If coffee is important to you in a biological or emotional way, then you probably have an attachment to a coffee shop. If your love/addiction runs deep, you have a go-to place in every neighborhood in town.
But what makes a coffee shop really good? The kind of good that causes you to drive out of your way for it? The kind of good where you don't mind paying $1.50 more than you would at Starbucks? I would like to propose three fundamental factors that make a coffee shop more than a caffeine pit stop.
People. This includes the owners, the employees, and customers. The owner is ultimately responsible for the quality of their shop, and if they suck or don't care then it will inevitably show downstream.
Then there is the barista, a job that is part science and part art. A good barista is technically proficient: they can pull good shots, dial in the espresso machine, and steam the milk just so for your cortado, cappuccino, or latte. On top of those skills (which take time and patience to learn), a good barista is socially proficient: they are just the right amount of friendly, are knowledgeable about their craft, and know how to manage unhappy customers with ease.
The other people consideration is the customer base itself, influenced by menu offerings, overall vibe, and location.
Physical space and related factors. Everything from location, type of building, and layout affect the overall experience. Points off if it is in a strip mall, I don't care how great everything else is.
Coffee shop layouts very greatly, but most of the great ones have a bar area that promotes interaction between the staff and customers. Music is also a crucial piece of the puzzle. A well-cultivated playlist can turn into studying into something almost enjoyable, while too much John Mayer makes me question your taste in everything from that point forward.
The beans. Let's be honest, the coffee is the main show. A coffee shop can make fancy latte art all day in the world's cutest redone historic home but if the beans are bad then that shop is all show and no heart.
Whether a shop chooses to roast their own beans or work with a separate roaster, choosing a quality bean means a more expensive cup, but also one that tastes better (that is mostly a fact and only a little opinion) and is better for the coffee grower and the environment.
The best shops integrate all three seamlessly; creating a unique experience that keeps you coming back for more. So based on this very qualitative decision making framework and in no particular order, hop over the page for Dallas' best coffee shops!
1. Cultivar. This shop was the first in Dallas to put the craft first and foremost, from roasting to preparation. One of their great strengths and weaknesses is that they share space with Good 2 Go Taco. Great coffee and breakfast tacos make for good bedfellows, but the space lacks the intimate feel of many shops in town. Good things are on the horizon though for Cultivar, as they are about to begin a direct trade program as well as open a second location in Denton this spring.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
2. Davis Street Espresso. If I had to describe Davis Street Espesso in one word, it would be simple. A stripped down menu combined with a space free of distractions (that whole no wifi thing) leaves room for old fashioned past times like conversing and thinking. Don't make the mistake of confusing simple for bad; their roasted on site coffee is some of the best in the city, not to mention their baristas are friendly and knowledgeable, making a trip to Davis Street Espresso anything but ordinary.
3. Weekend. This coffee shop is a 60-minute vacation from whatever complicated feelings you may have about our fair city. One step inside and you are transported to another, more metropolitan place. Even if you can't afford anything else at The Joule, get yourself a cappuccino, and enjoy one hour of high-end people watching. Weekend uses Victrola Coffee Roasters out of Seattle, WA, and you can't go wrong there. Bonus: best bathroom of any coffee shop in town.
4. Ascension. The baristas at Ascension have an unparalleled zeal for the craft of coffee. And they recently erased any complaints I had about them by beginning to bring in beans from a variety of small, quality roasting companies from around the US and Canada. The space maximizes the use of natural light; making it made for sunny and cloudy days a like. Though on a sunny day you might be more inclined to sit on the patio with a beer, but who could blame you.
5. Mudsmith. The service at Mudsmith is a little spotty. They use Avoca Coffee out of Ft. Worth for their beans and that is a good start, but depending on who makes your drink and how much sleep they had the night before the service quality could range anywhere from amazing to please do everyone a favor and go back to bed. I point this out mostly because everything else about Mudsmith makes up for the spotty service. It is my favorite place to go when I know I'm going to stay for a while. I love their long bar space, they play great music, and the people watching is out of this world good. If you decide to stay for a while, too, I recommend following your coffee up with a beer.