The last time we compiled a list of Houston's best coffee houses was in February 2011, and things have certainly changed since then.
In just the last several months, Houston's caffeine scene has benefited from several new entrants, all of which are determined to raise the city's coffee profile just as our bar and restaurant profiles have both been raised in the past year.
What makes a great coffee shop? It's not just the brews. The quality of product is important, of course, but so is the atmosphere (the physical feel of the space) and overall vibe (the emotional connection -- do you feel welcome there?). Personally, I don't consider wi-fi as a determining factor although some may disagree. Coffee shops should not be expected to do double duty as your living room or home office. That said, several of the shops on this list do actively encourage patrons to hunker down and stay awhile, starting with the No. 10 pick.
These two very different coffee shops share one thing in common: a downtown address. Minuti Coffee in the Rice Hotel is the epitome of the small, easily accessed coffee shop that I wish were more prevalent downtown. The coffee selection is diverse enough to cater to all crowds, the staff is friendly and laid back but their speed gets you in and out and back to work quickly. Ben's Beans, across the street from the House of Blues, is massive. A large, quiet back room is practically custom-made for studying, and you'll often find South Texas law students sprawled out as a result. In fact, the overall feel is less coffee shop, more student union building. Both shops also offer free wi-fi.
The only thing I don't like about Bohemeo's is that it's not in my immediate neighborhood. Lucky East Enders and University of Houston students are, however, in close proximity to this little jewel. I'm a sucker for a pourover here along with a sweet potato bar (imagine a brownie made with sweet potatoes), especially on nights when there's live music on the patio and a breeze. Those who crave sweeter drinks will love Bohemeo's mochachino, a grown-up version of the old Starbucks favorite. Doshi House is a lot like Bohemeo's: the only coffee shop in the neighborhood (the Third Ward, in this case), but offers a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan fare along with fresh-squeezed juices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
These two Montrose coffee shops feature everything a neighborhood resident could want in a coffee shop: plenty of comfortable seating, food from local vendors such as Michael's Cookie Jar and Radical Eats, welcoming patios and free wi-fi. Both also conveniently feature evening hours, for those nighttime coffee cravings that can't be satisfied at places like Blacksmith or Catalina. Black Hole is a popular haunt for St. Thomas students doing laundry next door and studying, while Inversion draws a diverse crowd and a rotating slate of food trucks during breakfast and lunch. Try the 24-hour cold brewed coffee at Inversion for something sweet but light, and refreshing on a muggy day.
This trio of Heights-area coffee shops offers something for every palate. At Antidote, the vibe is classic coffee house -- you can absolutely lose yourself in a book or study materials here. The cajeta lattes can't be beat, although regular drip coffee is often brewed far too intensely to be palatable. And although Down House and Revival Market aren't technically coffee shops (Down House is a restaurant/bar and Revival Market a grocery store), both offer some of the most solid, dependably great cortados in town.
The new Eatsie Boys Cafe is meant to be the sort of place where you can enjoy a casual meal as much as a casual cup of coffee and a pastry. It succeeds on both fronts, thanks in large part to a beautiful patio (which shares space with the ivy-covered Black Lab Pub), a counter ordering system that keeps costs down and a coffee program set up by David Buehrer of Greenway and Blacksmith and manned on a daily basis by friendly barista Frank Freeman. You won't find fancy coffee drinks here, though; just your basic lattes and bottomless cups of joe.
Owner Matt Toomey roasts his own beans at Boomtown Coffee -- so if you don't like the roast, you can take it up with the man who served it to you. You'll most likely enjoy your coffee though, which is why Toomey also sells his beans to take home at this little Heights coffee shop, along with breakfast pastries, quiches, cupcakes and more from local bakers. During the week, food trucks often roll up to the coffee shop's old storefront entrance on 19th Street. The iced mocha toddy is a personal favorite.
Even back in 2009, Robb Walsh recognized the raw talent in David Buehrer, his partner Ecky Prabanto and their little coffee shop in a nondescript Greenway Plaza office building. Buehrer and his two shops are known as beacons for all that's right and progressive when it comes to coffee in Houston. Known for collaborating with area restaurants, bars and chefs to come up with coffee cocktails or coffee pairings, Buehrer is all about spreading the gospel of good coffee, good beans and good roasts -- not self-promotion. He's at his best when weaning the office dwellers in Greenway Plaza off their Starbucks, beanie-clad coffee geeks and suited-up businessmen bonding over a perfect cup of coffee. Yes, parking is a bear, but don't get too worked up over it: Greenway validates.
Sean Marshall is yet another coffee shop owner who also roasts his own beans, and has done so since 2007 as the owner of Fusion Beans along with wife Michelle. His coffee shop, Southside Espresso, was as hotly anticipated as Blacksmith -- the second coffee shop from fellow roaster David Buehrer. Southside is tiny, square footage-wise, but packs a lot into its small space. In addition to terrific coffees and cortados, it also offers beer and wine and interesting combinations thereof, such as a shandy made with Kickin' Kombucha and Buffalo Bayou's 1836 Copper Ale.
Blacksmith is the above-ground version of Greenway Coffee & Tea, with a few notable differences: A pleasant patio that overlooks Lower Westheimer and a small but potent food menu developed by chef Erin Smith, which features everything from Vietnamese steak and eggs or buttermilk biscuits with homemade marmalade for breakfast to Cuban sandwiches and BLTs with green tomatoes at lunch. The old building that once housed infamous gay leather bar Mary's has been totally transformed, with huge plate glass windows that flood the space with light and warmth.
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Owner and coffee roaster Max Gonzales has made sure that Catalina stays at the top of its game by keeping its baristas well-trained, its coffee selection well-curated and its cortados well-made, every single time. There is no such thing as a bad cup of coffee here, whether it's a flat white or an espresso, and the pastries in the small case from Angela's Oven are reliably good as well. The zen-like, no-frills atmosphere is well-suited to working, reading or just relaxing -- leave catching up with your loud friends for the wraparound patio outside.