Now we are getting to the serious stuff…
A recent five-week music trip to the USA with friends has concluded, attending the Americana Music Conference and Awards, the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. I visited the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and California and there were many good coffees and many not so good. I will not dwell on the latter as it may leave a bitter taste in my mouth!).
Having lived in Melbourne Australia for a few years, I have come to embrace the all-pervasive coffee culture here. A culture to a large extent built upon the influx of Italian immigrants to the city decades ago. The quest for my kind of coffee was a serious component of the recent music odyssey to America.
I should point out that assessing these coffee spots, it’s not just about what’s in the cup. It’s also the ambience, service, the food options, the comfort and the WiFi accessibility.
Here are my top caffeine picks.
9. Daily Planet Cafe – Raleigh North Carolina
Large, spacious, light and a bit new-age arty and only a block away from our accommodation. Coffee good and many food options with enough interesting reading material and good WiFi access.
Oh and we could charge our electric car just outside (if we had one).
8. PIQ Cafe Bakery Berkeley California
8. A pleasant surprise this one, just near the BART station where we arrived largely map-less. A stop here gave us some time to get our bearings in a nice outdoor area where you can watch the world go by. Lots of nice looking (and tasting) pastries. One downside was the rest rooms. Despite receiving directions from friendly staff, I still couldn’t find them. Also it required a key, the tag of which was so large, I could have directed the traffic outside for the rest of the day.
7. Yazoo Pass – Clarksdale Mississippi
This is not really here because of the coffee as such. As the breakfast at the Shack Up Inn is very rudimentary, this was an oasis that we visited often for many things. Nice breakfasts, juices and fruit. A salad bar as well. Coffee acceptable and the Wi-Fi fully functional. Location good, in the heart of Clarksdale, near the Delta Blues Museum, Cat Head and Ground Zero. I suspect that if you stayed there a while you would get to know a lot about some of the townsfolk. Nice T-shirts too.
6. Highway 61 Coffee House – Vicksburg Mississippi
We had just visited the railway museum and was given a recommendation for lunch – perhaps it was the fact that he didn’t like strangers round these parts? I vaguely recall, chips, bread roll, potato, a bucket of gravy and service with a snarl.
We needed to walk the lunch off but hit this nice little establishment on the main street almost immediately. The owner is a cool dude, having been to almost all the Jazz and Heritage Festivals held in New Orleans over many years. Also there were guys playing draughts (always a good sign), a small performance area, great reading material, funky decor and by far the best coffee on the trip to that time.
5. Jo’s Austin Texas
Part of the Holy Austin South Congress Alliance (I just made that up, but I think it may be true) – the Austin Motel, the Continental Club, Guero’s Taco Bar and the Magnolia Cafe.
Jo’s is right next to the Hotel so is an easy walk to breakfast snacks – all outdoor and some area covered. Plenty of locals, particularly students, laptops and dogs. A place to be seen. Can be a little noisy depending on the traffic.
4. Dunn Bros – Nashville Tennessee
It took me a while to remember and re-find this one.
The coffee is the best we found in the Music City. Plenty of nooks and crannies inside (watch for the low light fittings at the back though) and a few tables on the street. With certain orders of food you get a free bag of potato chips. Nice muffins and healthy options. Healthy WiFi too and it can sometimes work outside.
The inside can be a little too air-conditioned. But it’s on the way between our hotel (and the adjacent Americana Conference) and Broadway. Oh and there’s a store of food supplies and a wine shop just around the corner that we found (a little too late for this trip- next time!).
3. Morning Times – Raleigh North Carolina
This was a little cramped on both our visits as there was a Wide Open Bluegrass free street event stage just outside – people everywhere in fact. But there’s a good reason for this place to be packed. There’s more room upstairs but it just doesn’t have the vibe of below.
Coffee so good, you just want to order another one. Nothing better than enjoying their food (soup and bread) and coffee and hearing and watching the fabulous Stray Birds perform outside.
2. Dominican Joe – Austin Texas
We found this place on about our third trip to Austin.
Not that far from the Austin Motel on the way downtown before you reach the Colorado River. It’s in a little shopping centre just off South Congress and is therefore easy to miss. Always busy because of the coffee – a hang out with students with their laptops and headphones who look like they have settled in for the day.
A few comfortable chairs and plenty of reading material, particularly about the local music scene too. Good for sweets. T-shirts are available and lots of material about coffee-making.
1. Stanza Cafe (Haight St) – San Francisco California
Simply the crema of the crop (groan…)
A small premises but the care and attention taken to each cup is noticeable. The best looking coffee machine and lively, tasteful decor. Coffee paraphernalia on display that adds to the feel. Usually they serve in cups as well which is not that common (however cardboard only on the weekend of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass when we were there). Nice and knowledgeable staff who guessed that we were from Melbourne Australia even before we mentioned it. They could tell just from oohs and aahs after tasting the coffee.
When I return to San Francisco, I won’t be staying too far away from this essential esteemed establishment.
You may be relieved to know this is almost the last of this “Best Of” series!