Your neighborhood coffee shop: the place where a cappuccino and the gentle hum of background noise provide a moment of blissful escape, the serenity that some people find in organized religion or long hikes. It might be your first stop on Wednesday mornings, when a triple espresso supplies the three ounces of motivation necessary to endure another round of pointless meetings. Maybe it's where you meet up with that cute guy from the gym to flirt over soy lattes and split a blueberry muffin. Coffee shops are urban oases, refuges from the hectic demands of your crazy boss and your never-ending to-do list. A double mocha won't fix your problems, but at least they'll seem a little smaller with each sip.
You probably already have a favorite coffee shop, the spot where you stumble in bleary eyed and the barista starts fixing your usual before you have time to order it. But once in a while, it's nice to break out of the daily grind. Need inspiration? Venture to one of these Twin Cities hidden gems the next time you're in need of solace and caffeine:
3255 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis
Canteen is a Zen garden of a coffee shop, soothing and minimalist. The atmosphere is hushed, the rustle of newspaper pages and the restrained clacking of a dozen laptop keyboards punctuated by an occasional whir from the espresso machine. This is a spot to meditatively admire the foam art on your latte; a rowdy recap of last night's festivities will earn you passive-aggressive glares.
Fittingly, drinks are a study in elegant simplicity, relying on Dogwood espresso and craftsmanship instead of dozens of garishly flavored syrups and gobs of whipped cream. The curated menu focuses on the details: the vanilla syrup and caramel that grace the lattes are house-made, and the miel — an espresso drink flavored with honey and cinnamon — is served with a diminutive chocolate cookie.
Whatever your stance on artisanal toast, you have to admit that Canteen has nailed it: hefty slices of toasted Rustica bread are spread with toppings like local butter or house-made vanilla cashew butter. The best deal is the weekend self-serve toast happy hour, when you can layer on the nut butters, jams, honey, and Feta to your heart's content.
3800 37th Ave. S., Minneapolis
Situated on a quiet corner in Longfellow, Fireroast Café is a warm, sunny space with comfortable booths and fabulous scones. Granted, many coffee shops have scones, but they dream of becoming the ones at Fireroast Café when they grow up. Crumbly and studded with oats, they're baked daily in wholesome-tasting flavors like maple pecan and rosemary apricot. A rotating selection of house-made muffins, cookies, and coconut macaroons rounds out the bakery case. The lunch menu has a south-of-the-border twist, with burritos and quesadillas — try the mushroom manchego quesadilla, served with a delicious house-made heirloom tomato salsa.
Of course, there's also coffee: fair-trade, organic, and sourced from local UP Roasters. Options include standard drip, pourover, and expertly crafted espresso drinks. Although not the café's primary focus, there's a nice selection of loose-leaf teas, and the barista will loan you a little hourglass timer so that you can steep the perfect cup. The hot chocolate shows the same thoughtful touch, made with Ghirardelli chocolate and garnished with enough marshmallows and sprinkles to delight your inner child.
2223 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Precision Grind is the place for days when you don't want to change out of your yoga pants to meet your friends for coffee. It's a chill space in Seward with Chipotle-style industrial decor, Christmas lights and Chinese lanterns strung across the front window, and a diverse clientele ranging from creatives toting sketchbooks to business types with laptops. Seating is ample, with plenty of room to find a quiet table if you need to get some work done.
There are three daily coffees — dark, light, and decaf — and the standard lineup of espresso drinks. The Mexican mocha, flavored with allspice and cayenne, is a spicy pick-me-up. The cold press packs a smooth caffeine punch, and in the summer, there's a refreshing vanilla version. In addition to scones and muffins, the bakery case features something that all too many coffee shops neglect: fresh doughnuts. Sourced from St. Paul's SugaRush, the assortment includes classic apple fritters, bismarks, glazed old-fashioneds, and cake doughnuts with plenty of sprinkles. The doughnuts aren't fancy, but they're straight-up satisfying — exactly like the surroundings.
813 E. 48th St., Minneapolis
Having a child in tow shouldn't keep you from a good cup of coffee, so wheel that stroller over to Sovereign Grounds. While the little one runs amok in the toy-filled playroom, sip a much-deserved cup of the signature Turkish Roast. The smooth, robust blend is roasted in-house, as are the shop's dozen other coffee roasts and blends. For tea drinkers, the soothing red tea latte is a unique option, with a subtly earthy flavor.
Lunch options have a Mediterranean bent, from spinach and gyro pies to an orzo pasta salad, as well as an assortment of American-style soups and sandwiches. A homey array of baked goods takes up the rest of the deli case: thick slices of pineapple coconut bread, lemon poppy seed muffins, wedges of apple cake, and seven layer bars. The lightly sweetened banana bread, served in cake-like squares and topped with chocolate chips, makes for a perfect afternoon snack.
One caveat: Unless shrieking children and a hide-and-seek game underneath your table increase your productivity, leave the laptop at home. But if you don't mind some noise and the occasional toddler, the shabby-chic atmosphere in the shop's main room makes for a pleasant adult hangout.
920 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis
In a skyway awash with Starbucks and Caribou Coffee outlets, Café Patteen is a spunky, independent alternative. Its coffee beans are locally roasted, teas are loose-leaf, and cookies are made from scratch with the jewel-toned KitchenAid mixers behind the counter. Located in the International Centre, the tiny shop has a few high-top tables but mostly caters to the grab-and-go business crowd.
The cayenne-spiked spicy mocha is the perfect antidote for drowsy mornings. You could also opt for the German chocolate mocha's rich blend of chocolate and coconut if you have a sweet tooth. Note that the shop is cash-only, but the reasonable prices won't lighten your wallet too much — especially if you visit between 2:30 and 3, when coffee and espresso are half off.
