Let me begin by saying that the Charleston, S.C. coffee scene is ALIVE and WELL!
Keep reading to discover why!
I can’t tell you about the coffee in Charleston without first telling you about what got all this started. Last week we went to Charleston to see our oldest daughter and son-in-law (Alicia and Josh), and, of course, our first grand-baby, Emma Louise.
We had a wonderful time staying with Alicia and Josh and Emma, but what made it great was that Emma puked on everyone else but me! YAY me!
We were there from Sunday night till Saturday afternoon, and I had plenty of time to read, study, and eat shrimp and grits. But during our visit I thought it would be great to spend some quality time with my youngest, Haley, who is also a coffee lover. Therefore, I came up with the idea to visit at least 10 (we ended up with around 14, I think) of the “best” coffee shops in the Charleston area.
Backstory… A few years ago a day came when I had to visit four (4) funerals in one day. Being the dutiful PK (preacher’s kid), Haley went along with me. So, in order to put the “fun” in funeral (sorry), we came up with a contest – which funeral home had the best coffee? So, now you know why this idea for a Coffee Crawl through Charleston didn’t seem that crazy.
The plan was simple: Go visit at least 10 (ended up with 14) coffee shops in the Charleston area, primarily in the downtown area where they’d be closer together. One reason for keeping it close to the downtown area was the time involved: I wanted to do this quickly, hopefully in one day. The other reason was that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on gas!
Since I only knew of one coffee shop in the area, the one where my son-in-law buys all his coffee, I did a quick Google search. From that I was able to pull a list of the most recommended establishments and their locations, and from that I developed an agenda.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans are always subject to unplanned events. So, when 4 inches of rain fell in a few hours and the alternator on my car died (which Josh and I had to replace), the Charleston Coffee Crawl got spread out to a total, including the final visit to buy a bag of beans, of four days! In the video I made I only mention two days, but I wasn’t trying to mislead.
Below you will find a list (in order of our visit, not ranking) of every coffee shop, cafe, and roaster we visited, along with what we thought about each one. There will also be links to their websites and such in the reviews so that you can find out more about them and hopefully pay them a visit 🙂
1. The Orange Spot
1101 East Montague Avenue, North Charleston, South Carolina 29405
The Orange Spot was the first place we visited. If I had gotten the hang of things a little earlier, I would have done some video there, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, Haley and I really liked the little place. The atmosphere was inviting and casual (as most places are), and evidently a great place to hang out – we couldn’t even find a seat!
Jenny was the lady we spoke with, and she was the first to hear our idea for the coffee crawl. We asked for a sample of their regular coffee – the already-brewed kind – and she was happy to oblige. When we tasted it, I thought it had a hint of citrus and a slight acidity; Haley thought it was bitter. I did think it had a smooth finish, however. Jenny said that she likes it a little “zippy.”
The Orange Spot wasn’t exactly in downtown Charleston, but we decided to drive through North Charleston on the way from where we were staying with family.
Overall: Good coffee. If I lived in North Charleston, I’d definitely go back.
2. Mercantile and Mash – Gourmet Foods Emporium
701 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC 29403
Mercantile and Mash is located in a “recently renovated cigar factory,” and it was our next stop on the crawl. We were nearly blown away by the merchandise of this mercantile, so it took a little longer than we planned as we strolled around. Unlike any of the other coffee shops, this place actually had a meat shop! I mean, they sold gourmet cuts of meats, not your average hamburger.
Not a dedicated coffee shop, Mercantile and Mash is also known for its adult beverages, specifically the kind with a little more kick than caffeine. However, even though coffee wasn’t the big seller, the folks behind the counter were happy to talk and offer advice.
They were the first to offer us samples of coffee in actual espresso cups, and that set a new standard for the rest of the crawl. And as for the coffee, I thought their basic black coffee was excellent. Haley said, “This is some of the best black coffee I’ve ever had!” It was light, low in acidity, but rich in flavor.
Overall: Great place. Great atmosphere. Lots and lots of seating with room for computers or books. LOTS of stuff besides coffee. Dustin served us, and he was originally from Tennessee 🙂
3. The Daily
652-B King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
The Daily was a hoppin place! I’m talking busy! After getting our samples, along with a wonderfully-moist and tasty lemon cake-like-thing, I proclaimed that the basic coffee they gave us was the best-tasting coffee so far – and it ended up being my favorite of the whole trip. They offered a blend roasted by Springbok Coffee Roasters (affiliated with Kudu Coffee) called “Butcher and Bean.”
Interesting note: Come to find out, several of the coffee shops that didn’t roast their own coffee used Springbok Coffee Roasters beans or specialized blends (like the “Restoration Blend” made for the hotel in which The Rise coffee shop is located).
Overall: Wonderful place. Fast-paced initial atmosphere, but plenty of room to sit, chill, and sip a fantastic cup of coffee.
