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.
This irreverent brainchild of Atlanta coffee vet Dale Donchey and celebrity chef Hugh Acheson is sitting on the crossroads of the new Atlanta. Located in the main hall of Ponce City Market, with the Beltline running alongside and MailChimp’s ever-growing team of employees typing away above, Spiller Park serves up a simple but excellent menu, including a handful of pour overs with beans sourced from roasters like Intelligentsia or Phil & Sebastian and toasts topped with sticky jam or ripe avocado.
The elongated kiosk is capped at either end with old-school round counters and stools that are perfect for a quick snack or casual meeting. You’re just as likely to rub shoulders with, say, a yoga pant-clad, stroller-pushing new mom or, as I noticed one morning, Beltline founder Ryan Gravel sorting through papers and, perhaps, some new ideas about the future of Atlanta. Spiller Park’s next location, in the Toco Hills Shopping Center, is expected to open later this summer.
675 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 404-919-2978, spillerpark.com.
After opening a location on Atlanta’s Westside, this Birmingham, Ala.-based roaster and cafe chain delivered the biggest surprise news to Atlanta’s coffee scene in 2017 when it purchased Octane Coffee, Atlanta’s long-running epicenter of serious coffee. In many ways, the two chains are a natural fit. Both are dedicated to taking seriously the fundamental basics of coffee, down to sourcing and roasting the best possible beans, and both have courted a tech-friendly workday crowd of laptop-toting Georgia Tech students and creative-class freelancers.
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.
691 14th St., Atlanta. revelatorcoffee.com.
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.
1168 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. brashcoffee.com.
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.
1375 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-461-9025, hugecafe.com.
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.
670 Memorial Drive, Atlanta. brothermoto.com.
45 Café South
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.
45 S. Peachtree St., Norcross. 770-409-4009, 45southcafe.com.
The latest expansion of chef Todd Ginsberg’s empire, the Canteen is an all-day combination of counter-service options, including the already-popular destinations Yalla and Fred’s Meat & Bread. The surprise standout, though, is a coffee counter serving Batdorf & Bronson beans and stocked with a bevy of standout baked goods. Those include the excellent bagels that have long been served during breakfast and brunch at the General Muir, but also new creations, like a biscuit studded with hunks of pastrami and Gruyere and covered in a sweet, black pepper glaze. You won’t regret ordering it with your latte.
75 Fifth St. NW, Atlanta. thecanteenatl.com.
Golden Drops Café
This coffee shop is the latest tenant of 1788 Clairmont Road, an architecturally significant building that has been home to several short-lived culinary destinations, most recently Sobban. The house drink is the Golden Latte, spiked with strong ginger syrup and covered with a layer of cinnamon dust, but the draw is a long list of Latin American pastries. In particular, the Brazilian coxinhas — crispy, fried teardrops of chicken and cream cheese — should not be missed.
1788 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 404-968-9981, goldendropscafe.com.