This week’s Q&A is perfect on a rainy fall day, like a warm cup of coffee. There are so many places to get your java in this town, that we thought we would talk about our favorites. As usual we are partial to those that are locally owned and operated and centrally located, but please share yours below in the comments. While you are at it, check out our growing list on the Raleigh coffee shop listing, and add any that you patron.
Ladye Jane, Morning Times
I can’t imagine starting my workday without a visit to the Morning Times first. I love the coffee (by far the best tasting in town), I love the staff, and I even love my bagel that comes out a little squishy since it’s heated in the sandwich press and not a toaster. I didn’t used to be an everyday coffee drinker, but the whole experience of walking to work and stopping by to get coffee before going into the office has become a ritual, and my day always feels a little off if I don’t start it that way. It’s like the morning version of Cheers… depending on when you go to work, you see the same people every morning at just about the same time and get to start the day with a little chit chat with your friends.
Mark, Cup a Joe Hillsborough
Give me consistency. I don’t know about you, but I want my coffee to taste like it was brewed on the same stainless steel equipment as the first day a joint opened up. The kids that work at Cup A Joe on Hillsborough Street might rather spit on you than take your order, but after one day on the job, they can make a damn good iced coffee drink. It’s also easily the best in town for cafe style Thai Tea, Bubble Tea—and their espresso milkshake is ridiculous. Raleigh’s professors and academics regularly engage in discourse, and the walls are hung will local artists’ work. With grit like Durham and grunge like the Jackpot, Cup A Joe is the Old Raleigh coffee shop.
David, Helios Coffee
An old staple of Glenwood South, Helios Coffee is always a treat to visit. The shop is set up to be a comfortable spot for mobile workers and quiet rendezvous alike. Helios has a grown-up appeal that I think contrasts with the other shops in town. Recently redesigned to include more seating, the Helios owners seem to get that the early nineties vision of coffee-shop-as-Ecko-furniture-gallery *cough* Third Place *cough* is bygone, and that sitting in a scum bucket of nicotine tar is only cool if you are a smoker (cup o’ cig anyone?). The setting is efficient and bustling from the early morning until late at night. The space is an adaptable one, opening all its doors in the Spring to create a nice breeze, and opening to a large patio that somehow feels secluded right on Glenwood.
Everything about Helios is smart, including their fair trade coffee and the care which is taken in brewing it. Their espresso is light and never burnt—something other shops don’t seem to see as fundamental. Helios smartly serves a great alcohol selection: beers that are fairly priced and a fairly extensive wine list. That doesn’t even include their very decent food selection that meets my needs any time of the day. It really is the grown-up coffee shop. I hope the others can learn from everything that Helios consistently does right.
Acree, The Third Place
I first saw The Third Place when I was seventeen and my hipper-than-hip high school writing teacher brought our class there to work on an assignment. I’d never been to any coffee shop besides Starbucks, and I’d certainly never strutted around Five Points with my classmates at 11 a.m. on a weekday, so the funky baristas, bohemian decor and unspecified bathrooms awed me.
I ordered a vanilla latte, was reprimanded by an employee for taking what I foolishly thought was a free copy of the New York Times, and fell instantly in love.
After that, The Third Place became a hotspot for the disenchanted and pretentious at my high school (of whom I, admittedly, was a member), and, even years later, old friends and I would always flock there when home from college.
We staked out a spot on the smokers’ patio and made friends, eventually, with the kids we’d been eyeing—the cool kids who wore band t-shirts and chain-smoked, who were gay or high school dropouts, and who lived in the margins, far removed from our boringly stable upbringings.
Gradually, of course, all the quirks of The Third Place that had enchanted us as teenagers grew stale, but even as late as this summer, whenever friends from home and I got together we’d inevitably spend a few minutes at The Third Place out of habit. Like our parents’ houses, it felt comfortable and automatic, but after a short time we’d be itching to get out.
Still, in August, when The Third Place cut back its hours to 7 p.m., I felt personally betrayed. At a certain age, you don’t want to live with your parents, but you don’t want your parents to move away and sell all your stuff, either. So this event marked the end of an era for me.
Today, The Third Place thrives as a respectable daylight coffee shop, and I often spend Saturday afternoons there, taking advantage of the warm atmosphere and free wi-fi. But this adult version of The Third Place is a world apart from the hip evening hang-out I used to know, where underage suburbanites got their first tastes of a life beyond SAT prep courses. It is now instead a mature, cozy neighborhood coffee shop.
Still, some nights, while having a beer at Lilly’s, I’ll find myself looking over at The Third Place and imagining that in just a few minutes a barista will play some punk rock loud on the stereo, drop a box of day-old bagels on the table, and growl, “Get outta here. We’re closed.”
Brian, Global Village
It’s hard to remember sometimes that there’s life beyond West Street. But in fact I spent my formative years (a lot of them) wandering the stretch of Hillsborough Street between Oberlin and Brooks, and hiding out in Global Village Coffeehouse. In my opinion Global Village is the focal point of the entire University District.
Some go there for owner Mike Ritchey’s incredibly consistent and delicious espresso. Others fight the line to get their hands on one of this city’s most sought-after chicken salad sandwiches. Many show up for their weekly dose of live music from Raleigh icons David McKnight and Bruce Emery. Fans of local, independent business like to recount the legend of how Global Village killed Starbucks and helped defend Hillsborough Street against an incursion of high-end chain stores like the one that has priced many students out of Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street.
What really does it for me at Global Village, though, is the crowd of intelligent people who hang out there. Pretty much the entire faculty of the NCSU Philosophy Department have made GV their choice for caffeine, and its proximity to several other humanities departments on campus make it a natural gathering place for students and faculty. Combined with the tight seating arrangement this makes it difficult to
avoid having - or at least hearing - an intellectually lively conversation while you sip your latte.
On the down side: no parking, lines to the door almost every day around lunchtime, and a host of freshman design students camped out all day along the comfy bench seating can make GV seem a little
overwhelming - especially for those accustomed to the less frantic atmosphere of the Morning Times or Cup-a-Joe. Even so, it’s worth it to me every couple of weeks to hunt for a parking space, or to walk
the mile or so from my house just to remind myself that this place exists.
Tim, Morning Times
Convenient to my workplace, home, and favorite bar, and with new evening hours,
Morning Times has all but monopolized my coffee habit. The small space on street level is filled with chit chat among customers and baristas, but can accommodate the morning coffee rush without feeling cramped, due to the large storefront windows and the customer flow through the “In” and “Out"doors. In addition to the limited tables alongside the busy mosaic countertop, there is sidewalk seating as well as a lounge upstairs that doubles as an art gallery, showcasing local talent monthly against the backdrop of exposed brick walls. With window seating and comfortable couches, it is easy to pass time making conversation, reading, or surfing on the complementary wi-fi.
Commanding a cherry-red espresso machine, the baristas have perfected a wide range of espresso drinks. You can also purchase drip coffee and beans by bulk from Carrboro Coffee Company, or opt for loose-leaf tea or a beer. With sandwiches, salads, fruits, bagels, cookies, and pastries, it is a great place for a quick bite and stands out as yet another downtown jewel courtesy of Empire Eats.