Whether dark roast, light roast, with milk or black, no matter how you take your morning cup, you are part of a worldwide community of java drinkers that have made coffee one of the world’s top-traded agricultural commodities.
For as many coffee drinkers as there are in the country, it seems there are just as many coffee shops, from international chains to the coffee house on the corner. To honor the best neighborhood shops in the country, coffee appliance maker Krups created its Best Brew Awards in 2011. Facebook users nominated and voted on cafes in major metropolitan areas to choose the winners.
“Krups is about coffee and beverages, and we want to support the industry and support the local coffee shops that are doing such a great job within the industry,” Michele Lupton, Krups’ director of marketing communication, told CNBC.com.
This year, voters chose 10 shops to receive the Best Brew Award. Click ahead to see the winners.
By Morgan Tornetta, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 16 March 2012
Best-seller: Redline Espresso Blend
For eight years, Metropolis Coffee Co., which is both a roasting company and a café, has served its own roasts and blends in its shop, and in other coffee houses in the Chicago area. Manager Tony Dreyfuss says that the diverse neighborhood Metropolis serves is part of the appeal of running the café. “People sit down together, they actually talk,” he says.
When the economy turned sour, Metropolis had to start raising prices, but customers remained loyal. Dreyfuss said that being open about its financial situation made customers willing to dig a little deeper to pay for their morning jolt.
Dreyfuss especially likes to talk to customers about where Metropolis’ beans are sourced and how farmers are compensated for their work. It’s all part of an effort, he says, “to give customers more information about where their coffee is coming from.”
Location: Washington, D.C.
Best-sellers: Drip coffee (morning); latte (afternoon)
No one could accuse M.E. Swing’s Coffee House of jumping on the java bandwagon. Founded in 1916 as a roasting company, the coffee house has a long history in Washington, D.C.
Its most recent location, on G Street next to the Old Executive Office Building, is filled with vintage burr grinders and wooden coffee bins. It’s like “walking through a time machine,” says owner Mark Warmuth, who adds that history is part of the café’s appeal.
“Customers have been patronizing our store for a long time,” Warmuth says. “Not every coffee shop has the ability to say ‘Look what we did 20 or 30 years ago and still do today.’ ”
But that doesn’t mean everything is vintage. The beans, for one thing, are roasted in nearby Alexandria, Va., which gives a whole new meaning to the words “freshly brewed.”
Location: San Francisco
Best-seller: Rotating single-origin coffee
Four Barrel Café owner Jeremy Tooker travels around the world to find the best beans for his brews. With more than 14 years in the coffee industry, his expertise is the backbone of Four Barrel Café.
While Four Barrel is located in the ultra-hip Mission District of San Francisco, Tooker considers himself more “hippie” than “hipster.” The café offers no wireless Internet access or outlets for computers, encouraging interaction between customers and staff.
Four Barrel has plans to open another store in the Panhandle/Alamo Square area, as well as continuing to fine-tune its customer service. “But really,” Tooker says, “I can only hope to maintain the level of success that we’ve already achieved.”
Best-seller: Lady of the Lake, a dark roast named for a local legend
Husband-and-wife owners Nancy and Bob Baker have a seriously hands-on approach to their coffee: They recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, where they hand-picked coffee cherries.
White Rock Coffee specializes in fair trade organic coffee, roasted in small batches at its roasting facility and then sold at two cafés in the Dallas area.
The Bakers are trying to find as many avenues of direct trade with coffee farmers as they can to source the beans for their coffee. Their sustainable model extends to their decaffeination process, which uses a natural water-only method, as opposed to using methylchloride.
White Rock Coffee is an integral part of the local social scene, hosting musicians five nights a week. Its relationship with the community is one of the things Nancy Baker likes best about the café. “Even though we’re in the coffee business, it’s all about people, all up and down the chain, from the migrant workers who pick the beans to the baristas to the customers,” she says.
