One of the benefits of doing what I do for a living is the extensive travel. However, it can be extremely taxing and rough emotionally, longing for home and family and the comforts we are all accustomed to when we are stationary. One of my pacifiers is coffee and espresso. As some of you may know, I worked in the crazy Seattle coffee world for MANY years before being able to support myself as a drummer. As a result, I’ve become a coffee addict and a tremendous snob. Thankfully, in the band Fitz & The Tantrums, I have a partner and enabler in addiction, Mr. Fitz himself. While he may not have grown up in the Pacific Northwest, or worked in the coffee industry like I have, he has been spoiled by the likes of Intelligentsia and Lamill in Los Angeles, and requires a higher standard just as I do. It takes a great shot of espresso and/or an amazing cup of coffee to make my “drinkable” list. So here it begins with some of my hometown favorites and then wonderful discoveries from the road:
BLACK COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY – 1515 Wyoming St., Suite 200, Missoula MT 59801
My homies Matt McQuilkin and Jim Chapman do it right. There is really nobody in Montana roasting or pulling coffee on this level. Truly incredible. Tell ’em Wicks sent you. These guys are going to be huge in the coffee world. http://www.blackcoffeeroastingco.com
ESPRESSO VIVACE 321 Broadway East, Seattle, WA.
I put this one first for a reason. If there is one thing that myself & the rest of my Seattle brothers & sisters know, it’s coffee. Vivace started it all. It is what all others have aspired to be and they set the bar really high YEARS AND YEARS AGO! While this is one of the few places I did not work at in Seattle, I really wish I had just so I could put it on my resume. www.espressovivace.com
THE CONSERVATORY – 10117 Washington Boulevard Culver City, CA 90232
Yes, I love Intelligentsia, Lamill, etc. in LA but I feel as though I am entering a museum when I go into those places. They are intimidating. The Conservatory is really a Seattle cafe/roaster brought to LA. Their staff is without a doubt the most helpful, knowledgeable, and welcoming of any cafe in LA. Their espresso and coffee is incredible, and you can watch them roast it right in front of you as you walk in. Whenever I leave The Conservatory, I feel so good about spending money there, I can’t wait to go through my supply, just to go back and buy more. Can’t say enough good stuff about it. www.conservatorycoffeeandtea.com
CONTRABAND COFFEE – 1415 Larkin Street San Francisco, CA 94109
These guys do EVERYTHING right. They are nice people to boot. Go there whenever you’re in San Fran. Fitz & I both had two breve latte’s each! San Fran has a lot of great coffee but this has been my favorite overall.
OCTANE COFFEE – 437 Memorial Drive Suite A5, Atlanta, GA 30312
This place is an oasis in a sea of Starbucks mediocrity. Kind of a cool area of town too, a little out of the way but worth the trip. The staff seemed a little overwhelmed when I was in there but regardless the coffee is some of the best I’ve found in Atlanta. I had a soy latte that was legit, and just to test them, I had a double espresso which came out great.
WALKER’S PUB – 128 College Ave, Athens, GA 30601
I seem to find myself in Athens quite often and I love that town. Now look, this place is a bar at night. The coffee is not amazing but certainly better than Starbucks. The staff there is super nice and the vibe of the place is actually great in the morning! I’m being lenient on coffee quality because there isn’t too many other options that I’ve found, but I do really like this spot.
SOMA COFFEE & JUICE BAR – 322 E. Kirkwood Ave, Bloomington, IN
Ok, I was very skeptical of this place as I walked up, but I was desperate for something other than Starbucks so I took my chances. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the espresso pull and the viscosity of the milk. If you find yourself in beautiful Bloomington, go to FARM for breakfast, lunch and dinner and to Soma for your coffee.
VINYL CAFE – 303 Kellogg Ave, Ames, IA 50010
In a tiny town, in a tiny little basement space lives this cool little cafe and record store. They are great. If you happen to be passing through Ames, IA, hit ’em up!
