Ed: For even more #SXSW coffee madness, check out: I Went To SXSW For The Coffee Pop-Ups
You’re all set for South by Southwest—you’ve meticulously pored over your Pitchforks, your Brooklyn Vegans, and your A.V. Clubs like a monk transcribing sacred texts, you’ve booked your ridiculously expensive Airbnb, and most importantly, you’ve packed your Aeropress and Porlex hand grinder. You’re ready to go toe-to-toe with Austin, Texas, the long-heralded “live music capital of the world.” But one cannot live on beer and tacos alone. You are going to need coffee, and that Aeropress won’t always be handy.
You’re in luck though, because Austin is a city chock-full of cafes–though, much like some of the 8 million bands about to play the city, they are not all created equal. To help you start navigating the murky waters (like, Lady Bird Lake murky) of where to find great coffee in the ATX, we’ve put together this not-so-comprehensive guide to some of the city’s best shops–ask your friendly baristas for more suggestions, and don’t forget to tip them extra-well as they deal with the SXSW crush.
North Store: 4200 N Lamar Blvd Ste 120, Austin, Tx 78756
Downtown: 401 Congress Ave Ste 100c, Austin, Tx 78701
One of the torchbearers in Austin’s specialty coffee scene, Houndstooth is about as close to the Platonic ideal of a coffee shop as it gets. There are two locations in Austin, both meticulously designed and housing the sexiest espresso machines in the city (although Wright Bros Brew & Brew makes a compelling counterargument); the downtown location in the Frost Bank building is home to a 3-group Kees van der Westen Spirit, and the 42nd Street location has a wood-paneled 3 group La Marzocco Mistral. The baristas, clad in dark denim aprons, are all top notch. Many were behind the counter when the first shop opened a few years ago, an indicator both of their excellence and the shops’ commitment to community.
Houndstooth’s multi-roaster coffee program is anchored by Tweed Coffee, the roastery they recently founded under the Houndstooth umbrella, with guests like Madcap, PT’s, Coava, and Counter Culture cycling through regularly for both espresso and filter. For your non-coffee friends (alas, we all have them), Houndstooth carries a selection of beers from some of Austin’s finest craft breweries. During SXSW, the Frost Bank location will stay open until 10pm, and they will have a coffee cart on their patio facing Congress Ave.
Once Over Coffee Bar
Address: 2009 S. 1st St, Austin, Tx 78704
If you’re couch-surfing somewhere on the South side or if you crave that “real Austin” vibe, Once Over is your jam: a laid-back atmosphere, good coffee, and lots of tattoos and jean shorts. They have a gorgeous back patio overlooking Bouldin Creek that serves as a much-needed respite from the aural barrage that is SXSW. The service can be a little bizarre at times, but this is Austin, isn’t that why you’re here? The product, however, is always first-rate. They primarily use Dead Fingers, a custom blend from Austin’s Cuvée Coffee Roasters, but Counter Culture (and whatever their loyal regulars have procured for them during their trips) will make an appearance in the French press from time to time. Like Houndstooth, Once Over has a nice selection of local beers for any non-coffee tag-a-longs. Bonus Austin points for grabbing a bite to eat from El Primo Taco Trailer out front. It’s a decision you won’t soon regret.
Address: 407 Colorado St, Austin, Tx 78701
This place is awesome, there’s no two ways about it. If their very well-prepared selection of top US coffee roasters isn’t enough to get you in the door, then their food most certainly will be. Frank was one of the first shops in Austin (and some might say the US) to pair well-done coffee with thoughtful, inventive fare. Beyond their artisan sausages made in-house, Frank has a full menu of amazing things, like the Mini Chicken & Waffles Sammich on their a.m. menu and their rabbit, antelope and pork Jackalope Sausage on their late night menu. They also have a full bar with a strong cocktail list.
