Avoca

By the time I made my way to Ft. Worth, I had gone over 24 hours without an even decent cup of coffee. The only options available to me consisted of small town shops who think it's okay to use Folger's out of a can and gas stations that don't brew fresh coffee for what seems like decades.  So by the time I hit up Avoca, it was like a mirage in the desert.  It was only a quick stop, but a much needed and fantastic experience!

I walked in and immediately felt comfortable.  Grunge-era music from the band, Hole,  was filling the space at a pretty raucous volume, but not an eardrum bleeding volume.  People could still have conversations. The place was packed.  There wasn't an available seat inside, but luckily the outside temperature was heavenly and a couple at a picnic table was willing to share their space.  Turns out this couple was on a first date.  I am the master of awkward.

The inside gave a very 90s coffee shop feel, from the murals painted on the walls inside to the guy playing his acoustic guitar outside.  As for the coffee itself, it is far more modern day.  Avoca takes their coffee seriously.  They roast their own beans in the warehouse space connected to the cafe.  Their roaster, Gerald LaRue, is enthusiastic about his beans and that comes through in the final product.    

I ordered a cappuccino and my brother ordered a house coffee.  They make their house coffee using a large press pot so it is fresh and full-bodied.  The cappuccino was velvety and was wonderfully sweet. Almost as sweet as the staff themselves (everyone say "awwww").  I am being honest though.  Everyone was very warm and welcoming and their production roaster, Seth, was more than happy to show me around the warehouse.  From the energy behind the bar to the care that goes into the roast, Avoca has the atmosphere and quality most of us are looking for in a coffee shop.

My stay was short, but the experience was good enough that I will return when I find myself in Ft. Worth again.   

http://avocacoffee.com

Yellow House Coffee

When you drive down 34th Street in Lubbock, tucked among a strip of inconspicuous buildings, you will find a lovely little grey building with cheerful yellow trim.  This is the home of Yellow House Coffee, a newer coffee shop in the city.  Opening in the summer of 2013, this shop is less than a mile from J&B Coffee, but has been holding its own and offering a very different atmosphere.  It is a small space, but does not lack in seating or character.  I have come here to write on a few occasions and found it conducive to actually getting things done.  There isn't the distraction of the constant flow of people in and out.  Not to say it isn't busy, it just encourages a calmer pace than some of its counterparts.  This space caters to friendly conversation or a quiet study atmosphere.  

Yellow House uses Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters out of Dallas.  They offer all the usual coffee and espresso drinks as well as pourover.  I had a shot of espresso even though I was already so caffeinated I was shaking like a politician hooked up to a lie detector.  The notes leaned heavy towards the smokey side with a little dark berry swimming in there.  These guys don't just do coffee.  They also bake, in house, cinnamon rolls, killer bagels, muffins and other goodies.  I had an everything bagel and am glad I don't have access to this every day because I'd get bagel-bloated.  I have poor willpower.  Yellow House also makes their own syrups to flavor your drinks.  I have a soft spot for handcrafted details like this.  It shows an awareness of their ability to control quality and really bring out exactly what flavors they want in their finished product.  

I was treated to a glass of cascara tea while visiting.  This was actually my first time trying it and it really was what I expected.  It's a cherry, so you can probably deduce for yourself what the major flavor note is.  

I always appreciate the friendly service I get when I go into Yellow House Coffee.  They may be the new kids on the block, but they are on the right track to being around for many more years.

J&B Coffee

Lubbock, TX

The summer before last, I lived in Lubbock, TX and a good 80% of that time was spent in coffee shops.  Yes, partly because I am in love with coffee, but mostly because I was in a new town and didn't know a soul aside from the 40-something year old Iranian man that had employed me to help establish his newly opened bistro.  He was pleasant enough to work for, but we had very different preferences for how to spend our free time.  So, I found myself claiming my space in one of the three local coffee shops.  

