There are few things in this world as universal as a morning cup of coffee. In my lifetime, I’ve traveled to four continents, and no matter where I go, my day always begins with coffee. And no matter the place, the hot brew of bitter liquid is familiar, though every cup hits different.
In Panama, the Geisha beans are so fresh it feels like a crime to drink the silky, fruity coffee any other way but black. In Israel, Arabica beans are ground into a fine powder and mixed with cardamom to create a bold and aromatic shot of Arabic coffee that ends on a gritty note that, despite its texture, is actually quite satisfying. In Heidelberg, Germany, where I spent a semester, the Americano coffee was so weak, four cups were barely enough to start my day. Locals, who thought my coffee needs excessive, howled with laughter when I brought in my 20-ounce plastic Wawa mug to show them how much coffee I usually drank.
Like most culinary origin stories, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the first drops of coffee were poured. It grows in a narrow band called the “Bean Belt,” which stretches from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. But the first beans came from the coffee forests of the Ethiopian plateau. From there, it made its way to southern Arabia where it was more formally cultivated and traded.
Throughout history, coffee shops have been places where art, ideas, and speech flowed as freely as the drinks. Since 1554, when the first coffeehouse opened in Constantinople, these so-called “Schools of the Wise” spread an egalitarian counterculture of free expression and creativity. It’s said that Bach and Beethoven wrote some of their music in coffeehouses; Hemingway wrote much of A Moveable Feast in cafes around Paris; and a passionate speech by Camille Desmoulins at Paris’ Café de Foix is believed to have been key to inciting the French Revolution.
Closer to home, coffee’s popularity is infused with politics: Many Americans swapped their tea leaves for coffee beans when the British imposed a tax on tea in the colonies. In a letter written to his wife, Abigail, John Adams declared that, though he loved tea, coffee was a more patriotic drink.
Today, coffee shops still serve as venues where people come together. They’re common grounds where we meet with friends and galleries that support local artists whose work often sparks engaging conversations. Some of us rely on coffee shops as an extension of our home, providing calming yet energizing spaces to work whether it be on creative endeavors or on our daily grind.
Whether you’re looking for a community organizing hub, a cozy spot to curl up with a book, a spot to meet friends, or just a really excellent cup of coffee, here are the best coffee shops in Philadelphia.
Named after two Black female activists, Frances E.W. Harper and Fannie Lou Hamer, Franny Lou’s Porch celebrates the Black American experience. Owner Blew Kind’s approach to running a coffee shop is community focused. Everything from brewing Triangle Roasters coffee, a family-owned coffee roaster up the street, to hosting the monthly Rad Love market, which spotlights budding local businesses, is about bringing people together with purpose and uplifting one another. “We’re a community space connecting all walks of life,” says Kind, “but we specifically focus on marginalized and Black and brown communities.” And with sandwich names like “The Anti-Capitalist” and “The Pro-Liberation,” it’s a café that encourages conversations about challenging topics.
“All communities deserve nice things,” says Justin Moore, general manager of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books. “That was the impetus of Uncle Bobbie’s.” Named after the founder, Marc Lamont Hill’s uncle Bobbie, the mission of the Germantown coffee shop was to create a safe space for neighbors to enjoy coffee and have access to a curated collection of books about race and identity. “At its core, a coffee shop should serve as a community hub,” says Moore. It’s only been three and a half years since opening and Moore says they’ve quickly become a cultural staple. They’ve just reopened for indoor seating and are excited to get back to serving fresh La Colombe coffee, pastries, vegan pastries, and more. Don’t forget to check out their reading recommendations: Coffee and books are the perfect pair.
Grindcore House is an all-vegan cafe focused on creating community around art, music, and radical thinking. In addition to serving up coffee and delicious vegan treats and sandwiches, they host art shows and allow local artists to exhibit their work, play alternative music including grindcore and other forms of metal, and have a small library of zines and reformist books. The menu features hearty breakfast sandwiches, deli sandwiches, and baked goods, but the sleeper hit here is the bagels and the wide range of vegan spreads, including savory scallion cream cheese, herbaceous pestonaise, sweet jam, and spicy jalapeno cream cheese. Note: They’re only open for pick up at the moment, but keep an eye out for when they offer indoor seating again, especially if you like your coffee while sitting on an old couch, listening to grindcore, and reading some anarchist literature.