Besides cookies and scones — be sure to try the chocolate cherry cookie if it's available — you can get a fluffy slice of quiche or choose from an ever-changing selection of seasonal cakes and bars. There are even grilled Kramarczuk's brats at lunchtime. Good luck finding that at Starbucks.
Cahoots Coffee Bar
1562 Selby Ave., St. Paul
Cahoots Coffee Bar is a sprawling Middle Eastern-style coffee house that feels like a cozy bazaar, with rugs hanging from the walls and a jumble of silk scarves, soaps, and pottery for sale. The mismatched chairs give the shop a comfortable, lived-in feel, and owner Saed and his friendly staff make you feel like you're at home — only with better coffee. There's never any rush to move along, thanks to a tucked-away patio and an expansive back room that provide plenty of space to settle in.
One of the shop's many specialties is Turkish coffee, seasoned with a house blend of spices. It's strong but smooth, meant to be savored rather than gulped. There's also a lovely mocha made with lavender-infused white chocolate, lavender lemonade during the warmer months, and an extensive selection of loose-leaf teas. But the signature beverage is the award-winning Moroccan mocha, flavored with a heavy dose of cardamom and cinnamon and a subtle hint of chocolate. Pair it with a plate of baba ganoush or hummus, and your coffee break will seem thousands of miles away from a storefront on Selby.
J&S Bean Factory
1518 Randolph Ave., St. Paul
The best thing about J&S Bean Factory isn't on the menu — it's the rich smell of coffee beans wafting from the small-batch roaster in the back room. You could order a latte or cappuccino, but when it's roasted 20 feet away, your best bet is a cup of black coffee. Dark, medium, and decaf options are offered each day. If it's available, opt for the staff favorite, the medium-roast Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The top customer pick is Steve's Smokey Double Dark, which is also available in decaf. A small cup of coffee might be the Twin Cities' best bargain, ringing up at only $1.49. Even better? Refills are a mere 46 cents.
In warm weather, there's plenty of seating on the dog-friendly patio. Otherwise, the bright, bustling shop makes for a nice place to chat or get some work done, especially if you fortify yourself with a giant molasses cookie. Savory food offerings include La Loma Tamales Friday through Sunday and fresh sandwiches from La Patisserie daily. Grab some beans for home on your way out — over 30 varieties are available for purchase, many of them organic and free trade.
Burn Unit Coffee Ward
945 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
Burn Unit Coffee Ward is tucked into a narrow storefront on a quiet stretch of West Seventh Street, a quirky space with pinup girls gracing the menu board, lime green walls, and an eclectic shuffle of background music ranging from rap to big band. Although it's branded as an "alternative coffee shop," it's also a neighborhood joint where you might find senior citizens nursing lattes and chatting about their hip replacements sitting next to millennials with MacBooks.
The baked goods are the sort of comforting treats your favorite aunt would pull out of the oven whenever you visited: monkey bread, chocolate chip cookies, and streusel-topped muffins. On the beverage front, there are espresso drinks, Thai coffee, and kava, a relaxation-inducing tea from the South Pacific. The signature drink is the offbeat but refreshing Dr. Coffee, a mix of coffee and espresso ice cubes, cream, and Dr. Pepper.
Since Burn Unit is a one-woman show — hardworking Christina is the owner, barista, and baker — hours can be slightly sporadic, and sometimes the menu is takeout only. It's a good idea to check the shop's Facebook page for a status update before heading over.
459 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
Claddagh Coffee feels a bit like a cozy old pub, with rugged brick walls and a convivial vibe. The decor is exuberantly Irish-themed, from the Celtic script menu board to the leprechaun standing guard over the front door. So what if espresso drinks aren't really all that Irish; when they're this good, who cares? The syrups and chai are house-made, and are featured in an assortment of specialty espresso drinks branded with Irish names. Some are standard — the Dirty Seamus is a dirty chai, and the Black & Tan is a miel — while others are specialties of the house. The Sister Mary Claddagh is an intriguing mix of espresso, blood orange puree, and caramel; the dessert-in-a-mug St. Paddy's combines espresso with dark chocolate and coconut cream.
Whatever you're drinking, don't forget a hefty square of the signature Dublin crumb cake on the side. If you're the in mood for a meal, order a steaming bowl of Irish oats or choose from the lineup of breakfast and lunch paninis. The veggie panini, loaded with hummus, pesto, and cheddar, will tempt even dedicated carnivores, while the Wee Leprechaun — filled with banana and Nutella — is the perfect excuse to eat chocolate for lunch.
The Goat Coffeehouse
699 E. Seventh St., St. Paul
The Goat Coffeehouse offers something for everyone, with V60 and Chemex pour-overs for the discerning coffee aficionado and blended Almond Joy mochas for those who need their caffeine doctored with a dose of sugar. Housed in a historic brick building across the street from Metro State, the first floor is a comfy hangout with an upbeat soundtrack, while the more subdued second floor has plenty of room to settle in with your laptop. There's even a playroom for the kids. The atmosphere is refreshingly welcoming, with friendly baristas and a helpful diagram illustrating the difference between a cortado and a macchiato.
Coffee is sourced from St. Paul's True Stone Coffee Roasters, with a unique variety specifically roasted for cold press. The ratio for the cold press is a precise and closely guarded secret, but whatever the magic formula, it's potent and delectably smooth. Bars and cookies are made in-house — try the raspberry-cherry-rhubarb bar, spread thick with fruit-packed jam and topped with a hearty oatmeal crumble. Although the desserts are sized big enough to count as a meal, you should order the zesty turkey craisin pesto sandwich if you're in the mood for a more balanced lunch.