J&B Coffee offered an atmosphere that made me feel most comfortable.  The staff was welcoming and the customers were a variety of personalities.  This shop, established in 1979, is located less than a mile from Texas Tech University so it is understandably populated by college students and their enormous backpacks as well as their professors, busy grading papers.  Mixed in with the academics is an array of colorful characters.  At any point in the day you will find small groups engulfed in deep conversation, people of any age with their nose in a book, that strange guy that just stares at everyone (a lot of coffee shops have these) and the regular mish-mash of eclectic individuals.  As a stranger, I felt like just the people watching here was enough to satiate myself with the local culture and I was eventually enough of a regular that other regulars invited me to join their conversations.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is coffee culture at its best!

The space itself does its best to fit as many people in as it can.  The shop is split into two areas.  The front area has packed in as many tables as is allowable and you better believe they fill up in the evenings.  There is a back space that is sometimes used for music or special events.  It is a bit quieter and less crowded, but that's not what I go to this shop for.  I like having to share a table with that attractive red-head even if we don't say more than, "Can I sit here?" "Yeah. Sure.". There is outside seating for smokers, dog owners and that artist with the giant painting he feels the need to work on in a public space.  Seriously though, props to that guy for having the guts to subject himself to criticism while painting a picture of a lighthouse.  

J&B serves breakfast all day.  ALL DAY.  If you are a college student, you understand the beauty of this option.  They keep it simple with bagels and sandwiches and I have enjoyed everything I've had.  They also have an enticing selection of baked goods at all times including muffins, cakes and cinnamon rolls.  If you get the chance, get the rosemary raspberry shortbread cookie.  I can't even tell you how happy this cookie makes me.  

The coffee itself has changed a little since the summer I lived there.  J&B offers a menu with a dizzying amount of options.  I'm a simple coffee drinker so I have yet to try any of their blended or sweet drinks, but they sell a ton of them so they are doing something right.  Their wide variety of drip coffees comes from the Lubbock roaster, Day Break Coffee Roasters.  Every day they offer three drip options including a dark, light and a flavored roast.  They recently switched to Evocation Coffee Roasters from Amarillo for their espresso.  The quality of their espresso drinks has definitely improved since.  I had a breve latte last time I visited and had to take a moment to savor that delicious fatty goodness.  The only downside I have encountered here is a lack of consistency in my lattes and espresso pulls.  I have yet to have anything undrinkable, but there have been times when something in the process of making the drink just didn't go as it should.  Has that ever stopped me from going back?  Hell no.  Will I always find myself back here when in Lubbock?  Hell yes.  

http://www.jandbcoffeeco.com/main/

http://dbcr.com

http://www.evocationcoffee.com

 

 

It's Not Just About Coffee...

Growing up in a small town, my friends and I were limited as to where to spend our time. We could listen to albums at a friend's house until their parents told us to go bother someone else, kick a hacky sack in the park or perhaps loiter in a parking lot until we were chased off. Not all of us had a sports team to consider our second family or an academic club where we might encounter like-minds, but when a coffee shop opened we had finally found our stomping grounds. We followed in the footsteps of many generations of outcasts, artists, philosophers, activists and really just anyone looking for a sense of community. Finding a social safe-haven outside of home and work is incredibly important to not only an individual's well being, but to society's as well. 

"Man is by nature a social animal." -Aristotle 

This can be debated, if man was social to begin with, but one thing is common knowledge; we find strength in numbers. We come from tribes and villages. We know that working together takes us from just surviving to thriving. We have been gathering together and conversing over drink and food since the beginning of language. It seems only natural that coffee houses came into existence. It became a place to converse about what is going on in the world around us and come up with solutions on how to make it better. Since the beginning of coffee houses in Constantinople in 1475, we have been using these spaces to come together and find comfort amongst friends or to plan grand revolutions (even if they don't make it out the front door). Ray Oldenburg deemed these informal gathering places the "third place". It is a neutral ground for us to seek out and interact with our community, but is community dying? Are we so wrapped up in ourselves, our personal trials and the computer screens in front of us that we are letting our strength as a community weaken? The death of the "third place" has been a major debate over the past few years as social networking has made a change in how we interact. We no longer send out invitations via snail mail or phone calls; we use Facebook events and if you don't see it, sucks to be you. We have major debates from the comfort of our keyboards and don't have to fear the retaliation of face to face confrontation. Can the coffee house culture fight back and keep community in coffee?

