Discovering Specialty Coffee: South East

By Jason Dominy, Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, Atlanta, GA

When asked about the South East coffee scene, I’m realistic and optimistic at the same time. As far as a region goes, the South East has come a long way, and while not entirely as progressive as it’s Pacific Northwest brethren, who do seem to set the standard, the South East is doing a great job of producing some great shops that both accept where the region’s customer base are, and helping them progress to coffee of a higher quality. It is defined by pockets around large cities: Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, Louisville, Washington, DC, and then much smaller scenes like the ones in Florida, Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

In Atlanta, shops like Octane at Grant Park, Steady Hand, and the new Dancing Goats at Ponce City Market reflect a desire for higher quality coffee and espresso in very nice, unique shops. Octane at Grant Park has a really nice cocktail and beer menu, as well as yummy baked goods from Little Tart Bakery to go with their new in-house roasted coffee and espresso menu. Steady Hand also features local baked goods, and great Aeropress, Chemex or Siphoned Intelligentsia & Ecco coffees. The newest shop in Atlanta, the new Dancing Goats Coffee Bar at Ponce City Market is a really great shop in this new development that’s being created by Chelsea Market’s masterminds, and includes a great manual brew program featuring local roasted Batdorf & Bronson coffee, local baked goods, and a great screened-in outdoor deck with swings and rockers.

In Nashville, CREMA has started roasted themselves, and set themselves apart with great Slow Bar services and public cuppings. Dose Coffee is consistently good, and carries multiple roasters as well as Counter Culture as a standard. Shops like Ugly Mugs and Bongo Java have both started great manual brewing programs that have become popular, and have baristas that are BGA certified. I’ve not been to the newest kid of Nashville’s coffee block, Barista Parlor, but know they’re a multi-roaster shop that’s gained lots of PR, and has invested a ton of money into what seems to be a very nice shop. They’ve got a Slayer, and employ a great staff of baristas I’m friends with.

Then, you have the smaller pockets. In Louisville, you’ve got Sunergos and Quills Coffee, both of whom are doing a great job and are constantly pushing forward. In Chattanooga, TN, Camp House does a great job with their Counter Culture program. In DC, Peregrine still sets the standard with their coffee and espresso program, with some of the best baristas in the SE consistently. In Virginia, Charlottesville in particular, Mudhouse Coffee and Dan Pabst have started roasting themselves, and are a great shop in that area. In Greenville, SC, Coffee and Crema is an oasis of great specialty coffee in a desert. They do a great job of both coffee and espresso, and have two very dynamic locations, and host barista events each month.

In Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill, you’ve got Café Helios, who runs a great coffee program highlighting local roasted Counter Culture Coffee. You’ve also got Scott Conary’s shops Open Eye and Café Driade, which have some great baristas and great spaces serving their in-house roasted Carrboro Coffee. In Gainesville, FL, Anthony Rue’s VOLTA Coffee sets the bar for coffee with a program that revolves around various roasters based on what he thinks is the best at that moment. In Miami, Panther Coffee has made a name for themselves in a relatively short time for their great coffee program, roasted by former Stumptown roaster, Joel Pollock. In Winter Garden, FL, Axum Coffee with their Batdorf & Bronson program, is working to build a specialty coffee niche in their area, and they had a SERBC competitor last year.

I’ve included shops I’ve mostly been to myself, or have experience with from friends, and know there are many other great shops around the SE, but as you can see, there are plenty of amazing coffee experiences from just this list, and it grows every year. I still think there’s plenty of room for growth in areas like Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, and North Carolina. You can find much of what’s happening in the PNW in the SE, but just like the SE itself, things move at a slightly slower pace. It’s region of coffee I’m proud to be a part of, and it will only continue to get better.