When I think about the bad old days of coffee in Atlanta, when you could still get away with selling a cup of hot black water fit for a gas station and call your place a cafe, I’m afraid I sound like an old man talking about walking 5 miles uphill both to and from school. To young ears, it might not sound real.
A decade ago, you might have found yourself driving halfway across town in search of a decent espresso. You could count your options for locally roasted beans on less than one hand. Don’t even get me started about the embarrassing things in the glass cases they called croissants. I mention it because it is hard to believe our current coffee situation in Atlanta. We are in the midst of an embarrassment of riches.
You can hardly drive down a block in Midtown without running into a half-dozen options for good coffee these days. Your average barista seems to have a postgraduate degree’s worth of beverage knowledge ready to be deployed the moment you ask about this or that origin of bean. Everyone behind the counter is measuring pour overs down to the gram, and no customer is even impressed by that anymore. They’re impressed by the vivid, complex layers of flavor brought out by our local roasters or maybe they’re talking about the talented bakers whose pastries have come to match this city’s impressive coffee culture.
Or, else, they're not worried about being impressed by the coffee at all. One of the best developments of good coffee in Atlanta these days is that you simply don't need to go very far or look very hard to find it. You might be working on a motorcycle in a community garage in Cabbagetown or visiting the Warhol exhibition at the High Museum or shopping for a pair of new jeans at the mall and turn around to grab the nearest cup. Chances are it'll be pretty good.
Octane’s locations have long been Atlanta’s best bet for a flawless espresso experience, complete with a sidecar of carbonated water, and I’d be very surprised if that changed. But it remains to be seen how the purchase, which includes the Grant Park location shared with the Little Tart, where Sarah O’Brien’s exquisite croissants and other pastries are the star, and a quiet pocket location on the Woodruff Arts Center campus near the High Museum, may change the atmosphere or aesthetic of some of Atlanta’s most popular coffee shops.
This converted blue shipping container, planted in a small patch in the Westside Provisions District, might qualify as Atlanta's smallest coffee shop. Yet, this tiny shop, which prides itself on roasting beans sourced directly from farms in El Salvador and Honduras, packs plenty of quality into that small space. You can taste that difference in something like your average Americano, which is packed with four shots here, or in the unusual offering of cascara, an amber-colored tea made from the dried husks of coffee cherries. Served hot, it is a subtle, aromatic experience, with fruity, dark cacao notes on the nose, but it is also a pleasure served cold in the house cascara soda, made with sweet cascara syrup, lime juice and effervescent Topo Chico.
Started by the international advertising agency that occupies the floors above this Peachtree Street location, Huge Café is a coffee shop all about Japanese cool, minimalist style. The interior is all clean, simple flat surfaces, and the menu includes Kyoto-style iced coffee, brewed in a beautiful hourglass-like contraption, and light Japanese bites including bao stuffed with fried chicken and kewpie mayo or pork belly and kimchi. More likely than not, the hip, pulsating soundtrack will also include a neighboring conversation about a project or client that the ad execs upstairs are working on.
Need a place to work on your vintage motorcycle? Brother Moto is a community garage where wrenches, grease and, of course, lattes meet. The bulk of the floor plan is devoted to the tools and parts necessary for a membership-holding motorcycle fanatic to get, say, a 1979 BMW R100 up and running again. But the retail shop facing Memorial Drive offers stylish helmets, pomade to slick your hair back with, and an espresso bar that serves up lattes to a “moto-curious” crowd of graphic designers and grease monkeys alike.
This coffee shop in downtown Norcross is all about old-school coffee shop charm. Located in a historic, exposed-brick building, the full-service cafe options run all day into the night, including French toast for breakfast, cheeseburgers for lunch, and a short wine list at night. Bands are booked to play every Friday and Saturday night, but Wednesdays are devoted to that classic coffee shop tradition: an open mic night for singer-songwriters.