The state of coffee in Austin
Count me as one of the folks considering a relocation to Austin (from the San Francisco Bay Area). I've read with great interest all of the posts about all of the various food types we will have (or not have) with the move. What about coffee? I am a home roaster and really enjoy carefully crafted, some might call micro-roasted coffee. I drink a lot of coffee at home but do like to get out and about to cafes. What kind of options will I have? Thanks Austin hounds.
I will preface by saying that I am not at all a coffee aficionado, aside from I just like a good cup of joe.
Check out Mozart's. They roast their own, and the location/scenery is pretty tough to beat... right on the shores of Lake Austin. http://www.mozartscoffee.com/
Mozart's Coffee Roasters
3826 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX
I don't know the particulars regarding roasts, etc., but the best coffee I've ever had was at Caffe Medici on West Lynn. I'm not a fan of mixed espresso drinks - I always order straight brewed coffee. They use a french press for all their brewed coffee, so if it's not busy you may have to wait 5 minutes or so for them to press it fresh. Well worth the wait. Nice space to boot.
re: Allison L.
Medici is ok, but inconsistent. Pacha is not what you are looking for. An ugly looking building houses what I've found to be about the best, Thunderbird Coffee on Koenig on Grover or Woodrow... they have been very consistent. Not very charming space, but the coffee is good. I roast my own also, now live in Portland (Stumptown) and just returned from NYC where the coffee scene is also pretty bleak, however, a former SF Blue Bottle barista has just opened a spot and it rocks, but that's another board. Unfortunately, most of the "famous" coffee places in Austin don't know what they are doing behind the machine. I tried Medici many times and though better than most, misses the mark most of the time. They don't even have the correct accent over the word Caffe. It's all in the details, now isn't it?
>> Another good place for fresh roasted coffee is Cainfrani on the square in Georgetown, Texas, just a little north of Austin and well worth the drive. <<
A good suggestion. One of the few places around that 1) roasts their own beans on the premises, and 2) will brew you a single cup on the spot using your choice of beans. Maybe I'm just picky, but I think that the quality at even the best of these places (Medici, Mozart's, Anderson's, etc...) suffers a bit when the coffee is brewed in large batches. I much prefer a single, fresh-brewed cup. Scooter's will do it for you too if you catch them at the right time of day.
Pacha (46th and Burnet) serves Fair Trade coffees, has a good Central American vibe to it, but limited parking. I like stopping by Genuine Joe (2001 W. Anderson Ln), also a nice place to relax, has that Austin funk to it and has a huge parking lot.
Hands down the best coffee I have had in this town is the extra dark french roast at Whole Foods. I have done taste tests with it at home.
If you're a home roaster you'll probably find that JPs is best thing we have to compare to the specialty offerings of the bay area (lived in SF 8 years myself and also roast at home). They have a Clover and offer several micro-lots at a time. The biggest drawback (if you're not a student) is its proximity to UT. Parking is nearly impossible and folks *camp out* at their tables so parking inside with your coffee is a problem as well. I go there for a treat during lulls in the workday or during breaks when students are gone.
The amazing thing is that JPs is not well known as a premier coffee destination to the general population (or even to food folk for that matter). I think its proximity to the campus is why it's always packed. I wonder how many of the campers are buying $6 cups from the Clover.
2803 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78705
I to am from CA (southern) When I got here about 3 years ago I was shocked to find that good coffee is hard to find. They have a lot of Starbucks out here. I live in Round Rock which is North of Austin. I did find a couple 1. Cafe Java ( great service and and good coffee. They roast there own) 2. Common Grounds ( kid friendly and besides that great service and quite) If you want to venture out a little there is also one out in Hutto : Java Rocks Coffee House.
Here is my snapshot of the coffee scene in Austin, from a person who works in the industry (disclosure--I do not work for either of the people I am about to give big props to, I just respect what they do):
Medici and JP's are clearly, in my opinion, at the top of the pile as far as serving superior beans AND having the technicians with the know-how to work the beans. This latter part is a rare commodity in Austin, and I feel like the baristi with a passion for coffee are attracted to these places. Several of the employees at these establishments have placed in the regional barista competitions. If I recall correctly, nobody from any of the other shops in town even competed last year. I prefer the coffees at JP's Java, which are roasted by Zoka Coffee in Seattle. JP's also has the distinction of owning the first (maybe still the only) Clover machines in Texas. Medici serves Cuvee Coffee, which is good, though I do not like their espresso blend, even if the staff at Medici pulls the best technical shot in town. This is all a matter of personal taste, however, and I think they have been rightfully recognized for their efforts.
