Every couple of years Downtown Austin Blog likes to take inventory of Austin’s best coffee shops. With SXSW approaching, thousands of visitors will be looking for a respite, so it is a great time to update our picks. Coffee shops in Austin are everywhere. They’re a dime a dozen. They’re right up there with the food trailer trend. There are even coffee shop-food trailers. You can find coffee shops inside book stores and even inside bike shops.
So how does one navigate through the multitude of places to grab a cup of joe in Austin these days?
For me, it was easy. I simply asked a ton of people I know and respect in the food/wine culinary world with discerning palettes. And then I asked many of Austin’s coffee ‘experts’: Where do you go for coffee when you’re not enjoying a cup from your own establishment?
For me, personally, I have three important things I’m looking for in a coffee shop. The first being, is the damn coffee good? Does the barista know how to pull a proper shot of espresso and can they do this with consistency? The second being, is the barista a pleasant person? I’m sorry… I’m all about surly bartenders, but when it comes to coffee, I can’t handle any attitude before a dose of caffeine has hit my veins. So for me, a pleasant barista is key. And the third and final requisite: is the coffee shop friendly towards our four-legged companions? Meaning, can I get my dog out of the house while grabbing coffee? Two birds, one stone.
So without further ado: Top Ten Best Coffee Shops in Austin for 2015:
1. ALTA’s Cafe | 74 Trinity St. Austin, Texas 78701
Just a hop skip and jump away from downtown condos like The Shore and Milago, ALTA’s Cafe was the first to bring Blue Bottle Coffee to downtown Austin, providing the same focus and attention to quality offered by the Blue Bottle shops on the east and west coasts. Their coffee offering rotates seasonally, with delicious espresso, batch brew and single roast pour over coffees always on the menu. They also use the decadent (and healthy) milk produced by Mill-King Creamery, a local favorite. ALTA’s Cafe was named after Lady Bird Johnson, whose middle name was ‘Alta.’ This shop is located right on the Hike & Bike Trail in the Waller Creek Boathouse. Alta’s Cafe doesn’t just cater to coffee fanatics, they cater to the health & wellness crowd. ALTA’s offers smoothies and a variety of healthy & nutritional food, perfect for refueling post-run. I love going to ALTA’s because it’s THE only place in Downtown Austin where you can sit on a patio overlooking Lady Bird Lake and enjoy a cup of coffee. ALTA’s Cafe also serves a variety of local craft beers on tap, as well as an assortment of sustainable wines. Bring your dog with you when you visit ALTA’s, mine LOVES sitting out on their patio overlooking the ‘lake’.
[Editor’s note: Alta’s is one of our favorites, as well.]
2. Caffé Medici | 200 Congress Ave. Suite 2b, Austin, Texas 78701
Opening it’s first location in 2007, Caffé Medici now feels like an old Austin institution. I began going to Medici’s Clarksville location on West Lynn back when it first opened but now that I live downtown, I frequent the Congress Avenue location, at the base of the Austonian. I think of Medici as the first great coffee shop in Austin. Having moved back to Austin from Seattle in 2007… I was in desperate need of a GREAT coffee spot, and Medici delivered. Medici serves Cuvee coffee, they also serve beer & wine and they’re dog- friendly. Several Medici alumni now have coffee shops of their own…with more on the way. Like I said, an “institution.”
3. Figure 8 | 1111 Chicon Street, Austin, Texas 78702
Figure 8 is owned by a couple for have over 20 years of experience running coffee shops and pulling shots. The owners say that they want Figure 8 to feel approachable and that no one should feel intimidated going inside their shop. I think they’ve done an excellent job in executing this. The shop feels warm and inviting, as if you’re having coffee at a close friend’s home —and that home is super cool. Figure 8 is a bit off the beaten path unless you live close by. So make sure when you go that you bring a book, a newspaper or some work to do… and stay awhile. Figure 8 is using Tweed and Coava coffee right now with plans to feature guest roasters on a rotating basis. Figure 8 currently isn’t serving beer or wine but that may change in the future.
4. Houndstooth | 401 N. Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701
Houndstooth coffee has two Austin locations (one on North Lamar and the second downtown in the Frost Bank Tower). They have also expanded their reach to Dallas with a location in the lower Greenville neighborhood. Run by two brothers, Houndstooth coffee aims to make guests feel like a part of the family. The Henry brothers are interested in creating spaces that bring people —who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths— together. Houndstooth is a multiple roaster shop, meaning they carry coffee from multiple roasters from across the country. They are currently carrying Counter Culture Coffee from Durham, N.C., PT’s Coffee from Topeka, Kansas, Supersonic from Berkeley, CA. and Tweed Coffee Roasters out of Dallas. Tweed is their sister company (just another part of the Pattern of Coffee and People) and opened in 2013. While Houndstooth doesn’t offer beer or wine, they currently carry pastries from Luxe Sweets (the wholesale arm of La Patisserie) and Vegan Donuts from Red Rabbit Vegan Coop Bakery. The Henry brothers insist that they’re baristas are the best in the business, not just in Austin, not just in Texas, but in ‘coffee’. They boast that their baristas genuinely “love coming to work” and honestly care about Houndstooth guests. Paul Henry, one of the owners, tells me that they have very low turnover with their staff. “Baristas don’t stay at Houndstooth for a matter of months, they stay for years at a time.”
