American coffee has a bad reputation. The Australians seem to think that their cafe culture is king, while coffee drinkers from every country in Europe seem to think their brew is better than their neighbors. Yes, even in the places where they think drinking it with chunks of cheese floating on the top is acceptable.
Admittedly, Americans might not have the generations of heritage that other nations have when it comes to coffee drinking. Some countries, like Ethiopia and Turkey, have been drinking coffee for hundreds of years, using it in spiritual and cultural rituals. However, the world’s best-known chain of coffee houses emerged from the United States, so we’ve got to be doing something right, right?
So, where can you get a sample of authentic American coffee culture? With a little help from the coffee packaging experts at The Bag Broker, we’ve zeroed in on the five cities across the country that have the highest coffee shop-to-resident ratio.
Source: Seattle Coffee Works
Seattle is the undisputed capital of coffee, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are an estimated 15 coffee shops for every 100,000 residents (with a population just over 3.4 million, that means there are about 500 coffee shops across its metropolitan area).
If you make a pilgrimage to the city, skip your trip to the first ever Starbucks in Pike Place Market – it’s busy and overrated. Instead, true coffee devotees should head to the Seattle Coffee Works, an active roastery just around the corner. Cherry Street Public House is another one of the city’s top spots (in the Capitol Hill area), as is Milstead & Co. (Fremont).
If you insist on going to see the green mermaid in her hometown, head to the branch in the Central District, on 23rd and Jackson. It’s much buzzier and showcases Seattle’s fantastic diversity.
San Francisco, CA
You’ll need to head south for the next stop on your tour, to the hipster haven of San Francisco. The population of the Bay Area is just shy of 4.73 million, which is supported by approximately 425 coffee shops. This makes it the 12th most populous city in the US, but the second in terms of coffee shop density.
Ritual Roasters is one of the current hotspots, serving excellent brews from a shipping container shop in the Mission District. You should also head into SoMa (South of Market) to check out the flagship branch of Sightglass, where they offer free cuppings to the public and have a dedicated affogato bar on the mezzanine. Finally, don’t leave town without heading to Blue Bottle in Downtown, where the minimalist, sophisticated décor is as beautiful as the drinks are delicious.
Source: Sawada Coffee
To continue your tour of high-density coffee shop cities, you’ll probably want to hop on a flight, because we’re heading to Chicago. The ratio of coffee shops here is roughly 3.5 per every 100,000 people, meaning that you can expect to find about 330 options across the wider city area.
The coffee shops are spread a little thinner here, but what’s lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. For starters, head to West Loop and look out for Green Street Smoked Meats. It’s a little odd, but inside you’ll find Sawada Coffee, a rugged and cool coffee bar run by Japanese latte artist, Hiroshi Sawada. Dark Matter Coffee is another urban-influenced venue – you can find the graffiti-lined “mothership” in West Town.
Source: Made In PGH
You might be surprised to see Pittsburgh on a coffee-centric list of the USA, but with over a hundred coffee shops serving a relatively humble population of 2.3 million, it’s earned its place.
Arriviste definitely ranks among the prettiest, with a mid-century modern vibe and an extensive menu that the baristas will happily take you through. Next, head to Zeke’s, a city favourite that staved off demolition with a crowdfunding campaign. Our third recommendation is Delanie’s, a stunning, double-height space decorated with the work of local artists. It’s a great atmosphere for drinking your brew, getting a bit of work done and just hanging out.
Source: Vivo Home Living
Last, but clearly not least, is Manhattan. This slice of New York city houses approximately 1.65 million people and has about 150 coffee shops crammed onto the island to serve them. The variety of cafes is about as diverse as the city’s population, meaning that picking some favorites is tough.
Definitely swing by Intelligentsia, which you’ll find tucked inside the High Line Hotel in Chelsea. This exceptional coffee bar offers respite from the busy streets outside, honoring a tranquil, minimalist aesthetic. There’s also the Rose Bakery, found inside the eclectic Dover Street Market, where the crisp interior is juxtaposed by homely cakes, coffee and tea. Finally, we’d suggest dipping into El Rey, which brings a slice of the West Coast to New York. Expect subtle hints of Hollywood Revival, dipped into a fresh, East Coast colour palette.
It may be just a whistle-stop tour, but these cities are a cut above the rest when it comes to experiencing modern American coffee culture. Put down the drip coffee pot and take a lesson from the country’s best baristas instead.
Mike James is a UK-based independent writer, aspiring chef and a big fan of home made recipes. Published in numerous online and print publications, Mike specializes in business technologies for work… and tasty food for fun. Particularly, cheese. Loves the cheese.