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23 February 2018

Nine Great Places for Speciality Coffee in Austin, Texas

Until this year, I'd visited 16 US states but they are all located on the East or West Coast. I was excited to find out that the conference I attend each February was being held in Austin, Texas, this year. Texas wasn't somewhere I'd really thought about visiting but I had heard great things about Austin — especially the food and live music. I was also pleased to discover a thriving speciality coffee scene, although plotting spots on my Google Map initially made me wonder if I might struggle without a car.

I only had one free day but I also rose early and headed to the more distant coffee shops on my morning jogs. I visited ten coffee spots in all (some of them twice), although one was a little disappointing, so I have only included nine below, as well as the two I would have sought out with a little more time. I got to sample coffee from various Austin and Texas roasters and also some espresso from Buna, one of my favourite Mexico City coffee shops. Moreover, the baristas I met were universally friendly and welcoming and I had some wonderful coffee chats. I also discovered the joys of breakfast tacos — you can (and should) try these at various food trucks, but most of the coffee shops I visit also serve them.

Caffè Medici (Downtown)
Austin's self-proclaimed original specialty coffee shop opened up on West Lynn Street, to the west of the downtown area, in 2006. There are now five locations and I stopped by the most central, on Congress Avenue near West 8th Street. You order from the window on the sidewalk and if you'd like to drink your coffee in, you can take a seat on one of the sofas in the sleek lobby. They were selling retail bags of local Wild Gift beans (one of the roasters that managed to elude me), but the hopper held coffee from Spyhouse in Minnesota. I had a macchiato — cortados in the US, I have found, tend to be served much longer than I like — which came with my first latte art heart of Valentine's Day. It tasted great too and the lobby was great for people-watching.

Caffè Medici is located at 800 Congress Ave (and other locations). WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Cuvée Coffee Bar (East Austin)
Roasting since 1998, Cuvée Coffee has distinctive bright blue branding, which I noticed in cafés around town. In an effort to avoid getting caught up in the Austin Marathon, I ran out to their East 6th Street cafe in East Austin on my last morning. It's a large space with a small patio area and industrial-chic décor. The large central bar is set up for coffee on one side and beer and wine on the other. I really liked the sound of their Mexican Las Calacas coffee, so I tried it as both a macchiato and a Kalita pourover. The punchy pepper and citrus notes, balanced nicely by cocoa, came through particularly well in the filter coffee but the macchiato was well prepared too.

Cuvée Coffee Bar is located at 2000 E 6th St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors (East Austin)

This coffee shop came so highly recommended by several people that making the four-mile round-trip detour seemed necessary and it didn't disappoint. Figure 8, with its minimalist decor, was bustling early on a Friday morning. They serve coffee from several US favourites, including the wonderful Portland-based Coava, Seattle-based Kuma and Dallas-based Tweed. I wanted to try some of Figure 8's own coffee, though, and ordered a macchiato with a Honduran Marimba coffee, which was so delicious I then ordered it as an espresso, which was smooth and sweet. I also rewarded myself for my run by ordering a couple of Taco Deli Jess Special breakfast tacos.

Figure 8 is located at 1111 Chicon St. Website. Instagram.

Flat Track Coffee (East Austin)

My first Austin coffee stop, Flat Track Coffee kept me fuelled on the long run I took on my first morning in the city. I planned to stop for a quick espresso but was lured in by the tempting pourover menu. The description of the Ethiopian Kochere ("this coffee takes us back to our childhood") won me over and I enjoyed a Kalita pourover sitting at the counter, savouring the black cherry and chocolate brownie notes and seeking barbecue advice from the friendly baristas. The coffee is roasted at the back of the large coffee bar/bike shop (the interiors here are super-cool, of course). If you know and like Flat Track Coffee, they may have some exciting news to share soon; stay tuned!

Flat Track Coffee is located at 1619 E Cesar Chavez St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Fleet Coffee (East Austin)
From Flat Track, I ran north to Fleet Coffee, a smaller café with a few seats indoors and several more outside. This was where I spotted the Buna coffee on the menu and immediately ordered Buna's Tun Daja espresso as a cortado. It was beautifully prepared and so great to get the opportunity to enjoy an old favourite roaster. Alas, this meant I missed one of the few opportunities I had to try some Wild Gift coffee; if only I'd known...

Fleet Coffee is located at 2427 Webberville Rd. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Houndstooth Coffee (Downtown)
Houndstooth has three locations in Austin and another trio in Dallas. I visited the downtown location on Congress Avenue, which was conveniently close to my conference hotel. Late on a Wednesday morning, the large, spacious café was busy with local workers and visitors alike. When I walked in, I got a waft of some delicious-smelling coffee and asked the barista what it was. Tweed Coffee's Timepiece blend was in the hopper, so that's what I went for, as a cortado. My coffee tasted great and it was a lively place to hang out.

Houndstooth Coffee is located at 401 Congress Ave #100c (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Merit Coffee (Seaholm)
Late last year, I was excited to read on Eater that the San Antonio café Local Coffee was rebranding as Merit and opening up in Austin. Their first coffee shop opened a few months ago in the Seaholm District, just west of the downtown, an area that seems to be undergoing a lot of development. The café is light and airy and with beautiful, minimalist interiors — including a cool white ModBar set up.

After perusing the pourover menu, I asked for a recommendation and the barista suggested their Morgan Series Geisha from Panama, but unfortunately, they were all out. Instead, I had a lovely Deri Kochoha from Ethiopia, brewed through the Kalita, which had delicious blueberry and peach notes. When I returned later in the week, after sensing my keenness to try the Morgan Series Geisha, they brewed me an espresso shot of the washed coffee in the series, which was absolutely beautiful, bursting with blueberry flavour. I bought some beans to bring home, of course — a Burundi natural Dusa — which I haven't yet cracked into. The packaging is gorgeous too. What a great addition to the Austin coffee scene!

Merit Coffee is located at 222 West Ave suite 120. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Seventh Flag Coffee (SoCo)
The only coffee shop south of the Colorado River I was able to visit, Seventh Flag is a relaxed and friendly neighbourhood spot. There are many interesting shops and eateries on South 1st Street and the parallel South Congress (I went for breakfast tacos afterwards at Torchy's), although they are a bit spaced out. On the menu was coffee from New York's City of Saints and Denver's Huckleberry. I had a macchiato with a Rwandan Kanzu from the latter (pictured at the top of this post), which tasted great and had some sweet berry notes. The interiors are minimalist but the stark white walls feature beautiful local art. Oh, and while you're there, you can visit the famous 'Greetings from Austin' mural if you walk a couple of minutes further south.

Seventh Flag is located at 1506 S 1st St. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Wright Bros Brew & Brew (East Austin)
Austin's coffee shops sure do have great taste in US roasters. At Brew & Brew, where I was interested in the titular coffee rather than the eponymous craft beer, they were serving Heart coffee from Portland as well as local Flat Track. I had a Heart cortado, which didn't come with a heart but was super-tasty. I already had lunch plans but the food menu here looked great. There's patio seating too and on the same East 5th Street block, there are a few lovely independent shops that are worth a browse.

Brew & Brew is located at 500 San Marcos St #105. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Two more coffee bars that were high up on my list but that I didn't quite have time to visit were:

- Vintage Heart on 1405 E 7th St. Website. Instagram.
- Wild Gift Coffee on 3100 A Industrial Terrace, a few miles north of the downtown area (you can find their coffee at Fleet Coffee, though). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

If you're interested in what else I got up to in Austin — mostly eating, and a bit of shopping and culture — my travel post will be up next week.

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