Coffee

At De Kroon café, on the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam

I’m unapologetically addicted to coffee. I’m a bit of a purist, too — I’ll drink the fancy stuff, but I prefer my coffee unadulterated, meaning the blacker it is, the happier I am. Still, any good coffee drinker knows there’s a lot of range in “black coffee,” ranging from thick, rich Turkish coffee through espressos, Italian and French roasts, to a good old-fashioned cup o’ joe served in a thick crockery diner mug. When I lived in the Middle East, I even discovered traditional Arabic coffee, the lighter side of black coffee, with less caffeine and a lighter acidity but plenty of flavor and body thanks to the addition of cardamom.

I’m also a huge fan of coffeehouses and cafés, in all their delightful variations. So, here I have listed some of my favorite coffee places around the world, starting in Portland, Oregon, where I live now.

United States | Europe | Middle East | Asia


United States

Caffé Destino

Portland, OR

My first coffeehouse in Portland turned out to be a great find. It holds only a handful of tables and two small couches, but it’s a well-lit, cheery place with very friendly baristas and an excellent veggie-friendly menu. And their coffee, from local roaster Trailhead, is outstanding. Their medium roast, like most medium roasts, is a bit thin for my taste, but their dark roast is exceptional, a well-rounded, robust coffee that doesn’t sit too long on the palate. Caffé Destino will definitely become one of my regular haunts.

TwentySix Cafe

Portland, OR

A cafe in the European sense — as much wine/beer bar as coffeehouse — this hip, quiet place is our other favorite coffee place in Portland. The beautiful floral wallpaper and tiny marble bistro tables at lush, padded benches, the huge dark-wood bar and narrow shelves climbing to the high ceiling, and the umbrellaed outdoor tables all make this feel like a 1920s speakeasy or a trendy little cafe in Vienna. But the super-cool tattooed baristas and the selective range of local wines, beers, and coffee beans make TwentySix Cafe distinctly Portlandian — and a very easy place to while away a whole afternoon! Together with Caffe Destino, TwentySix Cafe was the reason we bought a house in our existing neighborhood: we knew we wanted to live next to these coffee spots for years and years.

 

Jazzkats Coffee Bar

Portland, OR

My wife and I popped into this unassuming coffee bar while antique shopping in the Hollywood neighborhood. From the outside it doesn’t look like much: a slab of sidewalk facing an old asphalt parking lot to the little shopping area it hides in. But they dress up their drab view with a delightful vine-wrapped trellis and some classic garden tables and chairs, and inside, this tiny coffee bar boasts some vibrant local artwork overlooking its plush, funky seating. A cozy and inviting environment, it’s clearly a local favorite (we met one local woman who’s been coming there almost daily for years), and their coffee is terrific. Their house blend is a medium roast from Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters, and while I usually prefer a darker roast, this brew is full bodied and has a delicious aftertaste. Great brownies, too!

Art Six Coffee House

Denton, TX

Good coffee, great service, and an atmosphere so comfortable it became my de facto living room for two years. The rotating art displays, fine line-up of local musicians, and popular literary reading series round out the excellence. Art Six remains my favorite coffeehouse of all time.

Ruta Maya Coffee House and Organic Coffee Importing

Austin, TX

My cousin does the importing here, but these guys have been among my favorites since I saw Kirpal Gordon do a poetry reading here. They also have some of the best coffee I’ve tasted, and with their hip Austin atmosphere, you can’t go wrong.

Badger Bros. Coffee & Internet Café

Platteville, WI

Just because they’re the only coffeehouse in town doesn’t mean they take their customers for granted — the coffee is great and roasted in-house (when I lived in Platteville, I bought their beans for brewing at home), and the service is among the best I’ve had.

Lou Mitchell’s

Chicago, IL

This isn’t a coffee shop, it’s a diner, but I like to think of the diner as America’s coffeehouse, and I have a soft spot for good old-fashioned diner coffee. The thick mug, the splash of coffee over the rim when the waitress tosses down the cup, the rich aroma of plain old percolated coffee — you can actually smell the grounds in the good stuff. And Lou Mitchell’s serves the good stuff. For more, check out my comments on the diner in an old blog post.

The Daily Grind

Boerne, TX

It’s not the most obvious combination: part laid-back, arty coffeehouse, part traditional Texas grill joint. But in fact, The Daily Grind manages to blend the two atmospheres terrifically, with scattered small tables and window booths overlooking the streets, old hardwood floors and quirky country decor on the walls (think saloons and old road signs more than cow horns and leather). The coffee isn’t stellar, but it is quite good and, more importantly, roasted and brewed in-house. And the menu boasts some distinctive flavors, too. (The tortilla chips and queso are a must-order.) So much fun, in fact, that I’ve written this place into my short fiction! Definitely worth a try.

