Unique Neighborhood Coffee Shops Slideshow

Metropolis Coffee Co.

Location: Chicago
Best-seller: Redline Espresso Blend

For eight years, Metropolis Coffee Co., which is both a roasting company and a café, has served its own roasts and blends in its shop, and in other coffee houses in the Chicago area. Manager Tony Dreyfuss says that the diverse neighborhood Metropolis serves is part of the appeal of running the café. "People sit down together, they actually talk," he says. 

When the economy turned sour, Metropolis had to start raising prices, but customers remained loyal. Dreyfuss said that being open about its financial situation made customers willing to dig a little deeper to pay for their morning jolt.

Dreyfuss especially likes to talk to customers about where Metropolis’ beans are sourced and how farmers are compensated for their work. It’s all part of an effort, he says, "to give customers more information about where their coffee is coming from."

M.E. Swing’s Coffee House

Location: Washington, D.C.
Best-sellers: Drip coffee (morning); latte (afternoon)

No one could accuse M.E. Swing’s Coffee House of jumping on the java bandwagon. Founded in 1916 as a roasting company, the coffee house has a long history in Washington, D.C.

Its most recent location, on G Street next to the Old Executive Office Building, is filled with vintage burr grinders and wooden coffee bins. It’s like "walking through a time machine," says owner Mark Warmuth, who adds that history is part of the café’s appeal.

"Customers have been patronizing our store for a long time," Warmuth says. "Not every coffee shop has the ability to say 'Look what we did 20 or 30 years ago and still do today.'"

But that doesn’t mean everything is vintage. The beans, for one thing, are roasted in nearby Alexandria, Va., which gives a whole new meaning to the words "freshly brewed."

Four Barrel Café

Location: San Francisco
Best-seller: Rotating single-origin coffee

Four Barrel Café owner Jeremy Tooker travels around the world to find the best beans for his brews. With more than 14 years in the coffee industry, his expertise is the backbone of Four Barrel Café.

While Four Barrel is located in the ultra-hip Mission District of San Francisco, Tooker considers himself more "hippie" than "hipster." The café offers no wireless Internet access or outlets for computers, encouraging interaction between customers and staff.

Four Barrel has plans to open another store in the Panhandle/Alamo Square area, as well as continuing to fine-tune its customer service. "But really," Tooker says, "I can only hope to maintain the level of success that we’ve already achieved."

White Rock Coffee

Location: Dallas
Best-seller: Lady of the Lake, a dark roast named for a local legend

Husband-and-wife owners Nancy and Bob Baker have a seriously hands-on approach to their coffee: They recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, where they hand-picked coffee cherries.

White Rock Coffee specializes in fair trade organic coffee, roasted in small batches at its roasting facility and then sold at two cafés in the Dallas area.

The Bakers are trying to find as many avenues of direct trade with coffee farmers as they can to source the beans for their coffee. Their sustainable model extends to their decaffeination process, which uses a natural water-only method, as opposed to using methylchloride.

White Rock Coffee is an integral part of the local social scene, hosting musicians five nights a week. Its relationship with the community is one of the things Nancy Baker likes best about the café. "Even though we’re in the coffee business, it’s all about people, all up and down the chain, from the migrant workers who pick the beans to the baristas to the customers," she says.

Condesa Coffee

Location: Atlanta
Best-sellers: Espresso-based drinks and locally brewed chai

Condesa Coffee is located in Atlanta’s rapidly gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It’s off of the main drag, however, and owner Daniela Staiculescu says customers have to work to find it — so she knows she has a loyal customer base.

The shop opened in 2010, and Staiculescu, together with partners Amin Rida and Octavian Stan, took over last year. It serves coffee from Counter Culture Coffee, a company that values sustainability and direct trade with coffee farmers.

The menu features many locally sourced ingredients: Sandwiches are made with local meats and organic vegetables, while coffee is mixed with local milk. One of the most popular menu items at Condesa is Cabbagetown Chai, prepared right next door at Cabb Chai’s Atlanta location. Condesa even offers discounts for customers who bike to the shop.