For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Note: As we've stated before, wi-fi is not considered a factor in determining the best coffeehouses. Houston's coffee shops are not your living rooms or home offices. Have a little consideration for your fellow customers and don't be a wi-fi hog.
10. Ben's Beans
What did we just say about wi-fi? Ignore that for a second, because Ben's Beans really does cater to those who need a refuge that's both wireless and caffeinated. You'll often find UH Downtown or South Texas law students hunkered down at downtown's newest coffeehouse, just as often as you'll see businessmen taking an afternoon coffee break. The coffee is pretty basic, but it's from local roasters Fontana and it's good, sturdy stuff.
9. Cafe Luz
Downtown's other new coffeehouse, Cafe Luz, is light and airy where Ben's is seductively cave-like. That's thanks to the huge, floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the space with sunlight and provide a beautiful view of downtown from the Bayou Lofts (the coffee shop is on the ground floor) and a welcoming place to work. It's also a locavore's haven: Coffee drinks are made with local milk and locally roasted coffee, plus you can purchase locally made treats like Kickin' Kombucha and baked goods made in-house.
Although I wasn't a fan when it initially opened, Black Hole has grown on me. After all, it's not every coffee shop that also sells wine, beer and delicious vegan food from Radical Eats. It's a huge hit with area residents, too, the airy, low-slung space nearly always filled with St. Thomas students and people taking a break from doing laundry next door.
This sweet little sweets shop in River Oaks has an unexpectedly good coffee program, all the better for washing down its homemade macarons and cookies. The coffee is from Amaya, and you'll find great espressos and cappuccinos behind the counter.
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 "coffee house" -- 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 coffee house's rise from the proverbial ashes for years. And it's back better than ever although -- imagine that -- you can no longer smoke upstairs. The excellent Greek coffee and pastries remain intact, though, and that's all that matters.
Not only can you get one of the best flat whites or cortados in town here, you can also get it with one of the city's best breakfast tacos in the morning. And when you're done, head into the market section of the store to get all your locally sourced produce, meat, egg, dairy, breads, olive oils and more, all in one fell swoop.
Inversion increased its esteem substantially in my eyes after making me a wicked Day of the Dead-decorated flat white last month, and in fact has consistently good cortados as well as their regular menu of flavored coffee drinks and smoothies. It's also my favorite spot to grab a butter cookie from Michael's Cookie Jar or a fat, flaky, sausage-and-gravy pocket pie from Oh My! Pocket Pies in the mornings.
2. Greenway Coffee (formerly Tuscany Premium Coffee)
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. Parking is a bear, but don't get too worked up over it: Greenway validates. And, anyway, Buehrer and partner Ecky Prabanto are opening another coffee shop very soon: Blacksmith.
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This is the coffee shop that stepped up the game for all other coffee houses 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 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.