But this is really about the coffee, and Frank’s coffee arsenal is just as robust as the food and drink menus. They regularly offer roasts from small, harder to find roasters like Heart, Gaslight, Halfwit, Handsome and Ugly Mug. They always have two espressos to choose from and up to eight single origins on offer via Hario v60. There really is no reason to ever leave this place–what was that South By something or other I was supposed to be doing?
Flat Track Coffee
Address: 931 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, Tx 78702
On the back corner of the San Marcos Street side of East Austin’s Farewell Bookstore–a new bookstore, vintage clothing store, gallery space, tailor workshop, and curio emporium in the old Domy Books space–sits the entrance to a small café. The space is tiny (only about 100 square feet) and the seating minimal, but this store front for Flat Track Coffee, one of Austin’s newer micro-roasters, produces some big-time coffee. The build-out is simple but striking; a slate wall with the Flat Track logo is juxtaposed with two white walls hung with rotating art and warm Edison bulbs. The few accents come in the form of dark wood counters that punctuate the space.
The coffee program is equally austere and tasteful, only serving single origin espresso beverages and cold brew coffee. With just a matte-black 2 group La Marzocco GB5 and a set of Mazzer and Mahlkönig grinders on the bar, Flat Track is an exercise in functionality. They illustrate the simple joy of a really well-prepared drink; it’s the sort of shop that just takes a step back and lets the coffee do all the talking. Anyone staying on the East side would be well served to stop in and enjoy a quiet cup before heading into the mayhem across I-35.
Downtown: 200 Congress Ave #2B, Austin, Tx 78701
UT Campus: 2222B Guadalupe St, Austin, Tx 78705
Original Store: 1101 West Lynn, Austin, Tx 78703
Before Caffé Medici opened their first shop back in 2006, the specialty coffee scene in Austin was little more than sound and fury; there were tons of shops with great atmospheres, but few had yet put a premium on coffee quality. Caffé Medici was one of the first places to change that, and their quality approach has won them legions of fans. They now have three locations around Austin, with the jewel in the Medici crown, the Congress Ave. shop, standing out as one of the most beautifully designed spaces in the city.
The Guadalupe location across from The University of Texas campus has undergone a pretty incredible transformation as well, as anyone who remembers how the space looked as Metro will tell you. Like Once Over with their Dead Fingers blend, Caffé Medici has a signature blend from Cuvee Coffee Roasters called Espresso Medici that serves as their primary roast. They also offer a number of Cuvee’s single origins as brewed coffee via French press. During SXSW, the Congress Ave. location will keep longer hours, staying open until midnight every night.
Wright Bros. Brew & Brew
Address: 500 San Marcos St, Austin, Tx 78702
One of the newest coffee spots in Austin is Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, and they brought some serious machinery with them: the seductively minimal Modbar espresso system. They are pulling shots from local favorites Flat Track Coffee as well as expanding Austin’s already rich selection of coffee roasters by offering Sightglass, De La Paz, Ceremony, and Bows & Arrows. While they normally do most of their coffee brewing manually via Aeropress (and are soon to introduce the Hario v60 into the repertoire), Wright Bros. will be scaling back the operation during SXSW and only batch brewing through a Fetco.
Like Dichotomy, its Modbar brethren 100 miles up the street in Waco, TX, Wright Bros. has matched specialty coffee with alcohol, this time in the form of 39 rotating taps of craft beers from across the country. This combination, along with the relaxed atmosphere, makes for a really great hang-out spot or an excellent nightcap when you need to step away from the SXSW-fueled and already rambunctious Austin nightlife. For SXSW, Wright Bros. will have a barista on staff every night until 11pm, some nights until 2am, along with a number of smaller acoustic music performances.
Tip from a local: Order a Brew & Brew. It’s an off-menu pairing of a cortado with one of the current dark beer offerings.
Zac Cadwalader is the creator of Dallas Coffee Collective, and has worked previously for Beckett Media. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
All photos by Alex Bernson for Sprudge.com (unless credited otherwise).
Top image smurfed from http://sxsw.com/press.