5. Juan Pelota | 400 Nueces St, Austin, Texas 78701
Juan Pelota was the first coffee shop to bring Stumptown coffee to Austin back in 2011. They’ve since only carried Stumptown coffee in their shop. The slogan at Juan Pelota is “Kick Ass and Have Fun” and their baristas live by this. Their staff has no problem being themselves and having a great time while serving customers excellent coffee. Juan Pelota is situated inside Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, “which makes for great energy & atmosphere,” says Pelota’s manager, Laney. Juan Pelota serves up a plethora of baked goods: Rock Star Bagels, cookies, muffins, breads from Quack’s Bakery & croissants from Elizabeth Street Cafe. The cafe does not serve beer or wine at this time, however, they are SUPER dog-friendly. You can even bring your pup inside with you, as long as you sit at the tables on the bike shop side.
6. Once Over | 2009 S 1st St, Austin, Texas 78704
The Once Over brews Cuvee coffee and offers both beer and wine. If you’re looking for a little hideout-like spot that is a bit eclectic, this is your coffee shop. They have a great back porch with a nice woodsy view that will make you not want to leave. The baristas have always been pleasant to me, but I do know some people who think Once Over coffee comes with a bit of an attitude. With that being said, they pour damn fine coffee. I encourage you to order your coffee and stay awhile. Don’t get it ‘to-go’. Make friends with the baristas and develop relationship with the place. Also, just out front is the El Primo taco truck: arguably the best breakfast tacos in town.
7. Patika | 2159 South Lamar, Austin, Texas 78704
Patika is simply sublime. The interior of this shop is contemporary, light, fresh and clean with a hint of a mid-century vibe. The owner says that they tried “to bring a strong sense of design to our space, making the balance between modern, clean, comfortable and cozy.” I believe they perfectly executed that vision. I could sit in this shop all day, starting with coffee and ending it with wine or beer. The owners of Patika did not spare any expenses on the finish out of this coffee shop. It’s beautiful. For those of you new to Patika, their brick & mortar location on South Lamar is their second location, for the past few years they’ve had a cart in downtown Austin at West 4th street between Colorado and Congress. Patika bakes all of their pastries and food offerings right in their shop (with the exception of the Rock Star Bagels. They have a nice mix of sweet and savory items to choose from… and it is all amazing! Currently you’ll find Cuvee coffee and Wild Gift coffee at Patika. They have carried Ceremony coffee from the DC area and De La Paz from San Francisco, and have plans to bring in other coffee roasters in the future. This shop is super dog-friendly and the owner tells me that they’ll “also be doing some dog-focused fund raisers with a few of the rescue organizations in the coming months.”
8. Radio Coffee & Beer | 4204 Manchaca Rd., Austin, Texas 78704
Radio Coffee brews Stumptown Coffee, has a Veracruz Tacos truck parked outside, serves craft beers on tap and in the bottle and also carries East Side Pies pizza. They even boast on their website that they’ll “Fill Growlers!”. Perfect. But what’s more important about this new beacon in South Austin, is that it has ample outdoor, as well as indoor, seating. This is a great spot for a group gathering. They also host a series of events monthly, including BYOV – Bring Your Own Vinyl night. Just check out their events calendar for everything from Live Music to Trivia Nights. One thing to note though about Radio: they turn off their Wi-Fi at 5pm sharp weekdays and don’t turn it on at all on the weekends!
9. Seventh Flag Coffee Co. | 1506 South First Street, Austin, Texas 78704
Seventh Flag Coffee feels like it came straight out of Marfa. It’s minimal/sparse with raw materials and natural elements. It feels fresh, clean and uncluttered like many coffee shops. I love that you can connect to their wireless automatically without having to bother someone to find out the password. There’s a large communal table & a couple of smaller tables inside, with outdoor seating on their lovely front porch and picnic tables on the front lawn. They are currently brewing Cuvee coffee and they purport to “Bring the Friendliest Coffee Experience to Austin.” I have no complaints. They pour excellent coffee with friendly, fast service. Seventh Flag also serves cold brew from a kegerator… which is awesome! You can grab Taco Deli tacos and Thunderbird Energetica bars at Seventh Flag.
10. Wright Bros. Brew and Brew | 500 San Marcos St. #105, Austin, Texas 78702
We’ll get to the coffee in a minute. But first: THIRTY-EIGHT beers on tap!? Whoa. These guys serve craft beers with a focus on local breweries. Located just east of I-35, occupying the former Progress Coffee spot, The Brew & Brew serves coffee from Flat Track, Ceremony and Sightglass. This shop is ideal for beautiful days with their garage style doors that swing open allowing fresh air and natural light to blast through the space. They pour great coffee, and they offer food that’s great with coffee or beer. They specialize in pressed sandwiches (breakfast and lunch style). Every time I’ve been to The Brew and Brew I’ve been greeted with huge smiles & friendly service that includes someone on staff always asking me if they could bring my dog a bowl of water. There is ample seating inside or outside, and they stay open until midnight making The Brew and Brew equal parts coffee shop and pub.
Lesley Taylor is a well traveled coffee snob, having held expertly poured shots on the Embarcadero, slowly poured cappuccinos in Positano and melodramatic cafe au laits in a side street in Paris. An Austinite since 2002, she splits her time here and in the coffee mecca of Seattle serving a range of clientele in hospitality and design who understand that all media is social. If she’s in NYC, she ain’t too proud for black coffee at Dunkin Donuts.