Blame Seattle. A certain coffee shop chain started there four decades ago and changed the way Americans thought about coffee. Dried-out coffee flakes sold in tin cans were out. Highly polished European contraptions that hissed noisily and sent forth geysers of steam were in.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the rapid expansion of Starbucks and other standardized chains, small coffeehouses are flourishing. Americans are increasingly educated about their coffee and evaluate these independents with chains as a benchmark: is the coffee better or more interesting? Is the environment more appealing? Does it have an engaged clientele, or is it a generic "coffeeworld" where you get your cup to go, head bowed?
Coffeehouses that meet the criteria for cool each stand out from the crowd and attract us for diverse reasons. Travelers have an extra appreciation for a neighborhood coffeehouse with personality -- the last thing you want to drink on vacation is your workday cup of joe. We pop in to refuel after hours of pounding the pavement, but also to sample regional brews, people-watch, and find out about local goings-on.
Coffee: it's the best legal drug. We know because the right cup in the right place can change your reality.
This shop strives to shrink time--between roasting, grinding, brewing, and drinking--and brews your beans on demand. Mike Caswell, a onetime Starbucks employee, spent five years developing the cutting-edge technology. Leave enough time to scope out the Javabot, which involves Jules Verne-ish tubes shuttling coffee beans from bin to cup. See more of America's Coolest Coffeehouses Photo: Courtesy of The Roasting Plant
The 14th Street coffeehouse is basically of a federation of cool spaces--a bookstore, a gallery, and a poet's zone with a large table for congregating and socializing, plus couches with plenty of outlets. The delicious coffee offerings include Café Medici, a double espresso with chocolate topped by a fragrant orange peel. See more of America's Coolest Coffeehouses Photo: Courtesy of Busboys and Poets
This chichi coffeehouse at first appears like a bit of Beverly Hills that got lost and ended up in pleasantly scruffy Silver Lake. See what the $11,000 Clover coffee machine can do to make your morning better. See more of America's Coolest Coffeehouses Photo: LAMILL COFFEE
Expecting a Cuban café in South Florida? Well, keep looking (try venerable Café Versailles up the road in Miami). Café Demetrio is more Old Spain than Cuba. It was the first stand-alone coffeehouse in Coral Gables (opened in 1991 in a 1926 former newspaper building) and is designed for socializing rather than camping out solo. See more of America's Coolest CoffeehousesPhoto: Courtesy of Cafe Demetrio
Blue Bottle is one of the major shrines on the national coffee circuit. The shop at Mint Plaza is small, with big windows. Inside it's like a mad-scientist's laboratory whose devices are designed to torture the bean and make it yield its secrets. The staff is well versed, the single-origin coffee changes weekly, and there's never a Blue Bottle too far away, whether you're sightseeing at SFMOMA or the Ferry Building. See more of America's Coolest Coffeehouses Photo: Clay McLachlan / ClayPix.com
This spacious, modern shop at 1009 Marietta St. Northwest feels like a lively college study hall. (There's a second midtown branch, and a third at The Jane in Grant Park). Choose Chemex or French press, then pick from a number of great single-origin coffees--and maybe even add in one of the homemade syrups. The Americola, an espresso and sugarcane Coca-Cola concoction, is a true taste of Atlanta. See more of America's Coolest Coffeehouses Photo: Courtesy of Octane Coffee Bar
Yes, it's touristy. Get over it. This French Quarter institution at the upriver end of the French Market is always open, from morning sipping to after-dinner chilling. The people-watching is wonderful, as is the house specialty of café au lait. Coffee is roasted with chicory root, once used to stretch coffee supplies during times of war. It turned out that New Orleanians like the bite and tang of chicory. There's more! See the rest of America's Coolest Coffeehouses. Photo: Burt Benrud Jr.
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