A true giant of America’s manufacturing past, the city of Buffalo is, like so many other post-industrial cities, coming back into its own after some tough times. After its boom period in the late 19th and early 20th century, when its proximity to Lake Erie and the hydroelectric power of Niagara Falls made it a commercial and industrial hub, the city suffered in the depths of the Great Depression. The flight of manufacturing jobs in the latter part of the 20th century caused a population fall of over 50%, a downturn that the city has only recently begun to recover from. And of course, there are the winters.
Modern Buffalo, like other formerly industrial cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, is embracing its past as it looks to the future: new businesses are occupying old buildings, a cutting-edge medical campus is attracting students from all over, and most importantly the coffee scene, once a relative wasteland, is surging.
There are still the old favorites like SPoT Coffee whose Buffalo location, after much upheaval, recently became one of only a few unionized coffee shops in the country. But around them a new and eclectic breed of cafes is starting to populate the city, each putting their own spin on Buffalo’s distinctive spirit.
As with all major cities, it’s impossible to list every coffee shop, but here are five of Buffalo’s best to get you started.
Situating fancy coffee shops within hotels is a growing (and sensible) trend. Hotels have notoriously bad coffee, so it makes sense to hand over the reins to people who know what they’re doing. The gang at Public Espresso knows their stuff and, unlike many hotel coffee collaborations, this isn’t a mere lobby kiosk or tacked-on afterthought: their flagship location is a full-scale cafe and bakery within the historic Lafayette Hotel in downtown Buffalo.
The cafe, big and airy, makes good use of the hotel’s elegant architectural lines. It boasts a Bellwether emissionless coffee roaster in one corner, providing the coffee that goes with the real star of the show here: the donuts. A full kitchen/bakery behind the bar provides an inventive and ever-changing lineup of donuts (think flavors like vegan “cocoa crispy dipped” and Earl Grey lemon), crullers, and other baked goods in addition to an all-day breakfast and lunch menu. The huge bar area features a three group Slayer espresso machine, Mahlkönig PEAK and EK43 grinders, and Hario V60 drippers for manual brew.
In addition to its hotel home, Public recently opened a second location in the Shea’s Seneca redevelopment in South Buffalo and also continues to pay homage to its itinerant roots by popping up at farmers markets, weddings, and other events around the city.
On Buffalo’s north side, in a neighborhood abutting the huge Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Caffeology is a community coffee shop in the truest sense. Owner Hamada Saleh blends the old with the new, offering a welcoming space replete with hand-written menus alongside a decidedly diverse approach to coffee. Seven different brew methods are available, from siphon to Turkish coffee, and Caffeology also boasts several specialty lattes—Buffalo Truffle, anyone?—to tempt those looking for something sweeter.
The cafe space, with its warm lighting, burlap-covered stools, and eclectic decor, is inviting and comfortable in a way that many modern coffee shops are not. Espresso is brewed on a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II, and alongside the array of manual brewing equipment is FETCO batch-brewed coffee to keep the medical students happy as they make their way to and from campus.
For such a small shop, Caffeology also features a substantial food menu—an oft-rotating range of hearty soups, bagels, sandwiches, and baked goods complements the coffee selection and encourages customers to linger.
Having started as a wholesale roasting company a few years ago, Overwinter Coffee owners Ben Trojan and Joshua Halliman opened their bricks and mortar store in 2018 and are already planning an expansion. Their 375-square-foot cafe on Genesee Street in downtown has room for just a few seats (coffee is, understandably, roasted off-site) but takes advantage of the foot traffic from nearby offices. The cafe, while small, is warm and welcoming on a cold winter’s day—the window seats are a particularly coveted spot to watch the city go by.
Espresso drinks are prepared on a La Marzocco GB5, with support from Mazzer Super Jolly and Robur grinders. Bee House drippers take care of manual brew and a Marco Jet6 Twin brewer serves up batch drip coffee, while food options are provided by local companies—pastries by Fairy Cakes Cupcakery and biscottis by Biscotti For Everybotti.
For those looking forward to the shop’s next location, Overwinter’s second cafe will open in the spring in Elmwood Village, allowing for more seating and, alongside their wholesale roasting business, an expanded presence in the Buffalo coffee scene.
Inspired by the all-day cafes of Paris, Remedy House keeps everybody happy by serving coffee all day and cocktails all night—a customer could conceivably enjoy their morning coffee and end up staying until last orders.
Occupying a unique wedge-shaped building at the confluence of Rhode Island and West Utica Streets, Remedy House has become a favorite in the Five Points neighborhood since opening in 2017. The space is small, but with high ceilings and windows running along two sides it feels much larger. Continuing the Parisian cafe theme, occupancy is boosted in warmer months by abundant sidewalk seating under brightly colored awnings.
Remedy House serves coffee from Toronto-based Propeller Coffee Company and occasional guests, with espresso brewed on a La Marzocco Strada and ground on a Mahlkönig K30 Twin. There’s batch brew too, and manual brewing via AeroPress and Hario V60. An extensive, all-day food menu is also on offer, with seasonally rotating items ranging from breakfast sandwiches to soups and cheese boards. A thoughtfully curated alcohol menu rounds things out, with natural wines and local breweries taking pride of place alongside creative cocktails.
Located in a former grocery store in a residential part of Buffalo’s West Side, Tipico Coffee epitomizes the neighborhood cafe. Founded in 2015 by Intelligentsia and Gimme! Coffee alumnus Jesse Crouse, Tipico boasts what is believed to be North America’s largest kachelofen, a built-in masonry heater, running along one wall. Its intricate decoration makes it a focal point for the cafe, and its use as a bench makes it perfect for those freezing Buffalo winter mornings.
The rest of the interior has a lot to live up to and goes for the classic coffee shop style of exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and big windows (these open in summer to let the space meld with the outdoors).
Tipico’s coffee is roasted a few blocks away on a Diedrich IR-12 and brewed via a La Marzocco Linea EE for espresso, FETCO for batch brew, and Kalita Wave for pour-over. Also on tap are two cold brew options: classic and coco (that would be lightly sweetened cold brew and house-made coconut milk). For those who like something to eat alongside their beverage, a sturdy selection of toasts and sandwiches balance out the coffee offerings. Adding to the theme, Tipico plans to open a second location in the spring which, like Overwinter’s new space, will be in Elmwood Village.
From the look of things, Buffalo’s coffee future is in good hands.
Fionn Pooler is a journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the publisher of The Pourover. Read more Fionn Pooler on Sprudge.