While a port city in Northern Minnesota might seem like an unlikely destination for great coffee, Duluth, Minnesota is the home to many exciting specialty coffee shops. Duluth is both the busiest, and farthest inland, freshwater port in the United States, giving the city has a large shipping and industrial economy. Duluth is also home to a large university, many healthcare facilities, and is a regional tourist destination. People visit to swim, hike the nearby Superior Hiking Trail, ski, bike, or even surf on Lake Superior itself.
Coffee is part of the city’s history; it has been imported to and roasted in Duluth since at least 1916. While some of those old school coffee roasters are still around, recently third wave cafes and roasters have popped up, bringing specialty coffee to the city. Nowadays, Duluth’s thriving coffee scene might be a product of cold weather, coffee-loving Scandinavians, and caffeine-dependent college students, or as local beer brewers might tell you, “It’s in the water.” Thanks in part to Lake Superior’s famously clean and low TDS water, brewers have an ideal starting point, both beer and coffee.
Duluth Coffee Company
If you ask any Duluth native where to get coffee they are almost sure to mention Duluth Coffee Company. Eric Faust, the owner of Duluth Coffee Company, got his start roasting coffee in his garage for local restaurants and farmers markets. In 2012, he opened a cafe and roastery that has steadily expanded over the years, eventually occupying two storefronts in the same building. From simple beginnings, the company has grown into a large operation with multiple roasters and longstanding relationships with coffee growers.
In addition to their cafe and roasting business, Duluth Coffee Company participates in coffee education at local conferences, is known to throw latte art competitions, and has even dipped into the craft cocktail market in the past.
The Duluth Coffee Company cafe is located in downtown Duluth and draws both locals and visitors from nearby Canal Park, the city’s most tourist-heavy area. Inside, it is small and often busy, more suited to take out than long conversations. As long as it’s warm out this shouldn’t be an issue as the cafe has sunny outdoor tables and is close by the beautiful Duluth Lake Walk.
At Duluth Coffee Company the focus is clearly on single origin offerings, and in fact, they offer just one blend: Zenith City Espresso. The menu features two rotating options for both espresso and batch brew alongside many retail coffee bags and a selection of brewing equipment from Hario. A 12kg US Roaster Corp. roaster is the centerpiece of the space, while on the bar you will find a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine, two Mahlkönig espresso grinders, and a Puqpress Q2 tamper.
Amity Coffee is the quintessential neighborhood coffee spot, the one everyone probably wishes was at the end of their block. Amity opened in 2014 in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood on the east side of the city. Rather than roasting themselves, Amity Coffee highlights local roasters, offering selections from companies like Duluth Coffee Roasters, Underwood Coffee, and Fika Coffee. While they don’t roast coffee, Amity does bake in-house and has a wide variety of sweet and savory baked goods available.
The shop is small and cozy with a limited amount of indoor and outdoor seating. They are open later than other cafes in the area and recently became the first shop in their neighborhood to sell beer and wine, overturning a 126-year-old law that forbade alcohol sales in Lester Park. Amity really has the feel of a community space partly due to their less central location. Adding to this atmosphere is their calendar of community events; they host both trivia nights and local musicians. Music is an important part of the cafe, and even if you aren’t there for a show, a record player and large collection of vinyl guarantees there’s always something playing.
Dream Cloud Coffee Roasters
Dream Cloud Coffee Roasters certainly lives up to its name. The combination of neon signs, pastel walls, flowers, and close-up photos of mushrooms that line the walls make it feel almost like stepping into another world.
This cafe and roastery opened in May of 2022 in downtown Duluth, but the owners say they’ve been planning and working on the concept throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Their planning shows in the carefully curated space full of unique touches like handmade ceramics for serving drinks, a carefully designed bar, and unique retail coffee packaging. The cozy interior makes this a good place to sit down and enjoy your drink with friends ,and the whole space feels more geared towards hanging out than grabbing a quick drink to go. They also have a space for musicians to play and a collection of books to read while visiting.
Dream Cloud roasts on a three-kilogram roaster in their cafe. They currently only serve single origin coffees, pulling espresso on a La Marzocco Linea Classic and using Mazzer grinders. The menu is extensive with classic coffee drinks, pour-over options, a large seasonal menu, some bakery items, and various teas from Duluth’s Hillside Tea.
While the other shops on this list are more closely focused on coffee, Dovetail Cafe is also a great stop for food as they feature hot meals, beer, and a large amount of seating. It can be a busy place, especially during breakfast or lunch, with a wide array of customers eating, working, or meeting friends.
Dovetail is located in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood on Superior Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. They share a building with the Duluth Folk School, which teaches traditional crafts such as woodworking and fiber arts. Because of this partnership, Dovetail also has a market of local handcrafted goods, and many of the folk school classes take place in shared seating areas. Dovetail is a family-friendly space and there are often Duluth Folk School classes specifically for children and families. Also in the space is Almanac Coffee Roasters, a local Duluth micro-roastery. Dovetail serves their coffee and also offers retail coffee bags from Almanac.
Dovetail offers a variety of batch brewed single origin coffees from Almanac Coffee Roasters, up to three different options depending on the day. Drip coffee is made on a FETCO CBS brewer while a La Marzocco Linea PB pulls espresso shots ground on two Malkönig espresso grinders.
190° Coffee and Tea
190° Coffee and Tea is a relative newcomer to the Duluth coffee scene. They opened in 2021 and are located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood south of downtown and nearby Dovetail Cafe. Inside, 190° has high ceilings and large windows but still pulls off a comfortable environment thanks to plants, subdued colors, and a small area with couches and coffee-related books and magazines. The shop feels set up to maximize seating with many small tables and a long bar along the outside of the room. Many customers come to work on their laptops or meet with friends. 190° leans into this third space/meeting place atmosphere, even offering 32oz pitchers of coffee for those working or looking to share a drink with friends.
190° sources coffee from rotating roasters around the United States including Coava from Portland, Perc from Savannah, Georgia, and KOS Coffee from Winter Park, Florida. They offer espresso as well as multiple slow bar options like V60 and Chemex. Alongside coffee, 190° also has a selection of specialty tea from Zenith Tea Works as well as hot and iced cascara tea. On the bar is a La Marzocco Linea PB and two Malkönig espresso grinders as well as a Malkönig EK43 for batch brew and pour-over.
Back Alley Surf and Coffee
Back Alley Surf and Coffee is one of the more unique shops around, combining clothing, surfing, bicycling equipment, and great coffee in a single, eclectic space. After their initial start in 2017 as a pop-up market held out of the owners’ garage, Back Alley eventually transitioned to a tucked-away store in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. This new location, also in a kind of alley, feels almost more like a clubhouse than a shop.
Outside, Back Alley has a large patio with chairs, a grill, and room for live music and markets. It’s a popular spot for cyclists to start riding from, and you’ll often find groups meeting up outside in the mornings. Inside, one side of the store is dedicated to retail clothing, gear, and a small sewing workshop. The other side has chairs, couches, and an indoor walk up window for coffee. The menu is small and focused almost solely on coffee with espresso, drip, and pour-over options but no tea and a limited supply of pastries.
On the bar at Back Alley is a La Marzocco Linea Mini, Mazzer espresso grinders, and a Malkönig Ek43 for filter coffee. They consistently offer coffee from Underwood Coffee roasted in Duluth as well as rotating guest roasters such as Puff Coffee from Portland and Friedhats from Amsterdam.
Marco Dregni is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. This is Marco Dregni’s first feature for Sprudge.