Blink and you may miss it, blink twice and you won’t know it existed. Some of the best coffee in New Orleans is tucked inside a Jewish deli, occupying a space smaller than your bedroom.
Whatever Coffee has quietly developed a reputation for themselves and that’s exactly how they’ve planned it. The shop opened on September 7, 2018, as an owner-operated coffee bar in the corner of Stein's Deli, in the heart of bustling Magazine Street. Stein’s has already been the launchpad for another staple espresso bar in town: Cherry Coffee Roasters, now with two standalone locations. Whatever founders Sarah Lambeth and Charles Hilton stepped into the opportunity, but their journey started many years prior, Hilton as a barista and technician about town (you can still catch him picking up a shift at Sólo Espresso bar in the Bywater) and Lambeth as an experienced roaster and Q grader with her own label, Pretty Coffee Roasting. She supplies the majority of the coffee for Whatever, and both of them have appeared on Brewers Cup and Cup Tasters competition stages over the last several years, including consecutive appearances for Lambeth at Cup Tasters nationals.
That distinctive name—”Whatever Coffee”—came about as a matter of expedience. Unable to decide (and receive deli approval) from a list of around 80 names, the duo eventually began to file paperwork under the name “Whatever.” It stuck, accurately encapsulating the brand's demeanor on Instagram, where they post pictures of dogs in purses, type in all caps, and snap photos of any other shenanigans. They don’t have an official time they close. During the week they close at “1ish” and weekends at “2ish”. If it’s a busy day they will stay open later.
Their menu features a standard battery of espresso-based milk drinks and filtered coffees. One of the most notable aspects is the way they pull shots of espresso. Over the years, shots of espresso have gotten larger, but Whatever takes it even further. They yield 50+ grams on a 19-20-gram dose. Extraction time fluctuates between 18 to 30 seconds. Pulling shots this large has its perks, according to Lambeth and Hilton. Soft floral notes are given more clarity. It's arguably the best thing they serve, and the simplest.
Stein's Deli offers no outlets for laptops, nor does Whatever have any seating other than that which the deli shares with them. People here spend more time conversing than typing or scrolling, and Lambeth and Hilton have come to view their regulars as friends. In a city with so much history, whose identity is at times hard to grasp due to change—tourism, AirBnB, life post-Katrina—the vibe and context of Whatever Coffee feels enormously refreshing and important. But also chill. No big deal. Ask them about their secret tea menu, visit here as a tourist, or move to New Orleans and make this place your daily. Whatever.
Chandler Stobbs is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans. This is Chandler Stobbs first feature for Sprudge.