Intelligentsia coffee Chicago

(Courtesy Intelligentsia)

10 Independent Coffee Shops We Love

By Kati Heng on 07/11/14, updated 09/29/15
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Ask seasoned travelers about some of their favorite memories, and at some point, they'll pull out tales centered on coffee. Hear about a hot cup clamped in-hand on a chilly morning watching the sun rise, about trips to coffee-producing highlands and wandering through coffee-bean plantations, about time spent lounging at a café tucked down a small street known only to locals.

It's this last experience that is the subject of this article—the wonderful independent coffee shops and cafés that add color to cities and energize our days. These are the places that brighten our early-morning hours with the scent of a perfectly roasted bean, that give us our first interaction of the day, as we order—whether simple (a cuppa) or more complex (skinny doppio latte, please!).

Read on to find 10 of our editors' favorite independent coffee shops around the U.S. If we missed your local haunt, tell us about the place on our WhereTraveler Facebook page—it was hard to limit this list to 10. 

Bauhaus Books & Coffee—Seattle, Wash.

Seattle is a city known for its coffee, and Bauhaus is key among places to which the locals flock. Known as a makeshift library with better coffee and a warmer environment, the shop’s new space at Capitol Club provides table space where America’s next great writers type away, students study (or come to socialize) after a week of class, and folks linger over personalized specialty drinks the knowledgeable barista has whipped up. Don’t fret if you left your book at home—there’s plenty to read around here—and if you find yourself addicted to the Bauhaus beans, take home a bag before you go. 414 E. Pine St., Seattle, Wash., 206.625.1600

Boxcar Coffee Roasters—Boulder, Colo.

Born only four years ago in Boulder, Boxcar Coffee Roasters is the youngest shop on our list, but by no means the littlest—it has already expanded into and made quite an impact on Denver’s coffee scene. Beans are roasted in small batches using an antique German Ideal Rapid coffee roaster before going through Boxcar’s signature “Boilermakr,” a brewing machine that takes into account the Rockies’ high elevation and low boiling temperatures to get the ideal flavor extraction from every bean. Don’t miss “The Duke” espresso blend, a delectable mix of honey, butter, walnut and lemon blossom flavors. 1825 B Pearl St., Boulder, Colo., 303.527.1300

Boxcar Coffee Roasters

Café Grumpy—Brooklyn, N.Y.

Here’s a place that won’t fault you for scowling before that first cup. Many may recognize this Brooklyn shop as the workplace of several of the characters from HBO’s “Girls,” but the roasters and those baristas in the background do much more than make pretty scenery. There’s detailing in every part of the Café Grumpy process—from making strong ties to the communities and farmers from whom beans are sourced, to tinkering with blends and flavor profiles to develop that perfect roast, to providing customers the care of single-cup brewing. The bakery is top-notch, too, with creative treats like the black pepper and cardamon banana bread or bundt cakes stuffed with raspberry preserves and pistachio. 193 Meserole Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y., 718.349.7623

Cafe Grumpy

Intelligentsia—Chicago, Ill.

Intelligentsia has become a powerhouse in Chicago. No longer a few coffee shops in the Windy City, Intelligentsia is being served in many of Chicago’s top restaurants, partnering with bakeries and being used in bars, and has grown to include shops in New York and Los Angeles. Of course, we’re still partial to the original location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, a sleek and clean-cut spot with a new back bar to accommodate about twice as many guests (because as Chicagoans know, a half-full Intelligentsia is rarer than a leprechaun). 3123 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago, Ill., 773.348.8058

Intelligentsia Chicago

Peregrine Espresso—Washington, D.C.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the movers and shakers in D.C. know how to drink an espresso. With a well-curated menu of espresso served thick, cappuccino without frills, espresso macchiatos with teensy bits of textured milk and more, the shop keeps drinks focused on craft. To make sure the coffee is as fresh as can be, Peregrine only makes one big batch macro-brew in the morning, and when that runs out, it’s micro-brew, cup-by-cup offerings for the rest of the day. 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C., 202.629.4381

Peregrine Espresso

Ristretto Roasters—Portland, Ore.

Dark-roast devotees beware: Ristretto Roasters may just convert you to the lighter side of beans. Working in extra-small batches, roaster Din Johnson puts his energy into matching the roasting techniques with the flavor profiles of the beans and tends to favor a more medium bean over many others. Plus, Ristretto shops are known to have only the highest caliber of bakery treats on demand, including bites from locally loved Kim Boyce’s Bake Shop and Nuvrei Bakery. Also check out an impressive reading series featuring poets, authors and other eccentrics from Portland. 2181 NW Nicolai St., Portland, Ore., 503.227.2866

Ritual—San Francisco, Calif.

The Soviet-esque logo outside nods to the simple fact the folks at Ritual are leading a full-bodied revolution against mass-produced (and just plain bad) coffee. Its goals aren’t meek—Ritual is not shy how it strives to make the best cup of coffee, ever. So far, the place is winning over the San Francisco coffee scene. Coffee comes from the drip method: water brought to a specific temperature is poured over a specific weight of beans in a process they describe as “insanely meticulous.” Espresso takes an extra minute to reach a level of perfect sweetness. After all that work, you’re sure to be getting one darn good cup of coffee. 1026 Valencia St., San Francisco, Calif., 415.641.1011

Ritual Coffee Roasters

Spyhouse—Minneapolis, Minn.

It only makes sense that Twin Cities—so-called ground zero for current counter-culture trends—is home to one of the country’s coolest coffee shops. Enter Spyhouse, a space emphasizing mid-century design and antique beauty, celebrating local artists and making baristas experts in the art before they’re allowed to serve any customer. With three spots, including the original in Whittier close to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the newest one housed in a restored brick and timber warehouse, it’s hard to pick our favorite location, but if pressed, we’d have to say Uptown’s storefront in the middle of the Hennepin Avenue scene, with its focus on early Americana, is our favorite. 2404 Hennepin Ave S., Minneapolis, Minn., 612.377.2278

Spyhouse

Stumptown—Portland, Ore.

It’s hard to think of Stumptown as the “little guys” in the coffee game, at least now that you can get a great cup of Stumptown roasts in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and beyond. Nevertheless, we can’t resist the unique blends, such as the Hair Bender roast (flavors of milk chocolate, caramel, jasmine, apricot and pineapple) or the heavy-bodied Holler Mountain, and it looks like we’re not alone—NPR called Stumptown the “Best Coffee in the World.” It’s also hard to beat the allure of the atmosphere on location, what with the barista taking the time to chat about anything from an Americano to that new zoology documentary. 4525 SE Division St., Portland, Ore., 503.230.7702

Stumptown

Thinking Cup—Boston, Mass.

As the first coffee shop in Boston to offer regular access to Stumptown, the folks at Thinking Cup raise the bar for the city's cafe culture. A simple Americano prepared by internationally lauded baristas is out of this world, but the flavored lattes are a must: the vanilla ginger latte laced with a house-made syrup and the hazelnut latte with fresh-roasted hazelnut paste. That’s right: Real hazelnuts. Each location has a slightly different vibe—Tremont Street attracting hipster students from nearby Emerson College, Newbury Street a mix of shop owners, art dealers and travelers exploring the Back Bay. Did we mention the food is great, too? Try the Jittery Hen: coffee-braised chicken sandwiched between sourdough with house-made barbecue sauce, pickles and smoked gruyère. 165 Tremont St., Boston, Mass., 617.482.5555

thinking cup