BLUE STATE COFFEE – 957 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA. Located two doors down from The Paradise Rock Club (convenient if you are playing or seeing a show there), this is one of the best lattes I have ever had. A true work of art and strong as hell. I followed it with a straight shot and the flavors contained within were so vivid and strong that I forgot that I was drinking espresso. www.bluestatecoffee.com
MADCAP COFFEE – 98 Monroe Center, Grand Rapids, MI. Mad Cap has brought the Hario, “Pour Over” method to Grand Rapids and gives you a choice of what bean & blend they will use for your espresso shot. I had the espresso machiatto and it was amazing. www.madcapcoffee.com
SPYHOUSE COFFEE SHOP – 2404 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN 55405. The barista poured a beautiful rosetta similar to the one I was trained to make in Seattle while working for Caffe Vita. I had the latte cubano which was amazing. They are using 3 different roasters, Verve (Santa Cruz), Ritual (San Francisco), & Coava (Portland,OR). They also use the Hario pour-over method which I use at home and am obsessed with. www.spyhousecoffeeshop.com
DOGWOOD COFFEE CO. – 3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 Just do it. This is the only spot in Minneapolis that can rival Spyhouse Espresso. They roast, source ethically, and rule in quality. http://www.dogwoodcoffee.com/
QUAY COFFEE – 412 Delaware Ste. B, Kansas City, MO 64105
These guys are only a year old but don’t let that fool you. They come correct with some of the best coffee I’ve had on the road. I had a an americano and a soy latte. Both were perfect. They also gave me a great lesson on pour-over technique to use at home.
LITTLE FRESHIE – 811 W 17th St., Kansas City, MO 6410
Even more evidence that Kansas City, MO is so hip that they can’t see over their shoulders. Love this little spot, reminded me of mid-90s Seattle. Very cool, great espresso and an old school soda fountain to boot.
ODDLY CORRECT – 3940 Main, Kansas City, MO 6411
Well if I didn’t love my home in Montana so much, I may consider moving to Kansas City, just for the coffee options. These guys are incredible baristas and roasters that supply some of the better spots in town with beans. Everything is good.
CULTIVA COFFEE – 727 S 11th St., Lincoln, NE 68508
Found this little gem via Yelp. Came here for breakfast and had their Cubana Latte and it combined with their crepes just knocked me out. The morning barista took a little more care and time than the afternoon, but my 2nd one was adequate as well, just not quite as amazing. The roast their own beans and the roaster has the Vivace (Seattle) logo on the side which hit my sweet spot as well. http://www.cultivacoffee.com
ABRACO ESPRESSO – 86 East 7th Street New York, NY 10003
O.K., so credit where credit is due. Fitz turned me on to this treasure of the East Village in NYC. This the the cafe I’ve wanted to open my entire life, and someday I will do it. Just don’t tell Jamie, the owner, that I’m ripping him off, ok? I dream of this place. The coffee, the pastries, the personalities, the neighborhood vibe, the presentation, everything about it is perfect. Quite possibly my favorite place on earth to stand and have an espresso. He even spins old Brazilian funk records!! I mean, come ON!! It was built for ME!!! www.abraconyc.com
CAFE GRUMPY – 224 West 20th Street New York, NY 10011. So, I couldn’t make it to Abraco Espresso before it closed, so I heard about this place from one of my dear friends, trumpeter Phil Rodriguez who works there. Phil speaks my two languages, music & coffee very fluently, so I trusted him and it paid off. This place is amazing and they truly care about the product they are putting out there. There’s another location out in Brooklyn as well. Check ’em out. www.cafegrumpy.com
OPEN EYE CAFE – 101 South Greensboro Street, Carrboro, NC. OK, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve added anything to this blog, and it certainly was not for lack of travel or consumption of coffee. It really takes something special to make my list and I’m happy to say that The Open Eye Cafe in Carrboro, NC definitely makes the grade! This place is truly incredible. On a rainy day in Carrboro, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not back in Seattle in my early twenties when I could/would spend hours on end drinking prodigious amounts of espresso staring out at the at the weather. These folks are super knowledgeable about the product the produce, the use locally roasted beans, and the quality is the best Ive had since July in Minneapolis. I have to go to sound check now, but I’ll be back immediately after for more. I recommend the breve latte in 8oz or 12 oz size tops. Perfection.
IT’S NOT JUST COFFEE – 224 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28202. All I can say is wow! This spot is in the most unlikely of places but so good. It’s just a counter space in a marketplace downtown. Next level quality. Best I’ve found in Charlotte by far!!
THE COFFEE EMPORIUM – 110 E Central Pkwy, Cincinnati, OH 45202. This place is super big, super comfy and great coffee. It also has very good food. Check it out. Not quite the quality of Collective Espresso (see below) but still very good and they roast their own.
