Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Best Coffee in Austin

Tackling the Coffee category for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide is harder in 2012 than it would have been a few years back. From a complete coffee wasteland in the 90s, Austin has emerged as the coffee epicenter of the central time zone. Cuvee is roasting world class coffee (powering 4 out of the 38 national finalists at last year's US Barista championships). New shops are popping up nearly every month, becoming the centers of neighborhood life and changing the landscape of Austin for the better. Talented baristas are branching out into new ventures and breathing life into forgotten enterprises. I've highlighted five of the very best spots for coffee in town - each of which has raised the bar in it's own way - and another dozen or so that are worth a visit.

The Best Coffee Shops in Austin:

Caffe Medici
Caffee Medici was founded in 2006, turning a little house in Clarksville into a new kind of coffee shop for Austin. Latte art. French press. Perfect ceramic cups. It was packed with customers from the get-go. Now open in 3 locations, Medici is still, as far as I'm concerned, the best in town. The slightly tart Cuvee Espresso Medici blend is a stunning espresso, and with milk, it takes on an almost toasted-marshmallow decadence. They've expanded to three locations - the original in Clarksville, warm and neighborly; the drag, where students spill out onto the wide front patio; and downtown in the Austonian, a sleek, two story temple to coffee that left me completely speechless. Medici matches the best the Northwest has to offer, and manages to outdo itself at every turn.

1101 West Lynn Street, Austin, TX | 2222 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX | 200 Congress Ave #2b, Austin, TX

You need to be pretty awesome to hold your own in a strip mall anchored by Uchiko, and Houndstooth does not disappoint. Unlike Medici, which, with only a few exceptions, brews Cuvee exclusively, Houndstooth intersperses Cuvee with a rotating mix of coffee from the best roasters nationally. Today, it's Counter Culture, Verve, and Handsome. This isn't an accident: Houndstooth is built around coffee and around the baristas that bring that coffee to life in the cup. There's an infectious excitement here - when Houndstooth discovers a spectacular new roaster, they can't wait to share it, can't wait to get it dialed in. You can feel the buzz when you walk in the shop - sparse but comfortable on the customer side, and positively gleaming on the barista side of the bar, including a 3-group Mistral - the most spectacular espresso machine operating in these parts.

4200 North Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX

Once Over Coffee
Founded in 2009 as the second coffee venture for Rob and Jenée Ovitt, Once Over encapsulates the Austin vibe better than any other shop in town. It's a hole in the wall, off South First street - warm, with an absolute gem of a hidden back deck, and a low-budget-chandeliers-and-mismatched-chairs charm. The slacker ethos does not, however, extend to the coffee. Once Over developed their espresso blend - Dead Fingers - in partnership with Cuvee. Not as bright as Thunderbird's or Medici's blends, Dead Fingers is deep and almost chocolaty, my favorite straight shot in town. On a nice day, there's no better place to kick back, listen to the creek gurgle by, and sip some seriously decadent coffee.

2009 South 1st Street  Austin, TX

Technically, Frank is a hot dog place. And a live music venue. And a bar. This makes what they do with coffee all that much more miraculous. When they launched in the little brick building at 4th and Colorado, they set the bar for artisan sausage (and real Chicago Dogs) in Austin, and also quietly upped the coffee ante downtown. They've moved from Chicago power-house roaster Intelligentsia to LA upstart Handsome Coffee Roasters in the last few months, but the coffee is no less spectacular. If you want the best damn sausage you have ever tasted with your latte, this is pretty much your ticket.

407 Colorado Street, Austin, TX

Thunderbird started small - as a neighborhood shop out on Koenig - and has grown into a major player, adopting new innovations, serving kick-ass beer, opening up on the East Side. Thunderbird is one of the only places in town that you can get the kind of single-cup brewing that is becoming the standard at the best coffee places on the coasts - from 10 to 1 on Saturdays and Sundays at their original location, you can get coffee ground for the cup and brewed on the spot as a Hario V60 pour over, Chemex, or Siphon. This is the same menu of options I ran into last year at Public Domain in Portland, and last week at Intelligentsia in Chicago. If you're hankering for a beautiful cup of coffee on the weekend, you are unlikely to do better than this.

1401 West Koenig Lane, Austin, TX | 2200 Manor Road, Austin, TX

The Honorable Mentions:

JP's - for starting this ball rolling
JP's, founded in 2002,  was once far and away the best thing going in town. That luster has faded a bit as others have risen around them, but they are still doing amazing things. If you're down by campus, it's a a lovely little dive of a place, and the dark-roast Zoka beans yield a rich and earthy espresso.

