How do you take your coffee: Black? Loads of milk and sugar? Whisked out to-go, or sipped leisurely over a newspaper? Regardless of your preference, until recently, options for a good cup of joe in Center City were pretty slim. Sure, there was plenty of fast food, corporate coffee, and outdated '90s-style cafés, and La Colombe provided an important alternative to the ubiquitous Wawa brown paper cup, but high-quality, serious coffee to rival the exploding café cultures in San Francisco, Portland, New York, or Washington, D.C.? Not so much.
Many of the outlying, more residential neighborhoods in Philly nurtured local cafés for the past few years, with beans shipped in from rock star roasters and baristas who could wax philosophical about their favorite roast while carefully preparing your drink. But it’s only recently that Center City, where there is most likely the highest concentration of caffeine addicts, has caught up with the high-end coffee trend. In the past year, a handful of new spots have opened, or old spots have revamped their coffee programs, ensuring that commuters and locals alike have access to thoughtfully, responsibly sourced beans and impeccably prepared drinks.
These new places are already showing signs of success: seats filled with laptop warriors, investments in beautiful Italian-made espresso machines, and the ability to hire dedicated, passionate workers. It looks like Center City was ready for a coffee revolution — it just took a few intrepid entrepreneurs to strike while the iron was hot. Check out the slideshow to see what this new Center City buzz is all about.
What started with a cherry-red truck pouring cups of Stumptown and ReAnimator in University City has now expanded to a brick-and-mortar location in Logan Square. Owner Drew Crockett and his coffee-educated crew offer strong coffee and elegant espresso drinks, along with a simple selection of pastries and sandwiches. The space, only open since mid-January, is at once minimalist and cozy, with masculine and industrial touches of wood, graphic wallpaper, and a giant, impressively shiny LaMarzocco GB5 espresso machine.
Arguably the best looking and most popular in its class, Elixr does not get by on sex appeal alone. These people are dead serious about their coffee: a rotating and constantly updated selection of single-origin beans are available for single-serving Chemex pour-overs, a method that coffee geeks swear produces the most nuanced, balanced cup. Choose from exotic choices like the Zambian Ljuju Lipati from Intelligensia Coffee, the Kenyan Gatina from P.T.’s Coffee, or let one of the passionate baristas choose their favorite for you. The airy, bi-level space is punctuated with natural textures and terrariums and offers couches for lounging and tables for working. If you can find a seat amid the hip, laptop-focused crowd, it’s a pleasant place to sip a beautifully poured cappuccino or a doppio Southpaw espresso.
The Green Line Café
Long a staple in West Philly and University City, the Green Line Café recently imported its neighborhood vibe to a hopping corner of Center City. You won’t find any questionable beans here: all the coffee served is from certified organic and fair trade roasters Equal Exchange. This eco-conscientious, globally minded ethos extends to their food menu, where vegan options are plentiful. There are a few high tops and bar stools in the tiny store, though the baristas report that the majority of their customers take their cups to go — just a quick stop on the morning commute or post-lunch rush.
Federal Donuts is no stranger to hype: when its original Pennsport location opened, their donuts and fried chicken would sell out in the blink of an eye. The Sansom Street location, opened in October 2012, is a little closet of a storefront that offers the same wonderful fresh and fancy donuts and inventively seasoned fried chicken that has captured the hearts of Philadelphian locals. There is a lot less ink spilled about their coffee, though, which is no less stellar than the contents of their fry baskets. Their house coffee is "Federal Blend," a roast made exclusively for them by roasting heavyweights, P.T.’s Coffee. This aromatic, peanut-y brew is the perfect accompaniment to a sugar-crusted donut, and makes a mean iced coffee. Beware, though: their overnight-steeped cold brew is "super caffeinated," according to an employee, and not for the faint of heart.
Capogiro Gelato Artisans
The Center City Capogiro, a location long known for its authentic Italian-style coffee drinks (no vanilla lattes here!) just installed a sleek new LaMarzocco FB80 espresso machine, sure to further elevate their finely crafted coffees. For the non-coffee drinkers, one of their best specialties is the Cioccolata Calda con Panna (CCCP), a luxuriously rich drinking chocolate, made with the highest quality cocoa. A CCCP and a bundled up stroll around Rittenhouse Square might just be the perfect winter date.
La Colombe Torrefaction
For Philly coffee traditionalists, the La Colombe logo is a welcoming and familiar sight. Since the mid-'90s they’ve been serving their custom blends all over town. The Rittenhouse location may be a quintessential Center City hangout, but this second location in the shadow of City Hall is literally in the middle of everything. The huge glass windows looking out onto the frenetic intersection of Broad and Market is a prime people-watching spot. La Colombe has expanded its list of coffee blends to include beans from around the world, but their original Corsica, Phocea, and Nizza blends are the beloved Philly classics.