In the food-and-beverage world, Tampa, Florida has been largely overlooked (except to acknowledge the city's strength in the scachatta game). But while everyone has been focused on bigger cities, Tampa's quietly growing coffee scene has the city on the verge of a coffee boom. Commune + Co. owner Joel Davis (whose coffee trikes were previously profiled on Sprudge) believes the increasing number of shops will lead to more reliable and better “quality, attention to detail, [and] sourcing.”
Among the local developments: Local roaster King State Coffee is planning to open in the Ybor City neighborhood, near where Commune + Co. is currently building out its first brick-and-mortar, to be called Union by Commune + Co. As the coffee scene in Tampa (and neighboring city St. Petersburg) continues to expand, it's a good time to round up the shops already bringing great coffee to central Florida.
In many ways, Buddy Brew was the first true specialty shop in Tampa. Several of the baristas currently opening shops around Tampa got their start at this microroastery. Buddy's three Tampa shops (with an additional one in Sarasota) all have large, colorful murals and quirky, industrial-style light fixtures keep the shops bright. The original location on Kennedy still houses the roastery and is always bustling with people starting their days and meeting with friends. You'll also want to check out Buddy Brew in the beautiful Oxford Exchange, which, besides housing Buddy’s full espresso bar, also sells books, eyewear, and other home goods. With three centrally located bars around Tampa (plus a brew truck), Buddy Brew is probably one of the easiest places to grab a cup of coffee as you enjoy Tampa.
The Lab Coffee
Located in the transitional neighborhood of North Hyde Park, The Lab Coffee began as a collaborative roastery from Zeal Coffee Roasters and Blind Tiger Cafe, the first such setup in Florida. The two companies installed an espresso machine and opened The Lab's doors to customers in spring 2016, all while continuing to roast and offering training programs to beginner roasters, local baristas, and interested home brewers. As is often true of coffee shops, The Lab is one of the first food/retail businesses to open near North Hyde Park's new apartment communities, as the neighborhood is undergoing revitalization. The Lab is ideally positioned to help set the tone for how the neighborhood develops.
The Lab has a sort of grungy feel; the front door is an actual garage door that rolls up and down, while the interior concrete floors are offset by a beautiful Simonelli Appia II Volumetric and bar seating where you can talk to the baristas. Everything is done in simple black, white, and chrome, placing the focus squarely on the drinks. All of the coffee served at The Lab is from Zeal (Blind Tiger’s coffee is served exclusively in their shops in Ybor City and Seminole Heights). Zeal owner Peter Davidson also hopes to secure a standalone retail space for Zeal in Tampa in the next year.
Commune + Co.
Joel Davis’s impressive coffee trikes have been a particularly fun facet of Tampa coffee culture since 2014. Combining tools and practices from the beer, wine, and coffee industries, Davis has crafted a pressure brew that is served cold or over ice, but it is not actually a cold brew. The drink has become a popular choice in hot and humid Tampa: the pressure brew is served in several locations across the city, and Davis and his team frequently set up semipermanent pop-ups around Tampa. Commune + Co. recently moved into a larger production facility (shared with local brewery Hidden Springs Ale Works), allowing the team to more than double its production.
The aforementioned Union by Commune + Co. should be open within the next year—a small space within The Heights Market at Armature Works. The new cafe will be an extension of Davis’s belief that the best things in life are shared. There are also plans to add two more pressure-brew trikes, one to serve St. Petersburg and another that will be available for events.
Bandit Coffee Co.
This on-trend cafe in the heart of artsy St. Petersburg is the new shop on the block. The owners fell in love with coffee while traveling in the US working in other fields. Their philosophy—people first, coffee second—is reflected in the wide-open space and the friendly faces of the baristas. And don’t hesitate over the fact that coffee comes second—Bandit Coffee Co. reliably serves a great cup, and well represents the roasters served (at publication, Bandit is brewing King State and Passenger Coffee). In fact, if you look around Bandit some afternoons you might recognize baristas from other cafes ordering drinks and talking coffee—probably the biggest compliment a shop can receive.
The shop sports a winsome white-and-matte-black Slayer espresso machine and several Yama towers for cold brew. There are pastries and sweets if you need a snack, but the focus is on the coffee and community. While technically not in Tampa, Bandit is worth a drive across the bridge, and it's on the way to all the good beaches, anyway.
Foundation Coffee Co.
Located a bit south of Tampa in Riverview, Foundation Coffee Co.‘s space is probably the most original of all the shops currently in the Tampa area: coffee from multiple roasters, including Sweet Bloom and Novel, is served out of what must be the smallest full espresso bar in the Tampa area, set within an unassuming black trailer in an intriguing oasis-in-the-desert setting. Foundation is tucked away a few miles off Interstate 75; a large tree shades an enormous patio full of comfortable seating. For cooler nights there’s a fire pit to congregate around. People lounge outdoors and enjoy coffee on this patio throughout the year, and for those who flinch at the idea of hot coffee in the muggy Florida summer, Foundation also serves Commune + Co.’s pressure brew.
Just over a year old, Foundation has seen such success with their coffee, community, and outdoors concept that another location opened last August, this time in Tampa proper. This one has the luxury of being indoors, but still boasts a large patio for customers to enjoy.
“The great thing about Tampa’s coffee scene is it’s only growing,” says Josh Weaver of Bandit Coffee Company. He’s right—the scene is powered largely by young people taking risks and finding a supportive community. If this kind of progress (both in number of shops and quality of coffee) continues, Tampa could become America's next great coffee city.