Charlotte coffeehouses emerge as more than just coffehouses, reinforcing their status as Charlotte’s best place to linger.
Coffeehouses aren’t what they were at their conception, in the alleys of 16th-century Constantinople. The espresso bar is not the sit-down restaurant, and the grab-and-go coffee shop is not the café. Today, there are about a thousand variations on the concept, and the world’s swiftly growing modern cities, in particular, seem keen on maintaining this branching trend.
While France is full of Parisian cafés because tradition says they can’t be anything else, new cities like Charlotte don’t have any traditional social centers. The tabula rasa that is Charlotte’s cultural identity seems to give rise to a bevy of diverse locales for downing the dark stuff. For socialites and coffee lovers alike, that means options. There’s the auditorium: your favorite abundantly lit industrial spot with the standing height counters and the open space floor plan. You’ll be seen here. Then there’s the hideaway: the adorably cramped, lamplit coziness of the plushy couch-and-bookshelf den. These places are known for their corners, and they’re damn fine corners. Every mutation has utility: We go to write, to read, and to talk. We go to entertain, to schmooze, even, and—probably far more often than we care to admit—to pass the time with conspicuous consumption.
And around here, you can’t really go to a coffee shop without finding something more. In the last few years, Charlotte coffee has become joined at the hip with Charlotte-everything-else. HEX Coffee has only been anchored for a little over a year, but the espresso bar and Good Bottle Co. seem inseparable concepts at this point. Trade and Lore and Salud Cerveceria have a similar symbiosis, and they share one of NoDa’s best interiors to boot. Recently, we’ve seen Not Just Coffee post up in a shared space with clothing retailer Tabor and fine art purveyor SOCO Gallery, but the coffee shop has been a collaborative effort since its humble beginnings in Area 15. After many successful years in this business, Amelié’s has partnered with Pure Intentions Coffee in an effort to further embrace responsible sourcing. South End Grind popped up, and stayed up, in a gym, and Freemore West gallery LaCa Projects will soon house more than just art from Latin America: Basal Coffee will start pouring in early 2018. It goes without saying that Hyde Brewing, meanwhile, is the picture of collaboration.
At some point, we’ve got to acknowledge a kind of movement here. Businesses all over the city are taking steps toward partnership, toward inclusion, and the result is a new kind of community center. They’re taking stranger and stranger forms, but like the earliest coffeehouses, these are all centers of social interaction—wherever the choice of space, we’re consuming together.
Not Just Coffee | Atherton Mill
Serving Counter Culture Coffee (Durham, NC)
There’s no better place to crack open that scuffed-up and well-loved aluminum laptop. The branch that was once the little sibling of NJC’s 7th Street coffee bar now occupies an entire back alley of sorts at Atherton Mill—the kind of extended stretch of warehouse-y space that gives everyone plenty of work-and-play room. Picnic-style tables and a bar at one end welcome conversation, while a stretch of two-tops opposite provide privacy and copious people-watching opportunities. The naturally lit, exposed brick-and-mortar of it all provides an atmosphere completely distinct from any den in Charlotte. The proximity to everything else at Atherton (including shops and restaurants) is felt, but the rest of the mill doesn’t encroach on the shop due to its cozy backroom locale. Go for the skylit digs, stay for the pour overs, and keep your eyes peeled for the friendliest canines South End has to offer.
Trade and Lore
Serving Mountain Air Roasting (Asheville, NC)
Appalachian coffee comes down the mountain to cozy up in a space that’s at once Ashevillian but that somehow makes a lasting impression with its Charlotte-isms. Natural light pours in through plentiful windows and a lone skylight, but the hangout is only as well-lit and open as you want it to be. There are both counter height bars and cozy alcoves, making for a versatile new NoDa staple. Like many of our favorite haunts in the beloved mountain town, you’ll find Trade and Lore at the top of a creaky staircase. Like much of what we love in the Queen City, though, this place is actually an odd mishmash. The shop’s location above Salud Beer Shop and FūD at Salud means Trade and Lore patrons are granted full access to the wafflewiches and other deli treats. And since Trade and Lore shares its space with Salud Cerveceria, the coffeehouse doubles as a taproom, meaning the marbley bar serves up draughts of both beer and nitro coffee and tea. This is coffee shop, brewery, and event space. Trade and Lore—not unlike its precursor of sorts, the tragically closed Daily Press inside The Evening Muse—feels like a marriage of ideologies because the women behind it split their time between two wildly different cities. It’s all very Asheville, but its roots are unabashedly NoDa—not an unhappy marriage, by any means. If the shoe fits, etc.
HEX Espresso Bar
Serving HEX Coffee (Charlotte, NC)
In the last year or so, Good Bottle Co. has evolved from South End’s preferred craft beer retailer into one of the neighborhood’s busiest haunts. The bar in the back of the store was always a draw, but the espresso bar in the front brings this place a symmetry it was always meant for. Run by coffee nerds who obsess over the brewing variables in every shot they pull, HEX is where to go for espresso. It’s also ideal for transitional afternoons: Have a classic HEX coffee shot or a seasonal concoction with a book (or two), and move on the Good Bottle taps when the squad shows up.
Amelié’s | NoDa
Serving Pure Intentions Coffee (Charlotte, NC)
They’re seemingly everywhere these days, but the original French bakery and café, in all it’s sprawling, on-the-nose glory, will always be a special Charlotte staple. It’s been wildly successful for multiple reasons (and those tart tortes are no doubt among them). Due to some sinful pact that simply must exist among the city’s coffee entrepreneurs, Amelié’s remains the only coffee spot in the city open for 24 hours. Actually, this is the only one open past ten on most days. That makes the NoDa mainstay ideal for working or studying all-nighters, but it also makes it a refreshing alternative to late-night spells at your favorite bars and cocktail lounges. Honestly, it’s an odd thing. Coffee is an nighttime endeavor in larger, stranger cities, but it hasn’t taken on a night-life of its own here in Charlotte. Only this place serves the dark stuff proper after dark, and it’s all the more iconic for it.
The Suffolk Punch
Serving Mountain Air Roasting, eventually serving Hyde roasts
At The Suffolk Punch, collaboration is the entire concept. This South End complex houses a coffee shop, brewery, taproom, and a restaurant. They’ll probably throw a few more concepts into the mix before you know it, and why not? The whole enterprise (which is really just a bunch of enterprises rolled into one) seems to be more than delivering on each front. Interior-wise, Hyde seems more restaurant than coffee shop, but spending just a bit of time there reveals a kind of brilliant adaptability. It’s a trendy blank slate, really, designed to be whatever its dwellers will have it be: brewery taproom, chef-driven dinner spot, coffee bar. With some inspired spiked coffee beverages as the latest addition to an ever-evolving menu, Hyde may as well be a cocktail lounge too. If the baristas offer to make you something weird, let them. In this place, experimentation always yields goodness.
Rotating roasters from around the world
Basal Coffee isn’t open yet, but its goal is nothing short of ambitious: The shop will showcase roasters from all over the South, West Coast, and East Coast periodically throughout the year, occasionally even featuring roasters from Europe. This venture, which fittingly shares space with the internationally-focused Latin American Contemporary Art Projects, looks to give patrons a sense and point of reference of the best coffee roasters in the world. Art and coffee each have their distinct, unquestionable draws; throwing the two under one roof is guaranteed to bring droves of people together under that roof. Look for Basal in early 2018.