You can’t talk about the coffee scene in Philadelphia without talking about La Colombe. Since being founded in 1994, the company has become one of the largest local coffee roasters, bringing beans and draft lattes to coffee shops throughout the city and beyond, including cities like Chicago, Boston, and even as far as San Diego. As a coffee shop, La Colombe checks all of the boxes: They’re conveniently located, the décor is comforting and welcoming, and the staff knows a lot about coffee, which is helpful considering how many roasts they offer. Whether you’re in the mood for thei Corsica dark roast — with a slight baker’s chocolate bitterness and hints of spice — or the nutty-and-milk-chocolatey Nizza medium roast, La Colombe’s baristas are ready to help you find the right cup.
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A good cup of coffee relies on a multitude of variables, each their own art form. There’s the art of the roast, the art of the grind, and the art of the pour to name just a few. Ultimo has perfected the whole process from sourcing all the way to the pour. And, if you’ve never tried a pour over, this is the place to do it.. Each cup is carefully poured by hand to bloom the coffee, helping to extract the most flavor from the grounds.
For balanced blends of small batch coffee roasts, Rival Bros. pours unique coffees where seemingly opposing flavors come together. Whistle & Cus has notes of malted dark chocolate and citrus while the Champion Blend marries fruity berry with shortbread and a hint of ginger. They’re all loud flavors on their own, but, despite the name Rival Bros., the flavors don’t fight or overpower one another. Perhaps a little bit of friendly rivalry can bring out the best in us.
📍2400 Lombard St. and 1100 Tasker St., 📞 267-928-2256, 🌐 rivalbros.com, 📷 @rivalbroscoffee 🕑 Lombard Location: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Tasker Location: Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
There are endless ways to make coffee: drip, pour over, and cold brew, among others. Elixr is an excellent choice for these (and more) — don’t miss their Kyoto slow drip. The method not only extracts more caffeine than your usual hot coffee but also more robust flavors because of its slow extraction process. It’s made in a contraption that looks like it belongs in a laboratory: Water moves through bulbs and tubes, almost resembling a Rube Goldberg machine, as it drips slowly over coffee grounds. The entire process can take anywhere between three and 12 hours, but the wait is worth it. The Kyoto slow drip is offered at the Elixr on Sydenham Street, just off of Walnut. Be sure to get there early because it does sell out quickly.
📍207 S. Sydenham St., Roastery and Cafe: 315 N. 12th St., 3675 Market St., 🌐 elixrcoffee.com, 📷 @exlircoffee 🕑 Sydenham St. location: Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-7 p.m., North 12th Street: Mon.-Sun. 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Market Street: Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
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There couldn’t be a more appropriate name for a coffee than ReAnimator. When you’re in desperate need of a pick-me-up, ReAnimator coffee shops make a potent brew, powerful enough to, well, bring you back to life, much like the dancing skeleton on their packaging. Perk up with a sweet and nutty Colombia Desvelado, one of the single origin offerings, or find slightly fruity comfort in the At Home Blend. And they sell bags of their freshly roasted beans, so you can brew your own at home.
If you’re in a creative rut, a cup of coffee in the eclectic sitting room of Higher Grounds is the perfect remedy. With a space full of mismatched furniture, artwork, and exposed brick, the vibe is as whimsical as it is comforting. This is the kind of spot where you’ll want to grab a cup of coffee and a sweet homemade pastry, sink into an antique armchair and get lost in a book — whether you’re reading one or writing one.
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Part cafe, part art gallery, part garden, and home décor shop, Artesano Cafe & Bistro is an intriguing cabinet of curiosities. Serving up ReAnimator coffee, the cafe offers a multitude of brews and delicious signature lattes, like the turmeric latte made with the cafe’s own spice blend. You can enjoy a cup while perusing the art gallery or shopping for home goods, or, if you’re a plant lover, take your coffee to the patio, which is lush with plants in handmade terracotta planters. And, if you find one you love, most of the potted plants on Artesano’s patio are for sale.
Green Engine Coffee Co.’s chic, open floor plan feels like you’re walking into space that’s a cross between a hip co-working office and your very cool friend’s loft apartment. With homey accents like throw rugs and wooden tables, and a green wall covered in flourishing plants, it’s the perfect backdrop to an Instagrammable morning. The shop is from the same folks behind Bloomsday, which shows in their delectable selection of pastries, from sweet and colorful homemade pop tarts to flaky and buttery croissants.