Last week's First Look at Black Hole Cafe prompted some interesting discussions in the comments section, namely a lively debate about the merits of weighing a just-opened coffee house against other, more established locations.
Said commenter "guest" (clever name) about the write-up:
This isn't a review, but a comparison which is very unfair to black hole and people who haven't been yet. Review it for what it was, not what everyone else is. If had never been to catalina or inversion, the article implies i shouldn't even step foot in black hole. Let them know it wasn't good while you're there, don't slander them on the backbone-less internet.
Fair enough, guest. That wasn't a review -- you're right -- merely a First Look. And I wouldn't consider it backbone-less to...well...do my job, with my name firmly attached to my opinion. But you gave us an idea: to compare Houston's well-established coffee shops and determine which are the 10 best in the city.
Taken into account are the three most important determining factors in any coffee house: quality of product, atmosphere (the physical feel of the space) and vibe (the emotional connection -- do you feel welcome there?). The results are below.
Note: Wi-fi is not considered a factor in determining the best coffee shop. 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. Dirk's 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. (I'm only half-kidding here.)
8. Khon's 2808 Milam, 713-523-7775
A slice of heaven for anyone homesick for the Big Easy, Khon's is a familiar spot for Louisiana ex-pats 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 coffee house that's as cozy as your own kitchen. It's also an ideal stop for downtown commuters heading out after work.
7. Bohemeo's 708 Telephone Road, 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 (not those EastEnders) 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 mochachino, 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 "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.
5. Agora 1712 Westheimer, 713-526-7212
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, 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.
4. Inversion 1953 Montrose, 713-523-4866
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 wasn'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 Multiple locations
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 "coffee house." 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
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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, 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 Tuscany Premium Coffee) 5 East 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.