The opening of a spate of new coffee shops in town — Black Hole Cafe, Bungalow and Crema Espresso Stand, just to name a few — has inspired us to take a closer look at the existing, well-established coffeehouses in Houston. These are the ones that have been serving straight Americanos and lavish lattes for years, the ones that you know almost as intimately as your own living room.
We considered the three most important determining factors in any coffeehouse: quality of product, atmosphere (the physical feel of the space) and vibe (the emotional connection — do you feel welcome there?). Wi-Fi, however, was not taken into consideration: Houston's coffee shops are not your home offices, after all.
Although many shops were strong contenders — Taft Street, Fioza and Phoenicia Coffee House are the top three "honorable mention" spots — these are our Top Ten Coffee Shops in Houston, first published on our food blog, Eating Our Words.
4005 Montrose, 713-526-1319
Even the basic drip coffee at Dirk's — formerly Diedrich Coffee — is good. But the service doesn't match the drinks here, and can be downright cold if you don't fit the neighborhood demographic. Solution: I always get my coffee to go from Dirk's and enjoy it at home, or take it out on the patio during nicer weather and take in the view into the Museum District from Montrose.
9. River Oaks Coffee House
3601 Westheimer, 713-621-0226
An overlooked little spot just to the west of the giant St. Luke's United Methodist Church in River Oaks (as the name would imply), River Oaks Coffee House has almost the exact opposite situation as Dirk's: While the coffee here is only so-so, the service is always fabulous. Expect a warm welcome and a quiet spot to relax, but don't expect a perfectly pulled latte and you'll be fine. Bonus: A lack of high schoolers since nearby Lamar replaced its library with a coffee shop. (Only half-kidding here.)
2808 Milam, 713-523-7775
A slice of heaven for anyone homesick for the Big Easy, Khon's is a familiar spot for Louisiana expats craving Abita beer and chicory coffee. That's right — Khon's serves booze, too, which instantly bumps it up in my book. Add to that stellar service from owners Khon and Ashley Lu as well as their staff of eager bartenders and baristas, and you have a coffeehouse that's as cozy as your own kitchen. It's also an ideal stop for downtown commuters heading out after work.
708 Telephone Rd., 713-923-4277
The only thing I don't like about Bohemeo's is that it's not in my immediate neighborhood. Lucky East Enders and U of H students are, however, in close proximity to this little jewel. I'm a sucker for a pourover here along with a sweet potato bar, especially on nights when there's live music on the patio and a breeze. Those who crave sweeter drinks will love Bohemeo's mochaccino, a grown-up version of the old Starbucks favorite (don't act like you didn't love it at one time, too).
6. Antidote Coffee
729 Studewood, 713-861-7400
Of all the Heights-area coffee shops (Octane, Waldo's, Cricket's Creamery, etc.), Antidote gets it right most often, with a vibe that's classic "coffeehouse" — you can absolutely lose yourself in a book or study materials here — that very rarely veers into pretentious territory. And their cajeta lattes can't be beat, although regular drip coffee is often brewed far too intensely to be palatable.
Although the phoenix that was briefly painted on the side of Agora's building is now gone, people will likely remember the coffeehouse's rise from the proverbial ashes for years. And it's back better than ever, including a partnership with Eatsie Boys that sees the popular food truck parked outside for lunch most days. Unfortunately, you can no longer smoke upstairs, but the excellent Greek coffee and pastries remain intact.
Inversion aggravates me on several levels: The aforementioned Wi-Fi hogs who also hog all the tables and parking spaces and the shitty attitudes of many of the baristas. If the coffee weren't so good, I wouldn't keep going. No one in town makes a better cortado. No one. Their lattes are hard to beat, too, and the foam is always skillfully decorated. It helps to go on days when the friendly baristas are on the floor and sit outside on the small patio, which now has electrical outlets if you've got your laptop in tow. And, like Agora, they host food trucks each day during lunch.
3. El Rey Taqueria
What? A fast-food taqueria in the number three spot? I'm not being contrarian, folks, I promise you. This is the stuff I crave when I think of a fabulous latte, the stuff I'll gladly endure a long wait for on weekends, the stuff that keeps me coming back to the frustratingly busy corner of Shepherd and Washington week in and week out. I still haven't figured out El Rey's secret, but the little Mexi-Cuban joint churns out one incredible latte after another every single day — and every one tastes as good as the last. You have to admire the consistency, even if this isn't your typical "coffeehouse." But tell that to the folks who congregate here on the weekends, newspapers in hand, to sip their lattes — pulled by little Hispanic women with bemused smiles who act like this talent is the least interesting thing in the world — and watch the day go by.
2. Catalina Coffee
2201 Washington, 713-861-8448
This is the coffee shop that stepped up the game for all other coffeehouses in town. If Chris Shepherd is the godfather to all the young, edgy chefs in town, Max Gonzales is the godfather to those barista counterparts. His baristas, like the affable Brendan Moody and Adam Newton, are always eager to broaden customers' horizons and probably don't know the meaning of the word "snooty." The down side is that Catalina is often packed to the gills, but at least you know it's for a good reason: Every last latte, espresso, cortado and doppio here is wonderful.
1. Greenway Coffee (formerly
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Tuscany Premium Coffee)
5 E. Greenway Plaza, 832-377-7773
Even back in 2009, Robb Walsh recognized the raw talent in David Buehrer and his little coffee shop in a nondescript Greenway Plaza office building. Buehrer and the shop have since become icons 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 and introducing them to locally roasted beans made into lattes with local milk from Way Back When Dairy, 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.