Texas Coffeehouse Series

Schreiner University
Kerrville, TX

This isn’t a coffee shop — it’s the monthly coffeehouse performance series at Schreiner University where I learned to read my work aloud. Still going strong almost fourteen years since I emceed the series, this remains a sentimental favorite! The performances are open to the public, so check the calendar and stop by for a great night of music, spoken word, and performance art. And coffee, of course.

top up the cup


Europe

Tearoom at Pitmedden Garden

Ellon, Scotland

Not technically a café, much less a coffeehouse, but the coffee was decent, the atmosphere was delightful, the scones were delicious, and the apple-cinnamon jam was out of this world! Next time we’re in Scotland, I’d drive hours out of our way just to visit this fabulous little place again.

The Old Pantry

Aberlour, Scotland

I had tea rather than coffee here, but the atmosphere was about as traditional as a Scottish café gets, and I loved every bit of it. The place looked and felt like a Scottish grandmother’s kitchen. Warm, friendly service and loads of local color.

At the Sign of the Black-Faced Sheep

Aboyne, Scotland

Okay, the Scots aren’t known for their coffee, but this was as good a cup as I was likely to find. What makes any café in Scotland worth visiting, though, is the atmosphere. This one was a bit kitschy and felt more like a frilly tearoom than an earthy café, and the attached shop was a bit crowded, but they sell their atmosphere well, and they have excellent food and service to match.

Café Milo

Vienna, Austria

A bright, classy little art café with beautiful wall and ceiling tiles. The desserts were only okay, but the soups were great, and while the coffee was fairly ordinary by Viennese standards, that’s still saying something, because the Viennese have very high standards for their coffee!

Café Benno

Vienna, Austria

A fantastic traditional coffeehouse, which in Vienna means part coffee shop, part pub, and all atmosphere. This warm, cozy place is full of quirky wall décor, fun board games, and eclectic but comfy furniture, but the best part: they’re home to the Kaffeemuseum, a little one-room display on all things coffee-related! And their special Viennese mélange, served with a smiley face of cocoa powder over the thin foam, is very good.

Pompadour

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A very hip little teahouse and chocolaterie, this place serves excellent small lunches and delicious cakes (the pastries and chocolates look fantastic, too). Because it’s a teahouse, I opted to skip the coffee here and order tea, but the tea was very good. Still, I’m adding this to the list just for the casual, hip ambiance and the excellent food.

Blue Tea House

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This is less a teahouse and more a proper Dutch café, meaning it’s as much a pub as a coffeehouse. Located in the heart of the beautiful Vondelpark, it’s a popular spot for college kids, joggers, young professionals, and basically anyone else enjoying a sunny afternoon in the park. The coffee was okay (like many Dutch cafés, they simply serve Illy, the Italian coffee company that seems as ubiquitous as Starbucks in the the States), but the atmosphere — with a cozy pub-like interior to the pavilion-shaped building, sprawling patio seating outdoors and an upstairs wrap-around terrace — is unbeatable after a day in the park. And the hummus sandwich is outstanding.

Tazzina Espressobar

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Dutch aren’t known for the their coffee, so finding a decent — let alone distinctive — cup isn’t always easy. That’s why Tazzina is like an Italian oasis. Tucked away in the Jordaan, it’s an espressobar and panini shop with lots of cozy style. The seating is limited indoors, but the sidewalk tables make for great views of the canals and passersby, and the decor inside is very “coffeehouse.” Watch out for the beautiful but tricky three-flight spiral staircase to the restroom! But sit by the window or outside by the street, and enjoy a leisurely, delicious cup of the Caffe Kimbo, a dark, rich Italian roast from Naples. Then enjoy another.

De Kroon

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

One of the coolest cafés we visited. Situated on the Rembrandtplein, it boasts classic Art Deco styling and rich tones of wood, stone and leather, with huge full-pane windows overlooking the bustling square below. We went early in an afternoon and were among the only people there, so things felt a bit slow, but that was fine by us. If you’re looking for a more lively coffeehouse environment, though, De Kroon will surely deliver later in the evening, and (like most Dutch cafés), it also doubles as a bar. Great coffee (Piazza d’Oro, an Italian roast) and terrific decor. You’ll feel very cool sipping a cup in this place.

La Marquise

Hoorn, The Netherlands

As the name suggests, this croissanterie has a very French flair. They put more energy into the decor than the coffee (disappointingly, they don’t serve a French roast but instead resort to the old standby, Illy), but they do the French-Dutch hybrid atmosphere quite well, and you really feel like you’re sitting at a little local café. In fact, this was one of the few places at which our Dutch server struggled with English, and we had to translate the Dutch menu ourselves (not as hard as it sounds). Great food, warm, friendly environment, and really, Illy is a pretty good coffee for a chain. Definitely worth a visit.

