America's Best Coffee Shops

on March 25, 2013
Photo by Clay McLachlan/ Courtesy of Blue Bottle Coffee

America’s Best Coffee Shops

Utter the word “coffeehouse” and the first image that comes to mind is likely to be the dark wood interiors and white and green cups of a certain mega-chain that rhymes with “Shmarbucks.” But coffee existed long before that omnipotent Seattle-based corporation was blending up venti Frappuccinos. And coffeehouses—those (hopefully) comfy and casual cafes where you can plug in, rock out, socialize or simply kick back with a cup of joe—have been around for more than 450 years. (The first, Kiva Han, opened in Constantinople in know, in case it ever comes up on Jeopardy or something.)
From the historic to the totally nerdy, here are 10 Must-Visit Coffee Shops to get your next caffeine fix.

Courtesy of Caffe Reggio

Caffe Reggio

Located: New York, NY
Website: Caffe Reggio
Any hot beverage tour of the U.S. should begin back where it all started: New York City’s Caffe Reggio. Not much has changed about this West Village stalwart since it first opened in 1927, not even the enormous, chrome and bronze espresso machine that has been churning out perfect cups of cappuccino for more than 85 years. They call it the “Original Cappuccino” because Caffe Reggio was the first cafe in America to add the frothy beverage to its menu of offerings. So sit back and savor the flavor of history (which comes with or without whipped cream).

Courtesy of Houndstooth Cafe

Houndstooth Cafe

Located: Austin, TX
Website: Houndstooth Cafe
Like the distinguished sartorial style its name honors, Houndstooth Cafe is all about staying classy. “What makes Houndstooth a fun shop is our uniquely Southern hospitality,” says owner Sean Henry. “Our baristas play a bit of matchmaker, connecting guest preferences with our seasonal coffee offerings. We try to craft an experience, not just a coffee, for everyone who enters our cafe. Keeping everything fresh and evolving with the coffee/culinary world is important to us.”
One way in which Henry and his crack team of coffee-crafters keep things interesting is with a regularly changing lineup of specialty drinks which, as of St. Patrick’s Day, included the Coffee Julep—an iced cup of espresso given a sweet and fizzy lift with vanilla, Pellegrino and muddled mint leaves. (Houndstooth's resident Coffee Educator and Trainer, Daniel Reed, came up with that one.)

Courtesy of Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde

Located: New Orleans, LA
Website: Cafe du Monde
When it comes to historic cafes, the corner of Decatur and St. Ann Streets in the Big Easy boasts one of the world’s most iconic: Cafe du Monde. Originally opened as a coffee stand, this 150-year-old coffee shop is now one of NOLA’s biggest tourist attractions. Yes, you can buy their chicory-flavored coffee at your local grocery store—but nothing beats the in-person experience of dipping one of Cafe du Monde’s world-famous beignets into a piping hot cafe au lait...even if you do end up covered in powdered sugar.

Courtesy of La Colombe Torrefaction

La Colombe Torrefaction

Located: Philadelphia, PA
Website: La Colombe Torrefaction
“Enter any La Colombe cafe and one immediately notices what is missing: the merchandising and clutter of CDs, coffee mugs, home coffee machines and lunch foods; all items that distract from the coffee experience and quality service,” says La Colombe co-founder Todd Carmichael. What makes this minimalistic approach such a particularly welcome relief is that, in the coffee world, Carmichael is a bit of a rock star. A world-renowned adventurer and social crusader, he is the first American to trek across Antarctica by his lonesome (and set a world-record speed of 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes doing it). He’s also the star of The Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds, which follows the often-treacherous lengths Carmichael goes to in order to find the world’s best coffee.
The good news, for you, is that to enjoy the fruits of Carmichael’s perilous labors, the only trek you need to make is to one of La Colombe's nine locations.

Courtesy of Kiss Coffeehouse

Kiss Coffeehouse

Located: Myrtle Beach, SC
Website: Kiss Coffeehouse
Wanna rock and roll all night and sip java everyday? Then we’ve got the place for you: Kiss Coffeehouse. Myrtle Beach’s ode to the face paint-loving ’70s rockers (who are still going strong, by the way) is like the coffee bar version of Planet Hollywood; beverages are the main business, but there’s plenty of merchandise (T-shirts, etc.) and memorabilia (like a pair of Gene Simmons’ beyond-bedazzled boots) to satisfy even the most decaffeinated patrons. Like the band it’s modeled after, Kiss Coffeehouse is a little bit loud and whole lot of entertaining. Don’t be surprised to bump into a famous face either; though the band doesn’t own the cafe, they have made many appearances here. And be sure to try a signature Frozen Rockuccino, which comes in more than 20 flavors, including Irish Cream, Mint Mocha Chip, and S’mores (which is made with real graham crackers).