Coffee culture is all about community, from the farms where the beans are sourced to the relationship between the barista and the customer they are serving. As baristas, we are the face of the coffee world for the general public. We are ambassadors of our industry and keeping the community strong requires effort and we should lead by example. The art of conversation can make even a socially awkward nerd like myself feel like a long-time friend and is the difference between a drive-thru customer and a regular. Every customer that walks through the door had to walk through that door for the first time at one point. Engaging with customers beyond just knowing them by what drink they order is key to feeding that atmosphere of neighborliness (yes, that is an actual word). We can help community to not only survive, but to thrive by extending our friendship to our customers. By welcoming them into our coffee houses they will welcome and integrate us into their lives and we can continue the longstanding tradition of coffee community. 

Cafe What a Grind

Trinidad, CO

Welcome to Trinidad, CO.  This old mining town boasts a population of 8,771, has more bricks than the land of Oz and is known as the sex-change capital of the U.S.  You better believe I'm going to be drawn to a quirky old mountain town like this and I was very pleased to find Cafe What a Grind.

Cafe What a Grind has taken up residency in a building that has been family owned since 1908.  It was originally a Snodgrass grocery store and since been many things.  It has recently been remodeled and is now home to not only a coffee bar up front, but (beginning a year ago) also an alcohol bar in the back and a full menu restaurant.  I failed to show up with an appetite, but that didn't hold me back from shoving a slice of homemade blackberry pie into my pie hole.  That is where pie goes, in case you don't know.  

Me to my pie, "Oh, the place you'll go...like right into my mouth."

Me to my pie, "Oh, the place you'll go...like right into my mouth."

I'll just be talking about the coffee part of Cafe What a Grind.  This is, after all, what I do.  Their drinks menu offers all of the basics along with signature drinks, sodas and a Red Bull slushie.  A RED BULL SLUSHIE!  Do you know why I just typed that in all caps?  Because that is how your brain will view the world after consuming this drink.  Red Bull slushies are not recommended for those with pre-existing heart conditions, women who are pregnant or nursing or anyone with a tendency to run through the streets naked, screaming at the top of their lungs.  Part of me wants to say this drink is a horrible idea, but I can guarantee it is probably a best-seller.  

As per usual, I ordered an espresso and a drip coffee.  Cafe What a Grind gets their beans from roaster Spanish Peaks Coffee in Colorado Springs, CO.  Both the espresso and the drip brew were incredibly light.  I have the kind of tastebuds that prefer darker flavor, so I combined my espresso with my drip and it made for a great and highly caffeinated cup of coffee.  Their bakery case was stocked with homemade cakes, pies, scones, cheesecake and other pastries.  There is a small seating area by the window with a couch and a few comfortable chairs.  The majority of the space is tables and chairs and then there is a lovely, hand built bar in the back that was crafted buy a local.  There were a few regulars set up at tables.  One woman even had fresh eggs for sale which I had to buy.  I can't say no to farm fresh anything!

Cafe What a Grind will be celebrating six years as a coffee house this coming Halloween.  I hope to head back to Trinidad soon and will definitely stop back in to enjoy some pie and coffee, but for the safety of those around me I will stay away from the Red Bull slushie.  

http://www.cafewhatagrind.com

http://www.spanishpeakscoffee.com

Flat Track Coffee

Austin, TX

You want good espresso? You've come to the right place. You want the perfect cortado? Flat Track has your back. Want a fat free half-caf vanilla caramel latte? Get the hell out.

Flat Track Coffee is well known roaster with a few quaint storefronts. These guys do espresso and they do it right. By concentrating on a simple menu, they concentrate on serving a damn good product. You won't even find a big sign announcing their presence. Their main shop is located in East Austin sharing a space with Farewell Books (a store so hip I felt like mom jeans in a minivan kind of lame).  Make your way to the back of the store or use the side door to get to Flat Track's shop. The coffee shop itself is small, simple and has a sleek industrial style. There are a total of 6 stools and a small bench for seating. There is no wifi, so don't plan on staring at a screen while sipping your espresso. Go buy a book in the next room and read instead.   