Teo - for the best coffee you will ever find alongside a gelato
You can't get much less local on coffee than you get at Teo, where they have been pulling shots of Italian I Magnifici 10 for more than 8 years. It's a smooth, velvety espresso, and a perfect foil to the sweetness of the house-made gelato. The entire experience is as immersively Italian as anywhere in Austin, in a very good way.

Progress - for bringing coffee to the East Side
Progress coffee was one of the first shops to open on the East Side of town - an anchor of the current boom running through the East 6th - East 11th areas. The coffee, roasted by small-time local shop Owl Tree, is woody and fresh, but Progress is not all about coffee perfection. Progress is about kicking back with Austin's mustachioed single-speed set, watching the trains roll by, and taking in Austin from a different angle.

Jo's - for completing the SoCo Experience
The coolest place to stay in Austin is the Hotel San Jose. And the coolest place to grab a cup of coffee when you roll yourself out of bed at noon and head out into the heat of another Austin day, is across the parking lot at Jo's. Jo's is more of a shack than a shop, but they are an Austin institution, with good local grub, and pretty fantastic coffee - also from Owl Tree.

Interested in some social justice with your coffee? Check out old-timer Ruta Maya or upstart Dominican Joe, both of whom put special focus on fairly sourced American beans.

Looking for something on wheels? check out dynamite trailer Patika coffee, one of the best mobile coffee vendors anywhere. Other trailers are doing good things all over town, from Elixer up at Mueller to Lance Armstrong's roving Juan Pelota coffee truck - check out Tiffany's massive round up over at Trailer Food Diaries for up to the minute details on what's rolling through town now.

If you're looking for a zing to go, stop by Whole Foods or Wheatsville and check out locally brewed Chameleon Cold Brew for an exceptionally smooth, exceptionally caffeinated kick in a bottle. Chameleon is the brain-child of local foodie-entreprenuer Chris Campbell and excellent 24-hour east side standby coffee shop Bennu.

And, if you haven't already gathered from the posts above, if you need some beans for home you can't do any better than Cuvee (available freshest, and in the greatest variety, at Medici).

If you're in Austin there's no excuse for a bad margarita. No excuse for sub-par BBQ. No reason to get anything but the perfect Breakfast Taco. And now - there's no reason to get anything other than a spectacular cup of joe.

Got another favorite? I'd love to hear about it - drop me a line in the comments.

Caffe Medici on Urbanspoon | Houndstooth Coffee on Urbanspoon | Once Over Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon | Frank on Urbanspoon | Thunderbird Coffee on Urbanspoon


Jodi said...

Awesome post, Eli! I will definitely share this with anyone asking me where the best coffee in Austin can be found. You are a true devotee, and I love your passion on this subject.

Susan said...

Thanks Eli. As always you are my go-to guy for coffee advice. What a great post!! Thanks for the reminder to try Once Over here in my neck of the woods.

midnitechef said...

Great post :) I've been wondering where I can go have a drink with Hubby, this gives me plenty of options!

Unknown said...

Thanks guys! This was about as much fun as I've ever had pulling together a post. Still waiting for the buzz to wear off. :)

Sinda said...

Excellent post, Eli. Concise but with just enough detail and descriptive detail to make me want to go on my own tour.

Sinda said...

Excellent post, Eli. Concise but with just enough detail and descriptive detail to make me want to go on my own tour.

Chris said...

I'm a huge fan of Medici and Houndstooth, and any shop that uses Cuvee and puts the effort into Barista arts.

I wanted to give a recommendation for a small shop in Cedar Park. Cafe Yolly uses Cuvee and makes fantastically high-quality drinks. The hand-poured coffee is worth a look. Yolly makes the best coffee north of Houndstooth.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the suggestion Chris - will definitely check out Yolly. Love how the coffee culture is spreading. Now if we can just get someone to open a truly great shop down south in my neck of the woods, that'd be something.

Stephanie said...

Great group of people running these joints, and most of all, great coffee in Austin!!!

koderken said...

Had a disappointing first visit to Houndstooth yesterday morning. The only method for brewing coffee was a French press, not my favorite. Seating uncomfortable, and only available after a brief wait (the place gets crowded, I'll give you that.) Not much in the food arena, although their Wifi network password contained a reference to "cheese", it turned out no actual cheese was available. If you wanted to charge your laptop, there was only one outlet available, which required you to stand at the counter to use.

All in all, I was not impressed. On the upside, however, they weren't actually whipping frappucinnos, and that made me glad.

Unknown said...


I hear ya on the french press. I think it's far better than the massive mega-auto-drip machines in common use, but I prefer pour over generally to french press, depending on the bean.

