retail shop is in a food court beneath an office building. But Greenway owner David Buehrer and the Clumsy Butcher bar and restaurant group teamed up for Blacksmith, which opened in January. Buehrer travels the world to select beans and experiments with practically every type of high-tech brewing system available. Food is taken seriously, too: Per Se alum Erin Smith is making yogurt from scratch, as well as Vietnamese steak and eggs.
What to Order: A flat white with local farm milk.
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Davis Street Espresso
819 W. Davis St., 214-929-6752; facebook.com/davisstreetespresso
Shannon Neffendorf started Oak Cliff Coffee five and a half years ago, roasting coffee, hand-delivering it milkman-style to people’s doors, and supplying grocery stores and independent shops with beans. But just three weeks ago, Oak Cliff opened its first retail space and café, named Davis Street Espresso. The shop’s tricked out with a Bosco lever espresso machine imported from Italy, a Spirit machine from the Netherlands to pull single-origin espresso, and a Steampunk. The machines are set up at 45-degree angles so that customers can view the brewing process.
What to Order: The Van Buren, named after a local street, is made with two ounces of espresso, two ounces of steamed milk, and Topo Chico (Mexican carbonated mineral water). It’s served on a beautiful hand-carved tray with biscotti.
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3700 S. Jefferson Ave.; sumpcoffee.com
Owner Scott Carey models Sump after a wine bar, highlighting the terroir, origin, and processing of seasonal, single-origin coffee. Carey roasts the coffee light — Scandinavian-roast style — and carries predominantly natural or dry-processed coffees to enhance the flavor of fruit. He also boasts one the most impressive beards in the coffee industry, which is no small feat.
What to Order: A cup of Kyoto-styled brewed coffee, or an espresso that’s pulled using the Slayer machine.
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Boxcar Coffee Roasters
Multiple locations; boxcarcoffeeroasters.com
Inspired by “cowboy coffee,” Boxcar developed a brewing method called the Boilermakr to make the best of Colorado's high elevation and low boiling temperature. The process involves immersing the grounds in boiling water and then brewing coffee in glass beakers and laboratory heaters. The company’s third shop at the Source, a large indoor market in Denver, is scheduled to open soon.
What to Order: A cup of black coffee, which is roasted in a refurbished 1929 Gothot Ideal Rapid coffee roaster.
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Kansas City, M.O.
412 Delaware St., 816-471-7277; quaycoffee.com
Owners Tanner Stevens and Cory Stipp opened Quay last summer in the historic River Market, and they're serving single-origin and pour-over coffee from Kansas City–based Oddly Correct Roasters. Community is important to Quay: The owners make a point to support charities like Variety KC, and they sell handmade goods to raise money for refugees.
What to Order: A cup of pour-over coffee.
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Black Tap Coffee
70 1/2 Beaufain St., 843-793-4402; blacktapcoffee.com
In a town known for its amazing food and drink options, Black Tap stands out as the favorite coffee shop. Why's that? The spot has the standard pour-over station and high-end espresso drinks, but it's really known for its off-kilter coffee creations, such as lavender lattes and coffee-based juleps.
What to Order: A flavored latte, or, if it's available, an affogato.
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Counter Culture Coffee's Durham Training Center
4911 South Alston Ave., 919-361-5888; counterculturecoffee.com
The beloved roasting company operates training centers all over the country, but Counter Culture is headquartered in Durham. While the space doesn't function as a retail shop, it's open to the public on Friday mornings for coffee cuppings (educational tastings). If you can't make it to mecca, Counter Culture's opening a New York flagship training center in Nolita on October 1.
What to Order:: The expert baristas will guide you.