Most of their drinks are offered in small to-go cups. The barista, Amanda, was charming and made me feel right at home. I started out with a double shot of espresso which comes in a little paper cup (I just heard a coffee snob, somewhere, gasp in horror). The espresso was Colombian Excelso and was so good I had to buy a bag to take home. I have since drunk all of it and am sad about that fact.   

I asked Amanda to make me her favorite drink. She whipped me up a delicious cortado in a glass.  The use of organic milk and that amazing espresso made for a sweet milky drink that was like baby Jesus in my mouth.  I may have shed a little tear just writing about it.   

I really dig their atmosphere and will definitely be back here.  If you are in Austin and want your tastebuds to dance like Thriller-era Michael Jackson, make Flat Track a priority.  You will not be disappointed.   

http://flattrackcoffee.com

http://www.farewellbookstore.com

Texas Coffee Traders

Austin, TX

I have been to Texas Coffee Traders before to buy supplies, but never actually stopped long enough to enjoy their coffee.  They have been roasting coffee in Austin for 20 years.  They got their start roasting coffee in Montana in 1981.  So, yeah, they've been doing this a while.  

The smell of roasting beans lures you in.  I could actually smell it while visiting the Texas State Cemetery a few blocks away.  They are located in a remodeled warehouse on the East side of Austin.  Their large space houses roasting facilities, a workshop for machine repair, a retail space of supplies for home or professional needs and a small coffee bar.  

 

 

Their coffee bar gives you a chance to try out their roasts.  They offer an option of three different espressos.  Two friends and I tried all three.  The lightest roast was called "Starling" which is an Ethiopian/South American blend.  It had a cheerful citrus bite.  The medium roast is known as "Grizzly" which is Indonesian.  It was definitely the most well-received in our little group of three.  It had a full body and a very mellow finish.  The last and boldest of the three was the "Viennese".  This Central/South American blend was slightly more acidic than the "Grizzly", but still remained smooth and enjoyable.  

The staff was incredibly friendly and more than happy to show me around.  They are a large operation with a small business feel.  Their retail space is like a toy store for coffee geeks.  I shouldn't be allowed to go in Texas Coffee Traders without supervision.  I have a tendency to buy more than any one person needs.  They sell grinders, pour over supplies, espresso bar necessities and, of course, dozens of different coffees that they roast in-house (in-warehouse).  They offer fair trade and organic coffees.  They also offer "Coffee With a Cause" which are blends sold to benefit charitable organizations.  I love seeing coffee being used to do great things!

Thank you, Texas Coffee Traders, for your hospitality.  I hope you see another 20 years and more of success in Austin!

http://www.texascoffeetraders.com/home.html

Dominican Joe

Austin, TX

I know, when I walk into a coffee shop and Snoop Dogg is playing over the speakers, that I am in the right place.

Dominican Joe is doing some amazing things.  They aren't just a coffee shop.  They are philanthropists. They work with the Austin based non-profit, Makarios, who is “committed to a child’s spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, to provide hope for a better future”.  They offer children the education and nurturing environment needed to help them better their world.  Dominican Joe buys their coffee from Makarios who is sourcing the fair trade beans from a farming community in the Dominican Republic.  This close-knit relationship helps to assure that the product they serve is ethical and of high quality.  I was told that the owners visit the farm often and even some of the baristas join.  This intimacy with the source of their coffee comes through in the personable attitudes of their baristas and the welcoming atmosphere of their cafe.  

On the walls of the upper level seating area are photographs of the smiling faces of the kids from the Makarios school. On the wall of the lower level was a photography show put on by Light Writers, who mentored ten foster children on how to use cameras to capture their summer adventures. There is plenty of information posted throughout the shop about the involvement Dominican Joe has in the causes they support.  The barista I spoke with was happy to answer any questions. I respect transparency in a shop; this shows that they are very proud of what they do.

As for just the coffee shop itself, I was very pleased.  I ordered a double espresso, a cup of drip coffee and a breakfast taco.  The drip coffee is self-serve and they were offering a choice of their Organic Dominican or the Organic Dark Roast.  Dominican Joe offers a wide variety of local foods including Taco Deli (a personal addiction), Rockstar Bagels and Celeste's Best (that mouthwatering peanut butter cup in the photos below).  