On Houndstooth - the vibe there is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. I wasn't sure what I thought first time I was there - it's a little more sparse and cold than most Austin joints. But the espresso is to die for, and I've come around once I spent some time chatting with the folks that work there. Recommend you give them another shot.

And Houndstooth - a sweet little Hario V60 rig would be a pretty killer (if also resource intensive) addition. Just sayin'

Laura Roberts @ Buttontapper Press said...

Hi Eli! Great post; I love the Medici hot chocolate, as well as their coffee, and I think they serve alcohol at the Congress location as well (if not all of them), so they've got the beverages pretty well covered.

I was wondering what you think of Epoch? I dig their iced mochas when the weather heats up, but I haven't tried their hot offerings yet.

Unknown said...

Originalflora - I haven't visited Epoch yet (so much coffee, so little time) but they're on my list now! May have to do a separate addendum just on the 24 hour joints.

hungryhippo said...

Great post! We became coffee "snobs" after moving back from Seattle. Before Houndstooth, my favorite latte was between JP's and Medici. But Medici definitely seems more consistent and of course they use Cuvee. Houndstooth, though I don't care for the atmosphere, has an excellent choice of beans! We use a Rancilio machine at home and have used a variety of their beans. I look forward to their AFBA event that you were speaking of... and enjoyed reading your review.

Unknown said...

hungryhippo - right there with you! I love Seattle (Victrola, OMG). I think we're giving them a run for the money though - and, due in no small part to Cuvee, Austin's getting better at an astonishing pace. Houndstooth event is going to rock.

I've got an Expobar/Macap set up at home, though I've slowed down on espresso since I discovered the joy of Chemex.

supertsai said...

Great list Eli and thanks for commenting on our blog!

I agree that Medici and Houndstooth are awesome. I knew an Italian man here for an internship and he refused to drink cappuccinos anywhere except for Medici. Also, We once went to a coffee + cheese tasting at Houndstooth. A very cool concept and absolutely delicious.

About the interactive map, I don't think there is a tutorial, maybe I should write one. Basically you go to and click on the "my places" button then add your places and save your map.

Unknown said...

Awesome @superstai - I can't believe I missed that. So easy!

Unknown said...

I love good coffee but I'm easy and will settle for whatever chain store is nearby. I have to say, the coffee that I **really** like was the kind I used to get back in Connecticut at the Duncan Donuts. It tasted much different than the Duncan Donuts branded coffee sold at Costco (which is made by Smucker's, btw), and while not necessarily "artisan" tasting and probably miles away from Houndstooth et al, it was unique and satisfying unto itself.

midnitechef said...

I've been to Cafe Medici and had an iced coffee, great start to my day! Any suggestions for us up north/Round Rock?

Lee Stokes Hilton said...

Thanks, Eli! I'm sending this link around to a group of my friends who are new to Austin and always on the lookout for good coffee. A very nice post.

Unknown said...

Midnitechef - I don't have any great recommendations for anything North of Houndstooth, sadly. Seems like an untapped market up there. Any of you other folks know of anybody doing great things on the North side?

Unknown said...

Lee - Thank you! That's exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote this - something I could pass along when someone was coming to town and wanted to know where to grab a good cup of coffee.

mattspent said...


mattspent said...


Unknown said...

Have not been to Epoch yet - certainly willing to check it out. There's a whole new crop at the moment. So much coffee. So little time.

Unknown said...

Hi Eli - I'm writing an article for about the best coffee in Austin, saw your blog and wanted to speak with you.

You can reach me at ciscoryder "at"

thanks, Cisco

Unknown said...

Talented baristas are faema espresso machine branching out into new ventures and breathing life into forgotten enterprises.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

Matt and I are in dying need of a new coffee maker! delonghi esam3300 espresso But I am afraid to get a new one because I just NOW learned how to use the ol' dinky ones from way back when.

Unknown said...

Hey guys - I think there is some major wonky stuff going on with my comments - spammy links getting inserted willy nilly. Muhammad - totally agree, it's the baristas that are driving this trend. All about the talent. Elizabeth - ping me at eli at grubbus dot com if you want coffee brewing equipment advice. I'm full of advice. I suspect, but I'm not certain, that some of it is useful.

Unknown said...

great article! thanks
lori @ best single cup coffee maker

Adams Moore said...

Great coffee starts with great beans. Coffee's quality and flavor is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, it depends on the type of coffee you select. Best Coffee Beans

NANCY said...

Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger. Martin E. Crider

Adrianne said...

Excellent post, Eli. Concise but with just enough detail and descriptive detail to make me want to go on my own tour.


Adrianne said...

Have not been to Epoch yet - certainly willing to check it out. There's a whole new crop at the moment. So much coffee. So little time.
Dana@daily world buzz

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