One of the oldest cities in the country, Baltimore is rich with history. The city was home to the first post office in the country, had a railroad before most cities, played a role in the Civil War, and was once the busiest ports in the US. Today, speckled with colonial-era architecture, harbor views, and benches claiming “Greatest City in America,” Charm City certainly doesn’t lack charm, a point that residents will adamantly defend.
Often overshadowed by the bigger east coast cities like Washington DC, New York, and Philly, Baltimore flies under the radar for some as a food and beverage destination. But the Baltimore coffee scene is diverse and growing, with new spots popping up left and right as the world of small business recovers from Covid. There’s a strong sense of community that grows from the small-town feel of Baltimore. Everyone knows everyone — your favorite barista at that new spot probably worked at your second favorite shop and their favorite coworker probably started that new roastery on the other side of town. Here’s an updated guide to help you find the best coffee in the city in 2023.
Equal parts coffee and design shop, Good Neighbor is a multi-roaster cafe that, as its name implies, strives to welcome in the community of Baltimore’s lively Hampden neighborhood. The owners have showcased this sentiment through the thoughtful interior design. Somehow, they’ve achieved the near impossible task of designing a hip, Instagram-worthy aesthetic, while leaving behind any of the accompanying stiffness of a traditional design studio. Instead, the space welcomes you with warmth reminiscent of walking into your coolest friend’s home. A large, tiered outdoor space hosts rotating monthly events. In the summer, you’re likely to stumble upon a vintage market, concert series, or poetry night as you sip coffee from well-known names like Onyx, Sey, and Brandywine.
Everything in the store, from the tables and chairs to the mug your oat latte is served in, is for sale. The meticulously curated selection of furniture and housewares features local Baltimore makers and renowned global brands. After taking in the indoor space, wander up the garden path from their patio to green neighbor, the shops partnership with plant stylist and author, Hilton Carter. Come for the coffee, leave with a few houseplants and another handmade mug you probably didn’t need for your already overflowing collection.
Housed in a 225-year-old mill, Artifact Coffee feels at home in a city as historic as Baltimore. Even after a major renovation in 2011, the building has retained its charm and authenticity. From the original stone walls and timber beams to the refurbished accents, the space pays homage to Baltimore’s history as an industrial port city.
The straight-forward coffee program, featuring DC roaster Small Planes, is contrasted by an extensive, seasonally-focused food menu designed by James Beard award winner Spike Gjerde. The brunch crowd comes in strong on weekends, seeking out the egg sandwiches on homemade English muffins and intricate breakfast bowls. Grab a seat outside or come on a weekday to snag a chair in the cozy seating area that now occupies what was once the mill’s boiler room.
Café Los Sueños
For Carlos Payes, Café Los Sueños is the fruition of a lifelong dream. Payes grew up on a coffee farm near Santa Ana, El Salvador, and met his partner, Elizabeth Ryan Payes, after migrating to the US. The pair began roasting in 2014 and Los Sueños became a staple at area farmers markets and pop ups. When Elizabeth lost her job during the pandemic, the pair took the leap to open their own cafe.
The cozy shop is a charming addition to the Remington neighborhood. The interior, painted white and blue (the national colors of El Salvador), features an elegant bar that urges customers to connect with each other and the staff, adding to the friendly, familial atmosphere of the space. The uncomplicated menu features everything you need from your neighborhood coffee spot. Drinks are separated into simple categories “caliente”, “helado”, or “espresso bar,” With a unique connection to origin, the humble shop has made waves in the local coffee community since it opened, quickly becoming a go to response when visitors ask where to get coffee in Baltimore.
Inclusivity and sustainability are at the forefront of this worker-owned cafe and radical bookstore. Originally founded in 2004, Red Emma’s has had several iterations in different neighborhoods around Baltimore. Their newest home, in a building they purchased in the Waverly neighborhood, is their most ambitious yet. While construction is ongoing in parts of the building, the coffeehouse is open and features a large seating area, an intimate bar, and shelves of books to peruse as you wait for your drinks. The open cafe space still manages to capture the coziness of your favorite bookshop. The space won’t be limited to just a cafe, though. The end goal for the team behind Red Emma’s is to have the multi-level building serve as a coffeehouse, restaurant, bar, and social center.
On the menu, you can find locally roasted Thread Coffee, another Baltimore worker-owned business. The food menu is extensive and 100% vegan, with plant-based version of cafe classics (vegan lox, anyone?) and plenty of lunch options. A rotating calendar of author talks, film screenings, and community conversations keeps their space in constant use. The future remains bright for this nearly 20-year-old co-op.
Audrey Parise is a coffee professional and freelance journalist based in Baltimore. This is Audrey Parise’s first feature for Sprudge.