COLLECTIVE ESPRESSO – 207 Woodward Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45202. So far, this is the best I’ve found in Cincy. Small space, beautifully remodeled. Very skilled barista, high on style, low on attitude. I had an espresso shot that knocked me out.
ONE LINE COFFEE – 745 N High St., Columbus, OH 43215
Incredible spot in a very convenient location if you are staying in the “Short North” area or playing at LC Pavilion near the stadiums. Unreal quality.
STUMPTOWN ESPRESSO – Several Locations in Portland, OR.
Ok, for some reason I didn’t want to like Stumptown. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Seattle? Maybe I’m a little jealous? But the fact of the matter is that these guys are kicking major butt. The quality of the coffee is unreal. On this rainy day in May when we toured through there to play the Rose Fest, it was like I was home. They now have locations in Seattle and New York and many folks are using their beans. Great stuff. www.stumptowncoffee.com
HEART ESPRESSO – 2211 E Burnside St, Portland, OR.
New fave in Portland. Roasting done right in front of your eyes while you drink. Don’t bug the roasters! Super super legit!!
ESPRESSO A MANO – 3623 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201. These guys are the real deal. Quite possibly the best espresso in Pittsburgh, though I hear Tazza D’Oro is great as well. I went for a double espresso here and was thoroughly impressed. I think they use Counter Culture beans which I’m usually a fan of. Fitz had a latte that he thought was great. At that point, he was in the midst of quitting smoking so it was especially relieving to him to have a great espresso drink, hah! Love the warehouse, loft feel of the place and it’s in a cool area of Pitt called Lawrenceville. Go check ’em out! www.espressoamano.com
SQUARE ONE COFFEE – 145 N. Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602. I just happened upon this place by mistake, or my radar for coffee is just so ridiculously accurate, I was just drawn there. I ordered a mocha here which I normally don’t do on my first visit to a new cafe. It’s easy to mask a sub par shot of espresso with some chocolate. I had a hankering for some chocolate and as soon as you walk up to this place you can smell them roasting their own beans in the back of this little place, so I kinda figured these folks were legit. I was right, it’s amazing. Nice folks behind the bar, and they are a socially conscious business. I went back later to get a double espresso and really give it the test. The pull I got was extremely floral, not over-roasted. Great stuff, super great vibe. Check ’em out! http://www.squareonecoffee.com/
NEW HARVEST COFFEE CO. – 1005 Main Street #108, Pawtucket, RI 02860
If you should find yourself playing at The Met Cafe, hidden in the back of this amazing artist complex is this gem of a coffee spot. They are great roasters and baristas. Worth the search.
CREMA – 15 Hermitage Ave., Nashville, TN 37204. This is arguably the best coffee in Nashville. Located in kind of a strange industrial area, the manager of The Mercy Lounge took Fitz & myself their to chase the dragon so to speak. I could not have been happier. I had a great pull of espresso, I checked the milk on Fitz’s latte and it was nice and viscus the way you want it. Great vibe, nice folks, worth seeking it out to avoid Starbucks’ mediocrity. www.crema-coffee.com
ASCENSION COFFEE – 1621 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 7520
This place is exceptional. Finally, after all of my trips to Dallas, I found the place to go. I had their cold press brew and also a soy latte, both were stellar.
PEREGRINE ESPRESSO – 660 Pennsylvania Ave SE Washington DC 20003 or 1718 14th St NW Washington, DC 20009. Surprisingly, it’s rather difficult to find quality espresso in D.C.! I love this place. I saw that they were serving Ethiopian Yirgacheffe pour over coffee so I went for that and was not disappointed at all. Our sound man, Jamie always goes for a triple or quad espresso, so I eyed his shots and they were fantastic and Fitz’s latte milk was looking super viscus with a nice rosetta that he seemed stoked with. These guys are also using Counter Culture beans. Very cool spot, nice staff. Hit ’em up. Walking distance from the 9:30 Club. www.peregrineespresso.com
DARK HORSE ESPRESSO – 682 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON M4M 1G9. I really enjoyed these guy’s espresso on ice. It reminded me slightly of Caffe Vita’s espresso in Seattle. Really floral tasting which sometimes i’m in the mood for, and sometimes not. My only problem with this place is that it closes at 8pm which for me, is a little early. I know, I have a problem. www.darkhorseespresso.com