The espresso had an immediate green apple flavor and lingered softly. I enjoyed every sip. The drip coffee I tried was the dark roast that was a bold mouthful, but not bitter. The counter had a constant flow of customers that represented all walks of life.  You don't have to be hippie or hipster to feel comfortable at this shop.  


Dominican Joe is a good example of smart business.  They don't alienate, they don't come off as pompous with the good deeds they do and they have quality product. 

http://www.dominicanjoe.com

http://www.makariosinternational.org

http://www.thelightwriters.org

http://www.tacodeli.com

http://www.celestes-best.co

 

 

Bennu Coffee

Austin, TX

Bennu was a late-night stop and my visit was cut short by the group, I came in with, of sleepy tourists who were ready to get back to the house and drink beer.

 

We arrived at Bennu well after the sun had gone down, but that's not an issue since this place is open 24 hours (last-minute cramming for a test heaven). It was obvious this shop is popular when it took us a few minutes to find a parking spot. Inside, it is one of the bigger shops I've visited, boasting quite the hodgepodge collection of tables and seating. Almost every surface was covered in overflowing backpacks and glowing laptops. Power chords hung down from the ceiling, resting on the tables. Genius.  It was lit like a cave with most of the light illuminating the art on the walls. The clientele seemed to mostly consist of students and those who make their coffee shop of choice their personal office. As many people as there were tucked into every corner, it was still as quiet as a church...a Catholic church, not one of those dancing and singing churches where everyone speaks in tongues. That would be wild to find in a coffee shop. I may need to see this happen once in my life.

Sorry, I got side-tracked. Anyway...back to Bennu. I bellied up to the bar and ordered my espresso and drip coffee. Ryan, our barista, informed me that it was Bennu's five year anniversary.

Congrats on five years, you guys! They've had success partly due to how involved they are in their community. I can't stress how important that is for any business and I absolutely love to see it in action!

Ryan whipped me up some caffeine and made a custom drink for one of my weary cohorts. They offer a variety of Texas Coffee Traders' beans, a great local Austin roaster I will soon write about. Their coffee menu consists of the classics as well as some blended drinks and a menu of coffee creations that are all named after classic novels. How novel! *Snorts at own joke*

 

I can see why this place attracts such a large crowd of night owls. Not only are you granted your seclusion in a mellow atmosphere, but their food options are extensive for a coffee shop.  You can get grab-n-go sandwiches, salads and wraps or get down to business with a Hoboken Pie pizza and so much more.  Like most Austin coffee shops, there are vegan options and baked goods galore.  I am sorry to say I was unable to partake in their food, but just know you have food to fuel your overnight study sessions.

For those who have a curiosity for such things like I do, Bennu is the name of an ancient Egyptian deity that is linked with the sun, creation and rebirth.  The name comes from the verb wbn, meaning "to rise in brilliance" or "to shine".  <---  Yes, I jacked that from Wikipedia.

I wish I could give you a more in depth feel for this shop, but it's five years of success and packed house should speak for itself!  

http://www.bennucoffee.com

http://www.texascoffeetraders.com

http://www.hobokenpie.com

Friends & Neighbors

Austin, TX

This is the shop I was originally going to visit first, but my own excitement kept me from thinking clearly (or really thinking at all). No worries, though. Friends & Neighbors was waiting for me with a smile...once I found the entrance. If you arrive at this awesome renovated old house before 11 am, you will find the front doors on the porch are locked. Fortunately, a patron was leaving and informed us to walk around back. There you will find a backyard dotted with colorful tables and the entrance to the coffee shop. There is no inside seating, but Austin's mild weather makes sitting out on the patio or backyard enjoyable throughout most of the year.   