Courtesy of Caffe Trieste

Caffe Trieste

Located: San Francisco, CA
Website: Caffe Trieste
Coffeehouses have long been a magnet for creative types, and few places boast more famous a roster of java-sipping regulars than San Francisco’s Caffe Trieste. Opened in 1956 by Italian ex-pat Giovanni “Papa” Giotta, Caffe Trieste holds the distinction of being the west coast’s first espresso coffeehouse, a place where caffeine and bohemia collided when it began attracting a host of poets, writers, composers, artists and filmmakers. It was a regular meeting place for Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and it was within the cafe’s well-worn interior that Francis Ford Coppola wrote the Oscar-winning script for The Godfather. While many of these patrons are in the cafe’s past, a must-see photo wall commemorates the locale’s iconic brushes with fame. While Caffe Trieste now has five Bay Area locations, the flagship store at 601 Vallejo Street is the one where the tradition began.

Courtesy of The Wormhole Coffee

The Wormhole Coffee

Located: Chicago, IL
Website: The Wormhole Coffee
When asked what makes The Wormhole such a special spot, director of operations Zaida Dedolph goes straight to the source: the staff. “The most truthful thing I can tell you is that The Wormhole is heavily occupied by nerds of all varieties,” says Dedolph. “Most of the staff collect Magic cards. We buy fancy ping-pong paddles and paddle lube. We infuse our own bitters. If there's something we can get super nerdy about, we will take it to plus-10 wisdom, maximum nerd-ery level.”
That sense of humor and (yes, we’ll say it again) nerdiness translates to the décor of this totally fun Wicker Park cafe, where the aesthetic is all 1980s pop culture, complete with vintage Nintendo video games and a full-size replica of Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future (right down to the “OUTATIME” license plate). Need we say more?

Courtesy of Panther Coffee

Panther Coffee

Located: Miami, FL
Website: Panther Coffee
If it’s true that arty types love a good coffeehouse, then Joel and Leticia Ramos Pollock—owners of Panther Coffee—could not have chosen a better location than Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Of course, careful consideration is a hallmark of this indie coffeehouse’s success. The husband-and-wife team personally selects the farms on which their beans are grown, then roasts them on-site (in a pre-WWII Probat Perfekt Roaster) in small batches, creating a deliciously deep and one-of-a-kind flavor. Like a great chef who cooks everything to order, the Pollocks don’t mess around when it comes to crafting a perfect cup of coffee—which is best enjoyed from a seat at one of their sidewalk tables. The duo is set to open a second location in Miami Beach this year.

Photo by Clay McLachlan

Blue Bottle Coffee

Located: Oakland, CA
Website: Blue Bottle Coffee
Since getting its start in 2002, Blue Bottle Coffee has opened 11 cafes in California and New York—all of them serving up the company’s signature super-fresh coffee (every cup has been roasted within the last 48 hours). But when it comes to our favorite of the Blue Bottle family, the Webster Street store in Oakland, California gets our biggest thumbs up. Located in a painstakingly restored 1923 brick warehouse, the building now houses Blue Bottle’s roastery plus a kitchen, training lab, coffee bar, offices and cupping rooms. Private tours of the Oakland Roastery (which come with a bag of beans for each visitor) can be reserved. And Blue Bottle’s expert team of coffee roasters offers a free public cupping (a fancy word for tasting and smelling) every Tuesday and Sunday at 2pm. (They do the same at the Brooklyn Roastery at noon every Thursday.)

Courtesy of Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema

Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema

Located: Greensboro, NC
Website: Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema
“Aside from delicious gourmet coffee drinks, our customers can also enjoy great foreign and independent cinema, pinball, video games and cutting-edge board games all in one location,” says Joe Scott, owner of Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema, an indie cinema and coffeehouse hybrid that offers a healthy helping of first-class entertainment with its delicious menu of coffee drinks. “We also offer free WiFi, locally baked pastries and craft beers made in the Carolinas.”
Opened in 2012, Geeksboro is still growing and figuring out what works best for their concept. And they’re having a blast doing it. “For St. Patty's Day, we created a drink called the Belfast: Chocolate and vanilla ice cream blended with an Irish-styled stout beer, Irish creme and a shot of espresso,” says Scott. “All of these things are good individually, but man, I had no idea how delicious they would be when they were combined together.” We don’t doubt it…