4. Babas On Cannon
11 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC 29403
The rain really put a damper on our tour of Charleston, and as you can see in the video I’ve attached, many roads were actually closed! However, as we were driving out after leaving The Daily, a random turn led us right by Babas on Cannon. Here we thought we were done for the day, but the next thing we knew we were in unique coffee heaven.
Go to their website (linked above) and you will find that Babas is not your average coffee shop. As a matter of fact, the barista who helped us that day (I never got his name, but his photo is in the video) was the most hospitable, proud-of-what-they-offered kind of guy we met! Not only did he gleefully agree to give us samples of their regular coffee, he practically pleaded with us to let him make for us two other drinks to try! One was a tall, cold, shaken coffee that was as smooth as water; the other was a shaken, cold, foamy espresso that left Haley and I speechless – except for “wow.”
Overall: Totally unique. Great coffee and service. Very hospitable. Quaint.
5. The Rise Coffee Bar
75 Wentworth St, Charleston, South Carolina 29401
The Rise was the only coffee shop that we visited that was attached to a hotel. By comparison, the Rise was small. It really didn’t offer too much by way of coffee options, options for food, or even merchandise to take home to the waiting family. No, The Rise was simply a place to get a good cup of coffee made with beans specially roasted by the Springbok folk.
As strange as it may sound, two things made our stop at The Rise memorable: the marble counter and the reading room. Well, I don’t know if the counter where we sat was actual marble, but it was certainly nice! But it was the suggestion from the barista to walk through a door into the library and reading lounge of The Restoration (a hotel) that made all the difference.
I’ll be honest, it was really funny when I stepped out of the men’s room at The Restoration and was met with “What did your bathroom look like? Was it nice?” Haley was totally impressed with the ladies’ restroom, so much so that she had to show it to me…and it was fancier than the men’s – just saying.
Overall: The Rise is a good place to pick up a cup of coffee as you’re passing through to see the sights, read a book in the library, or before you visit the swanky restrooms. Oh, and sitting at the white marble bar asking strangers what they think about it is fun, too 🙂
6. Second State Coffee
70.5 Beaufain St. Charleston SC 29401
Second State Coffee was the first one of the coffee shops that we visited while walking around downtown Charleston. And let me just say that doing the walking tour of coffee bars is totally worth it. I mean, it’s not just the coffee that makes the walking worth it; it’s the sights you see along the way, especially the ones you miss while driving, that add to the experience.
My first impressions of Second State were that it was very friendly, cute, bright, and lively. Those might not be words you’d choose, but surely charming and inviting might be. I just loved the look of the old place from the outside, then fell more in love as soon as I opened the door.
Second State serves their own roasted coffee blends, and the day we visited they served us an Ethiopian blend that had a “sour” tang to it, was a little acidic, but needed no creamer, that’s for sure. Ethiopian blends are not my personal favorite, but this one was nice. Haley said it “wasn’t her favorite.”
Overall: This is the kind of place where college students and professors alike come to sit, compute on their MacBooks, and enjoy a good cup of coffee prepared by people who care about what they do. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
7. City Lights Coffee
141 Market St, Charleston, South Carolina 29401
When I think of a “bar,” coffee is not the first thing that comes to mind. What comes to mind is either a smoky dive where unhappy people consume beverages meant to numb their pain, or the stereotypical “Cheers” place where everybody knows your name. City Lights Coffee had an atmosphere a lot like the latter.
I’m not joking when I say this, but “character” was the first word that came to mind when I walked into City Lights Coffee. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the girl who served us seemed more like a sympathetic bartender than someone who works at a coffee bar. The next time you lose your job, or should your wife leave you for a millionaire, instead of getting drunk at some dive, pay a visit to City Lights – the coffee will do you good 🙂
Overall: I really liked this little place. Keep in mind, it’s not a place you drive to, park, and then go inside. There is literally NO parking; you have to walk to it. They served an Ethiopian roast that Haley actually liked.
8. Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
159 Church Street, Charleston, SC 28403
I’m going to be totally honest with you on this one – you really need to visit Bitty & Beau’s, whether you like coffee, or not.
Bitty & Beau’s is not famous for its coffee, but for those who are employed to serve it to you. This company has three locations, but we, of course, went to the one in Charleston. However, at all three locations Bitty & Beau’s hires people who are intellectually challenged or were born with Down Syndrome. This, alone, will make your day. The coffee is just icing on the cake!
Overall: Honestly, the coffee was good, but had it been through-the-roof great I wouldn’t have noticed. The joy I received from watching people do their jobs with such enthusiasm and pride; being reminded as I stood in line that even though the world sees a disability, those with Down Syndrome are #notbroken; the visit alone made the coffee worth it.
9. Caviar and Bananas
51 George St, Charleston, SC 29401
Honesty is the best policy, right? Well, if so, I must tell you the truth about Caviar and Bananas: It’s NOT a coffee bar.