Once inside, you get the quaint comfort of grandma's house mixed with the added modern feel that comes gleaming from their chrome and robin's egg blue La Marzocco.  The floor in the ordering area is still the original funky yellow linoleum that shows decades of foot traffic and good times.  A counter that reminds you that the room was once a kitchen, shows off beautiful honeycomb tile.  In the shelves where the dishes were once kept and on the shelves around the espresso bar, they display the artisan grocery items they have for sale.  Something that makes this shop stand out from others in Austin is that they sale foods, clothing and jewelry that are NOT made in Austin.  Calm down, localvores.  Austin provides more than ample support for local business and services (all towns and cities should, but that's a different blog for a different day).   

I think Friends & Neighbors is brilliant to feature goods you won't find anywhere else in town. Jams and mustards from Brooklyn and handmade purses from Italy are just a few of the other items they offer, but when it comes to their baked goods they know to stick with local and fresh. I, again, get the treat of a Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery donut.  I jumped on the chance to devour a vanilla lavender donut with my standard double shot of espresso and a cup of drip coffee.  F&N also offers a few other small snacks if you are feeling peckish.  

 

They get their beans from the well known Portland roaster, Stumptown Coffee Roasters.  The espresso was a lively and sharp without any bitter linger.  The drip coffee was gone before I even got a taste.  This is what I get for taking a friend along with me!  She's not an aficionado, but she knows a good cup of coffee.  I also ordered the notorious Stumptown Cold Brew to take home with me and my inner 8 year old feels compelled to share, with you, my excitement over the color-change straw it came with.  

After enjoying your coffee, go buy yourself something nice in the retail area of the house.  You deserve it.  

This shop is brand spankin' new and deserves all the love Austin can offer!

http://www.friendsaustin.com

http://www.redrabbitbakery.com

http://stumptowncoffee.com

Vintage Heart Coffee

 

Austin, TX

 

My first blog post! Shhhhh...Just let me savor this moment.

 

Ok, now let's get on with it.

 

Of course I'd hit my first coffee shop thinking it was a completely different shop and make an ass out of myself. I am just THAT professional.

 

Me (with great enthusiasm): “Hey! Are you Mercedes?'

Barista (baffled): “No?'

Me: “Oh...uhhh...Jill?”

Barista: “Nnnnoooo. We don't have anyone here by either of those names.”

Me trying to play it cool: “Oh, well, I talked to someone about shooting photos and doing a write-up on your shop for my blog.” I just lied. I realized after saying this that I had not even found an email address for this cafe and just busted in like I owned the place. I figured I might as well roll with it.

 

Fortunately, that barista I mistook for two other women was the owner of Vintage Heart and didn't think me a complete idiot. If she did, she hid it well. She was more than happy to let me invade her shop with my camera and laptop and ask stupid questions she's probably had to answer twenty seven thousand times in the few years they have been open.

 

I ordered my standard double espresso, a cup of drip coffee and a maple donut that was the last one in the case. The first thing to catch my eye was the clean simplicity of the entire shop. This minimalist approach shows in their menu, consisting only of coffee shop essentials, and in their tidiness behind the counter. The walls are the kind of soft gray that makes it feel like a rainy day, but with enough sunlight pouring in to keep it from feeling drained of energy. The industrial-style chandeliers that hang above the bar and main room are wire pendant lamps with black chords that spread across the ceiling like giant spider arms. I arrived late morning to no line and calm surrounding. I was, however, informed that I had missed the morning chaos. The atmosphere was quiet and the customers all kept to themselves by staring at laptops or books. It is the kind of space where you will find students and anyone that needs to focus on what is in front of them.


vntghrtdon

Vintage Heart gets their coffee from one of my favorite Austin roasters, Third Coast Coffee Roasting Company. The espresso was berry-e (how the hell do you use berry as an adjective) and a perfect start to my late start. The drip coffee was smooth and an excellent match with the vegan donut from the local Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery.

One of my personal favorites about this coffee shop, aside from their location across the street from the Texas State Cemetery and the clever little signs around the shop, is that they offer homemade flavorings. You have your choice of vanilla, mocha, lavender, cinnamon and chai. This attention to detail in their craft shows in the quality of their drinks.   

Thank you, Vintage Heart Coffee, for a great first blog shop and for putting up with my absent-mindedness!  

http://vintageheartcoffee.com

http://www.redrabbitbakery.com

http://www.thirdcoastcoffee.com