Best-sellers: Espresso-based drinks and locally brewed Chai
Condesa Coffee is located in Atlanta’s rapidly gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It’s off of the main drag, however, and owner Daniela Staiculescu says customers have to work to find it — so she knows she has a loyal customer base.
The shop opened in 2010, and Staiculescu, together with partners Amin Rida and Octavian Stan, took over last year. It serves coffee from Counter Culture Coffee, a company that values sustainability and direct trade with coffee farmers.
The menu features many locally sourced ingredients: Sandwiches are made with local meats and organic vegetables, while coffee is mixed with local milk. One of the most popular menu items at Condesa is Cabbagetown Chai, prepared right next door at Cabb Chai’s Atlanta location. Condesa even offers discounts for customers who bike to the shop.
Don’t bring your laptop to Tinta y Café — owner Neli Santamarina doesn’t offer WiFi. She prefers that you come to talk.
“My vision is to encourage interaction,” Santamarina says. Indeed, many of her customers have forged friendships with each other.
Miami’s Tinta y Café straddles two up-and-coming neighborhoods: Little Havana and Brickell Village, and the shop’s Cuban eats and coffee attract customers from both.
The menu is filled with traditional Cuban food: empanadas, croquetas, and pastelitos. Its croquetas, which come in a variety of flavors, have even been named the best in the city. Sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients: The bread is baked on the premises, and ham is sliced several times a day.
The café, which has been open for several years, experienced growing pains in the beginning, which makes her current success all the more sweet. Says Santamarina: “We’re very proud of the accomplishments we have made in the last five years.”
Location: Los Angeles
Best-sellers: Sweetened latte and green tea donuts
L.A.’s Café Dulcé is less than a year old, and already gaining the attention of the city’s coffee fans. Owner James Choi says this first year has been a lot of hard work, but the long hours have been worth it.
His goal is to create an atmosphere like on the TV show “Cheers” — where everybody knows your name. “The first thing we tell people when we hire is ‘Learn who you’re serving,’ ” says Choi.
Café Dulcé serves up organic Lamill coffee, brewed by the cup. It is also known for its menu of unusual pastries, such as donuts flavored with bacon and green tea.
Choi says the single-cup drip coffees and unique menu offerings are nothing, however, without a great staff to serve them. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the team, the people who really care about the products we’re serving,” he says.
Next up for Choi: A pop-up Café Dulcé, sometime in the coming year.
Location: New York City
Best-seller: 6 oz. cappuccino
“Espresso is the true expression of what you do” as a coffee shop, says Ninth Street Espresso shop owner Kenneth Nye. You’ll find no flavored syrups, fancy sweeteners, or complicated brews at any of Ninth Street’s three locations.
The no-frills menu contains only espresso, espresso with milk, and brewed coffee. This menu is an expression of Nye’s emphasis on genuineness, particularly in the quality of the coffee.
“If you’re not real and you’re not genuine, you’re not going to last long,” he says.
Best-seller: 16 oz. drip coffee
Located in Center City, Philadelphia, Elixr Coffee draws a mix of businessmen and students from nearby universities, including Temple, Penn, and Drexel, looking for a caffeine fix at all hours of the day.
Elixr recently located to a new, larger building less than a block away from the original shop. While the larger storefront helps them handle more customers, the focus is still on quality, says owner April Nett.
The café specializes in Chemex hand-pour coffee, which Nett calls the most basic type of brewed coffee. Beans and water are weighed, the beans are ground, and both are run through a filter into a beaker. Baristas tinker with the grind of the coffee to create that perfect cup for customers.
Best-seller: Espresso beverages
Since opening its doors in December 2010, Thinking Cup has gained accolades from a number of outlets. Besides being one of Krups’ top 10 coffee shops, it has also been named to Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2011, boston.com’s 2011 A List, and Stuff Magazine’s Hot 100.
The café serves Stumptown Coffee, roasted in Brooklyn, N.Y. Thinking Cup owner Hugh Geiger says that he likes being able to “provide a place for people to come together to relax and socialize with friends and family,” and says great service is the key to success. “We have very dedicated employees passionate about providing a great service,” he says.