The past few years have witnessed a sea change in the way Houstonians take their coffee.
While popular hangouts like Brasil and Agora still have their Montrose cachet, a new wave of coffee options has swept the city with a focus on the drink itself as opposed to the 1990s "coffee house" experience of yore . . . you know, the one with the smoking section and the Lisa Loeb playing in the background.
Atmospheres among these recent arrivals may range anywhere from food court to upscale market to bar. But what sets them apart from their more established rivals is an unrelenting concentration on quality — locally-roasted beans, low-pasteurized milk, high-end equipment and, above all, well-trained baristas.
"Coffee doesn't have to be all the same," says John Searcy from the coffee bar at Revival Market in the Heights.
"There was a movement towards consistency for a long time, but that's changing very quickly these days as more local roasters join the coffee community. As people become more interested in where and how their beans are harvested, they're finding that there's a huge variety in flavors and types."
Here's a list of favorites in no particular order.
Founded by coffee guru David Buehrer, Greenway helped to catapult this movement in hand-crafted caffeine with its small outpost in the food court of a corporate office complex. Serving as a launch pad for some of the city's most respected baristas, Greenway's attention to detail offers not only some of the best drinks in Houston, but the best-looking foam as well.
Buehrer's upcoming Blacksmith Coffee Bar in the former Mary's Bar space on Westheimer will add a coffee component to Bobby Heugel's growing empire of restaurants and bars as well.
Hands down, Revival makes the best vanilla latte in town — and wait until you have it poured over the coffee bar's perfectly-cracked ice. Who knew frozen water could be this good?
Alternatively, get the wonderfully bold and tangy drip coffee. Cut it with a bit of milk from Way Back When Dairy and you'll be ready to take on the day . . . or the world, depending on the size of cup you order.
Up there with Greenway as one of the early players in hand-crafted coffee drinks, Catalina's magic has a lot to do with the fabulous amount of esoteric coffee devices it uses — right down to the four-foot drip contraption that adorns its front counter. Pick your weapon of choice from the Hario V60 to the Siphon Pot.
What goes better with a $6 waffle than almost-perfect cup of morning coffee doused with raw milk from Way Back When? Well, not much. For more perfection, be sure not to miss the cortado, two shots of espresso and textured milk served at a comfortable 120 degrees Fahrenheit for quick drinking.
Tiki-themed coffee shop by day and hip bar by night, Double Trouble takes its caffeine as seriously as its artisanal cocktails. All you need is a simple latte to get the message loud and clear.
While Les Givral's may not be your first stop in the morning, the beloved bánh mi haven produces one of the city's best of coffee drinks thanks to a fusion of traditions from Vietnam and New Orleans (or colonial France, I suppose). Les Givral's takes a regular Vietnamese iced coffee — in all its sweetened condensed milk glory — and ups the ante with the addition of chicory.
Sibling cafes Antidote and Black Hole, both operated by the owners of the popular Poison Girl bar, straddle the terrain between the coffee-house hangout and the hand-crafted angle. While the seen-and-be-seen atmosphere is in full effect at all hours, the love of coffee is always paramount.
Both shops have one of the best caffeinated beverages in town — the cajeta. Basically, imagine Starbucks caramel macchiato but make it with a far superior syrup of caramelized goat's milk. Tip your barista well . . . the drink's a little time-consuming behind the bar.