Stadscafé de Waag

Delft, The Netherlands

The other coolest café we visited in The Netherlands, and we didn’t even get to see the inside (which, on the website, looks amazing!). Instead, we chose to sit outdoors, in the shade of the Renaissance-era City Hall and its medieval-era central tower. The Stadscafé itself is built into the 17th-century weigh house and sits on the back side of the central town square, so the place is packed with history and atmosphere. The food is good, the coffee (Barbera, yet another Italian roast) is very good, and its apple pie is among the best we ate. Overall, a fantastic experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to going back.

top up the cup


United Arab Emirates

The ONE

Consistently rated the best café in Abu Dhabi, and for good reason — this is a fantastic place for a relaxing, lazy afternoon. The service is slow, but the coffee is well worth sipping and refilling while you wait for the servers. The food is excellent, too, and the afternoon tea is a terrific deal.

Café de la Paix

A wonderful French chain with a fantastic array of coffees to choose from; the espresso is the best, but the Turkish coffee isn’t bad either. I used to prefer the Marina Mall location, tucked way in the back away from the bustle of shoppers, but it’s right next to the newly opened skating rink, so now I think I like the Al Wahda Mall location better.

Le Café

The food (and the service) is hit or miss, but the coffee is hands-down the best I’ve had in the UAE, prepared the traditional Arabic way: very light on the acidity and brewed with cardamom. The stylish surroundings of the lavish Emirates Palace make for great atmosphere, too. UPDATE: On a recent trip to Le Café, I discovered a new drink: the “Camelccino,” a cappuccino made with camel milk. It is outstanding! I was expecting too rich or too salty a flavor, but camel milk is the perfect accompaniment for coffee! This is what traditional cappuccino has been waiting for. Definitely treat yourself to a cup!

Café Arabia

This trendy new café is high on atmosphere (they’re in an old villa that still feels like a home, with ceilings draped in Moroccan lanterns and the walls rich with local art) , but don’t think that’s because they’re low on taste. Their menu is short but holds a good variety of Arabic and Middle Eastern snacks, meals, and beverages, and they even serve a decent traditional English breakfast. And then there’s the coffee and tea. I’ve tried the black coffee, the espresso, and the cappuccino, and in all cases their coffee is terrific — not the best in Abu Dhabi, but well within the top five. The real treat, though, is the special “Emirati tea,” heavily spiced traditional Gulf Arab tea that will knock your socks off. Word of warning, though: if you show up on a busy day, go somewhere else. On a slow day the service is terrific, but when they’re busy, you can wait hours for something as simple as coffee.

top up the cup


Asia

Hemlock

Bangkok, Thailand

Not strictly a coffeehouse, Hemlock is a full-blown restaurant that happens to feel like a quiet café. But their coffee is actually excellent — they take very seriously what most restaurants tend to take for granted. The flavor was rich and dark without being at all bitter or heavily acidic. A perfect brew. And with the frescoed walls, the tiny stairway in the back leading up to a loft/balcony area, the narrow corridor of plants and fountains like a small interior garden, and most importantly the unobtrusive jazz and crooning Frank Sinatra tunes all lend Hemlock the atmosphere of a trendy outdoor café, very nearly European in feel, without ever loosing its quiet Thai touches like the Buddha statues or the flowers blooming in the “garden.”

top up the cup

15 thoughts on “Coffee

  1. Once in a while, I wonder what Sam Snoek has been up to, where he is in the world, what his new writings are, and if I might catch a glimpse…
    Hi, Sam,
    I just enjoyed your story “A Smooth, Clean Cut.” This seems to me a vignette that springs to life with its crisp imagery of two childhood friends and their flirtation with the forbidden. The ending of blood and wine seemed a bit biblical in an Ann Rice sort of way.
    My contribution to your thoughts on coffee:
    I love your compilation of favorite coffee houses around the world. My current favorite is coffee from Michael’s Kitchen in Taos, NM. (I’m living in Taos now, in a little adobe and loving it.)
    Back when I was living in Pamplona, I liked going to Cafe Iruna on the Plaza Del Castillo (known as Pamplona’s Living Room, much like your own “de facto” in Denton), to have my coffee because it is where Hemingway went for breakfast after the bull runs in July (they have a plaque on the wall). But to tell you the truth, the coffee there isn’t all that great. I suppose it was just the romance of it all.
    Sam, I love that you keep a web site and blog and that your stories and writings are online. It’s lovely to browse through your writings, photos, and reflections.
    un abrazo,
    Sally

    1. A lighter roast would be more caffeinated, you’re absolutely right. But the traditional brew uses a smaller quantity of grounds and makes up the flavor with the addition of cardamom, so while an Arabic roast would be higher in caffeine content, a cup of Arabic coffee is usually lower. At least, that’s how the Gulf Arabs I spoke with explained it.

      And what a great question! Thanks for asking!

  2. Your listing of coffee houses is great! I saw a couple that I intend to see. If you ever go through N.C. I suggest you stop through Asheville, N.C. All the Best.

    1. Thanks! I have some friends who live in Ashville; they assure me it’s one of the coolest cities in America! I’ll definitely have to get down there some day. Any good coffeehouses you’d recommend?

    1. Thanks! I need to update this page — I’m missing a few excellent Portland coffeehouses, including a new one that just opened up in our neighborhood. So this is a good reminder to get on that!

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