Barbecue joints, honky-tonks, and line dancing often come to mind when thinking of Nashville, but that’s changing. The past five years have seen unprecedented growth. What was once a sleepy town with an electric center is becoming a bustling cityscape, complete with a rising downtown skyline and standstill freeways. Bachelorette parties may now be rivaling country music for our main draw, but the cultural shift has also brought a formidable coffee scene to Music City.
Coffee shops have quickly become popular places to escape shrieking car horns and brake dust. With discerning palates rising in the greater population, Nashville cafes see an increased willingness by the customer to give their barista time to complete a pour-over or assemble an intricate seasonal drink. This has allowed shops to devote attention to drink quality and overall atmosphere.
The following is a list of some of Nashville's most noteworthy coffee shops, places which provide a menu and an experience unique and carefully tailored to their space. These shops span the length of the city, bringing solid coffee options to a variety of neighborhoods. No matter where you find yourself, a good cup is nearby.
Stay Golden Restaurant & Roastery
Stay Golden Restaurant & Roastery may have opened as recently as August, but its roots in the Nashville coffee scene run deep. Co-founders Jamie Cunningham, Sean Stewart, and Nathanael Mehrens also helped bring another Nashville staple, Steadfast Coffee, to life.
The marble coffee counter greets you as you walk in the door. It leads around the corner to eight stools along the bar with hi-top tables and booths behind. A balcony looms above with more seating. The robin's-egg-blue accents on the white walls match a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine, which sits next to two Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinders.
Their own Chin Up Blend is a nice mix of Peruvian and Guatemalan beans, which comes through both mellow and sweet in a cappuccino. However, the specialty drinks alone are worth a visit. The team behind Matchless Coffee Soda brings its creativity to a host of “augmented drinks.” These include the Calypso, which is a mix of flash-chilled coffee, falernum, aromatic cream, and pineapple dust, and is downright delicious. The Coffee Mint Julep is a coffee cocktail made with frozen coffee crushed to order with a hammer, brandy, demerara sugar, and is garnished with mint. Each drink is thoughtfully prepped, constructed, and presented—making Stay Golden worth the fanfare.
Sump Coffee became a destination for serious coffee drinkers as soon as it opened the doors to its Nashville location in late 2017. The company’s St. Louis location and roastery had already drawn nationwide praise for its attention to detail and flavor profiling.
Sump Nashville is spacious. High ceilings and tall windows blur the lines between the concrete floor of the space and the green field just beyond the patio seating. A couch and coffee table made of reclaimed wood anchors the center of the inside seating area, rounded out with small tables and a few stools along the bar.
Their roasts lean toward the lighter side of the spectrum, to the point of occasionally being referred to as “sushi coffee.” This allows for the skill of the barista and the quality of the coffee bean to show through. We recently sat down with owner Scott Carey to discuss Sump's first year here, and the lessons Nashville has taught him.
Crema Coffee Roasters
Crema Coffee Roasters sits just beyond screaming distance of downtown Nashville’s famed Broadway Street. The wooden patio out front affords a beautiful view of the Korean Veterans Bridge spanning the Cumberland River.
Inside, you’ll find the counter to your right, a plethora of seating to your left, and the roasting room just beyond. The décor is subtle, with one wall covered in portraits and the opposite housing retail items. The customer’s attention is mostly drawn to gaze out at the beautiful view beyond the patio, through large windows which span an entire wall.
A La Marzocco Linea PB sits atop the counter. The Yachi Kachise espresso from Ethiopia is as smooth as it is sweet. The serving tray is perfectly cut to fit the saucer, demitasse spoon, and glass for sparkling water. The presentation is as deliberate and precise as the coffee.
Crema is the oldest shop on our list and is often credited as the first shop in town to bring a higher level of intentionality to coffee service here in Nashville. A visit, if for no other reason than to show respect, is necessary.
The original Barista Parlor (there are now five locations) opened in 2012 in the heart of East Nashville. The repurposed transmission shop is marked with a giant anchor over the garage doors where large, illuminated letters spell the cafe’s name.
Inside, you’ll find giant slabs of reclaimed wood acting as tabletops, and hi-top tables mounted along the walls. Swinging Edison bulbs provide light even when the weather allows the garage doors to be raised.
Barista Parlor's coffee is roasted at their Golden Sound location, which leaves room here for motorcycles to line the front and a full kitchen hidden behind a half-wall toward the back. Dual wooden countertops in the center of the cafe allow the customer to watch every move as the baristas navigate their stations. A Slayer Espresso V3 sits on one side with two Mazzer Luigi grinders. The opposite counter houses the pour-over station, a FETCO urn, and five Yama cold brew towers. A high standard for drink quality has gained nationwide attention and necessitates a visit when in town.
Disclosure: my workplace, Drug Store Coffee, is affiliated with Barista Parlor.
Retrograde Coffee is tucked away in the back of the Cleveland Park neighborhood. The empty lot across the street and adjacent auto shops are shadowed by a future condo building, which perfectly symbolizes the direction of the neighborhood.
The shop itself stands out with a vibrant mural facing south. Inside, white walls are accented with dark green to match the cafe's La Marzocco GB5. A FETCO XTS batch brewer sits beneath shelves of retail and bags of coffee. A white marble countertop separates the baristas from the ample sitting space, where music plays softly over two large, white speakers.
Retrograde is the only multi-roaster on the list, employing Onyx Coffee from Fayetteville, Arkansas for espresso. Quills Coffee from Louisville and Brash Coffee from Atlanta currently hold down the pour-over offerings.
The Kenya Gachata OT-8 espresso from Onyx is smooth and served with crushed dark chocolate and sparkling water on a wooden tray. The Equinox is an espresso-based drink with honey and sweet potato marshmallow and is delightfully balanced.
Josh Rank is a freelance contributor based in Nashville. Read more Josh Rank for Sprudge.