Travelers in Alabama have an easier time finding a decent cup of joe these days, with the proliferation of Starbucks and other chains. But the state also has a growing number of excellent independent cafes that not only offer great coffee, but also serve good food and have the perfect vibe for relaxing, hanging with friends, and contemplating your next outdoor adventure.
Everyone has an opinion about what a coffee house should be. Maybe it needs to be quiet and cozy, or maybe it should be buzzing with activity. Some people prefer a place that’s innovative and constantly experimenting with new brews, and some put a premium on shops that roast their beans in-house. One thing’s for sure, it’s the coffee that brings everyone together, whether it’s a classic drip or futuristic nitrogen brew.
Whatever makes the perfect coffee house for you, you’ll find it in Alabama, and we’ve highlighted a few of our favorites, ranging from the Rocket City to the Port City.
You can’t ignore it. The aroma of more than 30 different blends of coffee wafting through the air as you walk down Jefferson Street lures you through the doors of the Kaffeeklatsch, an iconic Huntsville coffee shop that has been roasting fair trade beans from 14 different countries for the past 40 years.
Every bean is personally sampled and approved by Grant and Kathy Heath before it makes its way to the menu. Then, Grant, the Kaffeekatch’s master roaster, puts his artistry to work as he roasts them to a deep, dark brown.
The blends run from dark and smoky Italian and French roasts to the sophisticated and decadent Bavarian Chocolate and toasty Crème Brulee. And that doesn’t even include the variety of black, green, white, Oolong, and herbal teas.
Alchemy is part philosophy, part science. It’s a word that embodies the artistry and atmosphere of the Alchemy Lounge in Huntsville. The Lounge is located on the outskirts of town in historic Lowe Mill, which has been transformed into an arts and entertainment center.
The shop’s owners, John and Candace Stough, believe that the lounge is the science part, an "experiment" where craft coffee and beer are half of the formula. The other half is the surrounding community that brings the Alchemy to life, completing the experiment.
While only two years old, this coffee shop is rapidly making a name for itself. The Stoughs began their coffee experiment with a nitrogen cold brew trike bike. The success of the rich, creamy brew carried over to the lounge and has been its signature since it opened in 2016.
Within this inviting shop you’ll be treated to some amazing blends, espresso made with organic milk, and a selection of healthy eats produced by local bakers.
Edelweiss German Bakery & Café
The best way to enjoy your Java is with a delicious pastry, right? How about some traditional Old World German pastries? Or, as the Germans would say, a little "Kaffee und Gebäck" (coffee and pastries)? Look no further than the Edelweiss German Bakery and Café in Tuscaloosa.
Owner Ester Scheeff hails from Stuttgart, and each day she whips up indescribably delicious traditional German cakes, like her popular cherry vanilla Danish and a chocolate muffin that’s laced with blueberries, chocolate, and Espresso. Match that with a coffee float, cold Americano, or Café au Lait, and you’ll be in heaven.
Lucy’s Coffee & Tea
In 1995, Lucy Bonds began selling coffee from a cart near Birmingham’s UAB hospital and soon opened a coffee shop on University Boulevard. Her shop thrived until 2005, when Starbucks moved in next door.
For three years the small shop hung in there, all due to Lucy’s inviting menu and loyal patrons who took pride in walking past Starbucks and into Lucy’s for their morning joe. That pride caused the coffee giant to close its doors in 2008 due to "underperformance," and Lucy’s Coffee and Tea prevailed.
Never buckling to pressure from the bigger chain, Lucy’s still maintains it warm and eclectic furnishings and menu. Sit back and sip on a Café Viennese made with espresso, rich Ghirardelli Chocolate, and half-and-half served over ice. Or, try a Rocha Mocha with an almond mocha Torani syrup while you study the unique display of art courtesy of Birmingham’s Naked Art Gallery.
The Red Cat
"Coffee for everyone!" That’s the motto at the Red Cat, which has shops at Railroad Park and Pepper Place in Birmingham.The atmosphere is inviting and warm, with a friendly and attentive staff of baristas ready to serve up some tasty brew. It’s the perfect ambiance to meet up with friends or just to chill on your own.
Lattes are their signature drinks, and you can sip on exotic-sounding but smooth brews like the Russian Blue, with its bittersweet dark chocolate and caramel. Or, try another local favorite, the Havana Brown, featuring Irish Cream and hazelnut. If you’re hungry, popular choices include the Classic Pastrami and the Roast Beef Panini with fine aged cheddar.
East 59 Vintage & Café
How about a little antique shopping with your java? You’ve got it at the East 59 Vintage Café.
The café has two locations, Birmingham and Hoover, and specializes in classic drip coffee. But, this isn’t your mom’s Maxwell House. East 59 carries only locally roasted coffee by Seeds Coffee.
East 59 also has pour over coffee, a method where hot water is poured over coffee grounds through a special dripper such as a Chemex. Don’t let this method fool you. The result is a very distinctive and flavorful cup.
And you can’t leave without trying something from East 59’s food menu, which includes salads, sweets, and remarkable sandwiches like the Fifty-Niner that’s loaded with turkey, ham, cranberry relish, Havarti cheese, and fried onions.
The Coffee Cat
Here’s a twist. If you need to walk your dog, but still want to stop at a coffee house for your favorite brew, then bring your pooch to the Coffee Cat in Auburn, where dogs are allowed inside.
The Coffee Cat is a favorite of Auburn students, with its rustic charm that some call Bohemian. The Cat is famous for its signature drink, the Tweeker, made with a cold brew concentrate, milk, and brown sugar. Another local favorite is the Bourbon Caramel Latte whose name says it all.
But it’s not just coffee and delicious muffins and bagels at the Coffee Cat. Throughout the year, the cafe also hosts unique events spotlighting area artists, like the Literary Open Mic Night where the AU English Club and locals recite their poetry and short fiction.
The Bean Coffee Shop in Auburn is rightfully proud of its use of fair trade roasted beans, all of which provide incomes for people in impoverished countries and assist in funding mission and non-profit charity work.
With a warm, homey feel, the Bean serves up remarkable double shot Espresso, Cappuccino, and Latte drinks, as well as Chemex pour over coffee. Top it off with a delectable slice of homemade Mudslide Pie, cheesecake, or a what’s touted as Auburn’s "best homemade cinnamon roll."
Gabe and Lynn Holloway and Eric and Mallory Friese believed that coffee has the power to draw a community together. In 2016, that belief led them to open Soul Caffeine on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Daphne. And they were right. The shop is one of the most popular on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
To the owners, that belief in the power of coffee and community is a two-way street. They donate all tips to local nonprofits, mission work, and ministries.
So, go ahead, duck in and indulge yourself with a hot, creamy Latte, an iced Americano, or Red Velvet Latte. Not to mention delicious Frapes, Espresso, and an assortment of pastries.
Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Company
The warm and cozy atmosphere of the Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Company on Old Shell Road in Mobile welcomes you as soon as you walk through the door of the historic Victorian era home.
Since the shop first opened its doors in 1995, it’s set the standard for coffee shops in Mobile. It was the first to roast its own beans in the Port City, and the owner, Alan Tolson, has continued that tradition by bringing the first nitro coffee to town, with its rich, creamy, foamy head right out of a keg.
Find yourself a table and cozy up to a Con Panna (espresso with cream), Alpine Mocha, or the Southern favorite, Café au Lait. Or, have a seat on the wrap-around porch on a warm summer evening for a cold nitro brew or iced cappuccino. And be sure to grab a bite to eat. Locals rave about the dried tomato and spinach quiche.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.