Baby, it’s cold outside! A great cup of coffee is a like a warm hug for your insides and a kick in the rear when you want to get going outside. Here are four great coffee houses around Charlotte to hit on your way to, or from, tearing up some of the best trails around town.
1. South: Mama’s Coffee House
Ellie Zarza is your friend, you may just not know it yet. But you’ll realize it quickly enough when “Mama,” as Zarza is affectionately known, greets you with a warm smile and her irresistible accent. The Venezuelan native has run Mama’s Coffee House in Pineville for three years.
The pride in her craft shows. “Mama” has created a space that is useful—there’s a deceptive amount of seating in the small bungalow shop—and ultra-personal, with walls covered in handwritten notes of gratitude and encouragement.
But a coffee shop only goes so far on its looks, and Mama delivers on the unspoken promise of great coffee and food as well. The medium roast house blend finishes with a slight sweetness that's utterly addicting. For the ultimate indulgence, try the house specialty, "Sugar Mama," a carmel-hazelnut latte that will leave your sweet tooth taste buds perfectly satisfied. Mama’s paninis are made fresh, as are most of the sweets, including Latin favorites like flan and tres leches. The rest are sourced from a local bake shop. Homemade cilantro-based salsa accompanies each sandwich and is worth the visit by itself.
Visit Mama on your way to (or from) the 40-plus miles of trails at Anne Close Springs Greenway.
2. East: Rocky River Coffee
There’s just something about a true New York bagel, toasted to perfection and smeared with a thick layer of cream cheese melting on the edges. And it’s tough to find a more authentic one in the South than at Rocky River Coffee . They ship their bagels in from Long Island and complete the baking process on site. Many of their other pastries, like the fantastic crumb cake, are N.Y. imports as well.
But there's plenty of local flavor, too. Rocky River Coffee has been pouring North Carolina roasted brews since 2004, using fair trade beans and offering some of the best bold coffees in the area. And, though warm spring days are a ways away, RRC's hand-dipped ice cream is something to look forward to. For now, try “The Rocky River,” two shots of espresso mixed with your choice of ice cream flavors. The comfortable shop is cozy and modern. Free wifi and ample seating make for a good place to catch up on bike fail compilation videos.
Visit the shop before riding the single track at Sherman’s Branch, some of the best mountain bike trails around Charlotte.
3. North: Summit Coffee
The small college town of Davidson, NC has a gem with this spot, which is equal parts live music venue, intimate coffee house, and craft beer bar. As a result, Summit Coffee has become a locals' favorite as well as a must-stop for visitors. The coffee menu is everything you’d expect from a full service coffee house, with a wide range of specialty drinks made from fair trade beans. And the pastries—think apple salted caramel goat cheese pecan tarts—will test even the staunchest New Year's resolution.
The open space is warm and inviting. Seating includes intimate tables, communal bar tops, and plenty of couches and comfy chairs. The upstairs is a cozy spot with exposed wooden beams and a large screen TV where locals gather to watch big sporting events.
The coffee house is the start finish for the Twilight Race Series. From March to November, Summit organizes four races, each to benefit a different charity. It’s also home to live music several nights a week.
Summit coffee is the perfect stop on your way to the fast-flowing trails at Lake Norman State Park.
4. West: Zoe’s Coffee House
Is it too late for coffee or too early for beer? Zoe’s Coffee House , tucked in next to Nick’s Steakhouse in Gastonia, is prepared for either option. In the morning, Zoe’s is a funky coffee shop with an eclectic variety of seating, a full menu of brewed coffee and espresso drinks, and an assortment of breakfast pastries.
But at night, Zoe’s shifts gears. The lights shine on the stage and the tops flip off of a nice selection of craft beers. Poets, comedians, and singers entertain while the crowd, as eclectic as the furniture, mingles over North Carolina porters and elaborate iced coffee drinks.
Low impact is the theme. Much of the furniture, from standard square table and chairs to Victorian loveseats, is repurposed. The bar is made of reclaimed wood from an old movie theater that once operated next door. And besides beer and coffee, Zoe’s also offers a selection of wine and a full bar with some cool sci-fi themed cocktails. Sonic Screwdriver, anyone?
Visit Zoe’s before (or after) a hike to the top of the Crowders Mountain.