Cincinnati may not be the first city that you think of when you think of a destination coffee city. That honor might go to Berlin, Melbourne, or Portland, Oregon, and with good reason. But as one of the fastest-growing cities in the midwestern United States, Cincinnati has increasingly more and more to offer to the specialty coffee lover. The city also has a strong history in beer brewing, and in recent years, new craft breweries like Rhinegeist and Madtree have led the charge to put Cincinnati on the map in the world of craft beer. This has opened up a market for other craft beverages, and the coffee scene here has also grown a great deal in the past decade. Where there once were only a couple of local roasting companies, more and more are popping up each year, and the number of cafes serving acclaimed roasters from around the country is also growing. From excellent roasting companies to highly curated multi-roaster cafes, each of these businesses brings something unique to Cincinnati’s coffee scene.
When talking about Cincinnati, it’s hard not to begin with Deeper Roots. In the seven years they’ve been roasting coffee, Deeper Roots has done more to convert the coffee drinkers of Cincinnati than any other single company. Though it began as a wholesale roasting operation and still supplies many cafes and businesses around Cincinnati, Deeper Roots now has two cafes of its own. The first is in the Oakley neighborhood, and the second cafe, their most recent, is located across the street from Cincinnati’s historic Findlay Market (featured here in Sprudge). This location is unique in that customers can sit on the same side of the bar as the baristas and be up close and personal for every step of their coffee’s preparation. In order to help showcase their brewing process, Deeper Roots is using a La Marzocco GB5 customized by the wizards at Pantechnicon Design, a selection of grinders from Mahlkönig and Anfim, and an absolutely beautiful Modbar pour-over setup, also customized by Pantechnicon. Deeper Roots places a strong emphasis on community and education, and this cafe is an excellent venue for ensuring that customers are invited into a conversation and an experience.
Rohs Street Cafe
Rohs Street is the original specialty coffee shop in Cincinnati. Located in the city’s Clifton Heights neighborhood, this cafe serves the University of Cincinnati’s student body every day of the week but Sunday. The large cafe space is shared with the church next door, and it's been used to host live music, open mic nights, and other events for the local area. Rohs Street puts the local community first, but that doesn’t mean its coffee is an afterthought. They serve Deeper Roots as their house roaster and over the years have featured a number of excellent guests, including Vancouver’s 49th Parallel, Columbus’s Mission Coffee, and Wilmington, Delaware’s Brandywine Coffee Roasters. The bar setup is anchored by a well-loved La Marzocco GB5 and a fleet of Mahlkönig grinders. Rohs Street is cozy and inviting, and hanging over the bar is a “Filter Coffee Not People” poster from Department of Brewology. It’s easy to see why this cafe is a favorite of Clifton locals and the student population alike.
When Collective Espresso opened in 2012, it was immediately clear that the shop owners were up to something special. In their small space on a side street in Over the Rhine, co-owners Dustin Miller and Dave Hart were quietly brewing up some of the best coffees around the country. The menu is anchored by house coffees from Quills Coffee Roasters in Louisville, and they have an extensive guest roaster program that’s featured many nationally renowned companies, including Hex, Kuma, Madcap, Sweet Bloom, and more. The bar setup is simple but effective: a two-group La Marzocco Strada MP, a pair of Mazzer Major espresso grinders, and a Mahlkönig EKK43. Collective also operates a second location that’s even smaller than the first in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood. It’s hidden down an alleyway strung with lights and features a beautiful courtyard. Though Collective’s cafes are small, they have a huge presence in the local coffee scene, and it’s common to find the bar seating full of local baristas on their days off, drinking espresso and catching up. It’s worth trying their pastries too—the owners of Collective own Mainwood Pastry, a baking company that supplies many of the cafes on this list along with their own cafes.
Carabello Coffee started out with little more than a popcorn popper, a few pounds of green beans, and a dream to help support struggling communities in coffee-producing countries. 10 years later, the company has grown to a large cafe and roasting space just across the river from Cincinnati in Newport, KY. Carabello also has a strong network of wholesale accounts spread around both sides of the Ohio River and beyond. A couple of years ago, Carabello opened the Analog bar, a second bar space within its cafe.
Though it only has six bar stools, Analog is well equipped with a Synesso MVP Hydra espresso machine, a pair of Mahlkönig K30 grinders, an EK43, and a bevy of manual brewing equipment. It serves a different coffee menu than the main bar at Carabello, with a focus on monthly selections of signature drinks and single-origin coffees. In the short time it has been open, Analog has already gained a reputation for excellence. That space also hosts bar takeovers from local and out of town roasters as well as coffee training courses both for Carabello’s many wholesale accounts and the general public.
Though Cincinnati is an eclectic city, it’s still surprising to see a baby blue three-wheeled truck serving coffee, but that’s exactly where Urbana Cafe began. After working for years in the corporate world, owner Daniel Noguera decided to strike out on his own and devote his life to serving Italian-style espresso off the back of a Piaggio Ape. He began at Findlay Market, and all his coffee is still roasted at their stall in the market on a Diedrich roaster. Though his trucks still roam the city and serve at various events and markets, Noguera has also opened two cafes under the Urbana name. The first, in Pendleton, is a beautiful two-story space that’s a favorite of freelancers and people looking to meet for coffee outside the hubbub of downtown. The second opened last year in East Walnut Hills, a neighborhood just north of downtown. This cafe is smaller and has a more intimate approach. Noguera chose to eschew Wi-fi in favor of a turntable and a crate of records. He hopes for the space to be a hub for the community, where people come to have engaged conversation rather than simply surf the net.
Landlocked Social House
Landlocked Social House is the most recent addition to the Cincy scene on this list, though they already seem like a pillar of the coffee community. Landlocked was started by two transplants from Dayton, Ohio who set out to create an all-day spot in between Clifton Heights and East Walnut Hills. In the morning, Landlocked serves coffee from Wood Burl Coffee in Dayton, Ohio from a signature yellow La Marzocco Linea Classic. Landlocked also offers incredible breakfast sandwiches alongside pastries from Mainwood, mentioned above. In the evenings, the cafe serves an extensive menu of beers from small craft breweries from Ohio and elsewhere. They pride themselves on serving a menu that you can’t find elsewhere with a particular focus on wilder ferments. Each Monday, they have a food pop-up with a local chef, and they regularly host events both for baristas and the community at large, including a latte art throw down for womyn and non-binary individuals on Galentine’s Day.
Alex Evans is a freelance writer and coffee professional based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read more Alex Evans for Sprudge.