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Nov 9, 2009 07:35 PM

Good coffee/espresso in downtown Philadelphia?

Hey there Philly CH,

Coming in from New York for the end of this week for a conference downtown at 17th and Race. Is there any place nearby where I can get a well-made espresso drink or quality coffee? I'm a pretty serious coffee drinker - I lived in Seattle for three years and it ruined me, I can never go back to drinking Starbucks or Dunks.

Looking for some place with an actual barista (NOT wearing a green apron!), and knows that a macchiato has absolutely no caramel anywhere near it. A place to sit down and wifi are a plus, but really not necessary since it's downtown. Thanks!!

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  1. Philly is not a great coffee town. There are a lot of pleasant alternatives to Starbucks to pass the time, but most are not very serious about espresso.

    We do have one decent roaster, La Colombe (they actually supply a lot of restaurants and coffeeshops in New York), and they have a cafe on 19th St near Walnut. The drinks are good and the atmosphere is very pleasant, but they don't have wifi. The coffee is drip but brewed well. That is close to where you'll be, so it's probably your best bet.

    There is another good coffeeshop downtown, a bit farther away, called Spruce Street Espresso at 11th & Spruce that has real baristas and uses Counter Culture beans. They have wifi, and the place is nice but absolutely tiny. For non-espresso, I can't remember if they do pour over or french press, but they do not have drip that I can recall.

    If you want really good coffee, Ultimo Coffee in South Philly (15th & Mifflin) is the best in the city. They also use Counter Culture beans and the quality is top notch. The espresso is fantastic, and they also offer pour over (no drip) with a rotating menu of 5 ground-to-order beans to choose from. It is a bit of a hike but worth it if you have the time and want the best. Atmosphere and staff are great, and they have wifi, but the neighborhood itself is kind of borderline, though not unsafe during the day.

    4 Replies
    1. re: barryg

      Spruce Street does french press and pour over. That would be my recommendation.

      1. re: barryg

        Spruce St. and Ultimo are two great recommendations (IIRC, Aaron Ultimo consulted on Spruce St. before opening his own place).

        Then again, you'd have to go up to Chestnut Hill for the full Seattle experience. John Hornall (ex-Hines Public Market) roasts his own in a shop up there at Chestnut Hill Coffee.

        1. re: barryg

          I have to agree with barryg I have never been able to get a decent espresso anywhere in Philadelphia. I will be there in a few days with friends and luckily a friend has an espresso machine at home and I will bring coffee with from Italy.
          The question is what are we going to do when we are out and about? And what is your theory on why you just can't find espresso in center city????

          1. re: Naturalselectionkitchenblog

            Natural Selection, if you read past my first paragraph you will find some recommendations. Ultimo is well worth the trip if you want great coffee. Also in West Philly as mentioned below is Lovers & Madmen and the new coffee truck, Hub Bub. Where will you be?

            As to why there is a dearth of good espresso, I don't know the reason but we don't have the culture to support it. Making good espresso requires good beans, good equipment, good baristas, and most importantly people that want to buy it. I think things are slowly getting better as Spruce St espresso and Ultimo educate people about good espresso and we get a base of talent. And really, Ultimo has some of the best coffee I have had anywhere (I have had bad pulls at Spruce St). Fortunately, we do have a culture of indie coffeeshops and good, strong drip coffee thanks to La Colombe. That is the first step, I think.

        2. I agree with the other posters, but you can also get a surprisingly good espresso at one of the Capogiro gelateria locations. The closest to where you'll be is on 20th and Sansom, but the original Capogiro is on 13th and Sansom.

          5 Replies
          1. re: bakerloo

            I agree, but it totally depends on who does your pull. Some are decent, some are not. Capogiro is well worth a visit in any case.

            1. re: bakerloo

              Thanks to all the recommendations!

              Unfortunately, time was so pressed at the conference that I had to settle for convention coffee ( least it works) a place called Capriccio right around the corner from the convention hotel. Oh well, now I'm back in New York and can go to Stumptown again :).

              I did manage to check out Satellite in West Philly, at 50th and Baltimore about 5 blocks from where my friends live (and where I was staying). Despite their ├╝ber-fixster vibe, the people there were very nice and friendly, not at all pretentious (which can happen sometimes when you go to a place like this and you don't ride a fixed-gear bike), and they pulled a really nice Americano for me. Creative bagel sandwiches too - I never would have gone for pesto and cream cheese, but with roasted red peppers and spinach, it was delicious.

              1. re: jakecola

                Thanks for following up. I'm glad you found somewhere to grab a decent cup of coffee. You should have mentioned you were going to be in West Philly; there is a pretty legit shop out there near 40th & Walnut called Lovers & Madmen.

                1. re: jakecola

                  You could also have satisfied your stumptown fix in West Philly--Hub Bub is a new coffee truck at 38th and Spruce that's using Stumptown beans.

                  1. re: nwinkler

                    Well, it's not specifically Stumptown beans (although I do really like them), it's more the excellent baristas there. There are a few places around New York that serve good beans and just don't pull a good shot.