Mozart's has a fabulous patio but their service sucks. They roast, and I think burn, their own coffee. But the view is great if you want to read a book all afternoon.
Anderson's is the old stand-by in Austin and has a loyal following. As I understand it, Jamie Anderson learned the trade from Alfred Peet, a founder of the west coast dark roast style. Therefore, this is a popular style at Anderson's. (I prefer a lighter roast)
Emerald City Press is an exciting new drive-thru/walk-up place that focuses on local, organic, natural, and Fair Trade Certified products. They do not yet have the passion for craft coffee technique that you find at JP's and Medici, but nonetheless serve a great cup of coffee (roasted by Katz Coffee) in a biodegradable cup. I think this place has a lot of promise.
Halcyon also serves Katz Coffee and depending on the barista behind the counter you can get a great shot of espresso, or not. They have a full bar, which makes it a downtown destination in my book.
Jo's Hot Coffee, Thunderbird Coffee, Clementine Coffee, and of course Little City all serve Little City coffee. This is drum roasted in South Austin and I like some of their brews. Jo's uses one house blend for both their drip coffee and their espresso, which is not an approach that I love. However I have heard that they are tweaking their blend, so perhaps this will change.
I do not like Austin Java coffee, even though they are one of the most recognizable brands in Austin. I like their roaster Travis and what he does (he came from Little City I believe), but I do not think the shops are focused on coffee--they are more of a restaurant company. For decent coffee shop grub and atmosphere, they are alright, but they are not a serious contender in coffee (despite having just won Best Coffee in the Chronicle Restaurant Poll--keep in mind that SBUX won for years prior).
To summarize, the coffee scene in Austin is immature, but improving. There are a handful of places that are starting to catch up with the exciting things that are happening on the West Coast and in Japan. They are reading the trade magazines, going to the competitions. Meanwhile, most places in Austin are more focused on atmosphere and attitude than on substance--complacent at best. (I would say this defines most of the older shops in town). The competition is increasing every day with new shops opening and new roasters starting up all the time. Some of the newer roasters are good (Cuvee is really raising the bar in Austin, and so is Katz) and some are so-so (I think Summermoon coffee is a little underdeveloped, even though the concept is interesting; Republica is basically schwag). On the whole, however, the scene is improving, and the increased competition means that the end user ultimately gets a better product.
I moved to the Bay Area about 3 years ago, and one of the things I distinctly missed was coffee as good as Anderson's Coffee in Austin. I even spent nearly $20/pound on some boutique fresh roasted coffee at some newish looking joint on Columbus in North Beach, and it was not up to snuff. I like grind up my coffee fresh every morning, and consider myself a huge snob, so was quite unimpressed. I also noticed that the lack of what I consider good coffee extended also to coffee shops. That said, on one of my last days in the Bay Area, I by chance found some place downtown, near that large bus terminal, that had coffee that was "in the ballpark."
Besides Anderson's (the Gold Standard here, and I'm puzzled that almost no coffee shops here serve it, guess they'd rather save ten cents a pound on the wholesale price), another good place (if its still in business) is Trianon, I think located still on Bee Caves Road.
In terms of cafes, Ruta Maya and Little City (downtown) are about the best 2 places. Most other places serve coffee that is inoffensive, and they might as well be buying their beans at Costco (which is my assessment of most places I tried in the Bay Area).
Anderson's is great coffee, but where I bought it, it was $8 for half a pound. I'm used to a max of $11 for a whole pound of fresh, micro-roasted coffee, so this felt pricey to me. I'll have to go back to buying my bulk coffee at Wheatsville.
As far as coffee shops go, I want to encourage people who are new to the area to do some footwork. Austin seems to have funny zoning and there might be a house-turned-coffeeshop right in the middle of what seems to be a mostly residential area. I really love this about Austin. Unless the coffee is really awful, I care more about atmosphere if I'm just getting drip anyway. Clementines had good stuff and great atmosphere if you like incredibly busy.
What is that place on San Jacinto near UT? It's mostly glass walls I think...I'd like to know if it's good before I go over there b/c it's a bit out of my way.