Maybe it was all about other things, but we were really looking forward to visiting this establishment. My son-in-law’s brother made a big deal of the place and told us we “had” to put it on our list. I mean, if “caviar” is in the name, why not? But it was not too long after we walked in that we were disappointed with the lack of “coffee shop” atmosphere. Oh, don’t get me wrong! The place was pretty nice and hip – it was like a scaled-down Whole Foods store meant for a college campus crowd, but it had little charm.
Here’s probably the biggest difference between Caviar and Bananas: the counter staff. Haley and I both felt no love from the people who served us – to them we were just another customer. Basically, the people that work there seem to do a good job, but they aren’t there because they’re passionate about coffee.
Overall: This is a great place to stop for a quick sandwich or salad, some pastries, a cold beer, a cup of coffee, and then get on about your day. It’s not a place to bring your laptop and sit while you enjoy an espresso.
10. Tricera Coffee
41 George St, Charleston, SC 29401
If you want to visit a cute little coffee bar that pays homage to one particular extinct dinosaur, look no further than Tricera Coffee. As a matter of fact, all you have to do is walk out of Caviar and Bananas and turn right – it’s not even a stone’s throw away! Ironically, I asked a couple of ladies who were grabbing a bite to eat with their kids at Caviar and Bananas if they’d ever been to Tricera Coffee. Neither one had heard of the place, even though both had lived in the area for 3 years! Seriously?
Anyway, there is a whole triceratops theme going on at this place, and it’s pretty cute. As a matter of fact, if you want a good laugh, make sure you go to Tricera Coffee’s website and look at the pictures.
Overall: The coffee was acceptable, but not the best. Maybe it was just the roast they had that day. Haley thought it tasted like “mud.” I thought that was too harsh of a comparison. It might have not been my favorite coffee, but it was nice and had a sweet finish.
11. Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
4 Vanderhorst St, Charleston, SC 29403
Kudu Coffee was the only coffee establishment that was recommended to us by at least four other coffee shops. Literally, at least three other baristas asked, “Have you been to Kudu’s, yet?” I mean, if the other coffee shops are telling you to go there, what else do you do?
Kudu Coffee and Springbok Roasters were both started by the same South Africans. Actually, the names Kudu and Springbok come from the names of South African animals – the long-horned antelope type. Therefore, there is a horn theme to some of their logos and decoration. When we found out about the animal names it all made sense.
On the day that we visited Kudu, we were treated with a creation by the local award-winning barista who made a pretty cappuccino for us (you can watch it in the video I made).
On a funny note: Right across the street from Kudu’s is the offices of an evangelical Lutheran church. I told Haley that I’d bet a dollar the staff of the church drinks more than coffee when they step over for meetings 😉
Overall: Some parking on the street. Plenty of sitting room inside, plus a beautiful and spacious coffee/beer garden outside. And since the other coffee shops recommended this place so much, it really doesn’t matter what I think the coffee tastes like, right?
12. Broom Wagon
1630 Ashley Hall Rd, Charleston, SC 29407
Let me share with you the exact words I wrote in my notebook just seconds after walking through the doors of Broom Wagon, a coffee shop that wasn’t even on our initial list until it was also recommended by other coffee shop owners: “Pretty, lively, happy, fresh, upbeat music.”
Broom Wagon was not on our initial list, but it was recommended…and it was on the way back from downtown Charleston to the Ashley River area. So, even though we were running out of time that day, I convinced Haley we should stop. We were both glad we did.
John was the one who served us that day, and let me just say that he was full of energy, enthusiastic, and happy to share his knowledge about coffee with us newbies.
Overall: Like I implied earlier, this is a happy-feeling place with plenty of parking, easy access, and a super friendly, knowledgeable staff. Oh, and the coffee was great, too! The only place that served us nitrogen-infused coffee and took the time to explain it. I’d like to go back.
13. Highfalutin Coffee Roasters
Here’s a neat article that describes what Highfalutin is all about (since they don’t have a regular website).
If there was an overall favorite with Haley, this was it. I can’t blame her. There was just something about this place that struck a chord with us, and maybe it’s because at Highfalutin Coffee Roasters the main thing is not pastries, ambiance, or craft beer – it’s the art of fine coffee. And we’re not talking about sugary, syrupy, froo-froo concoctions people who don’t like coffee drink in order to make believe they like coffee, either. This place just makes dang good coffee.
When we first walked up to the counter, Haley asked the owner and founder Adam Hunt the following question: “We’d just like to try a sample of your regular coffee.” Adam replied with: “There’s just one problem with what you’re asking. We don’t serve regular coffee; we serve exceptional coffee.”
So, what did he offer us? A small batch from Burundi that he’d imported in an effort to help encourage the quality of the coffee growers there. His description: “Sweet with big fruit acidity and creamy mouthfeel; chocolate, sugar cane, lavender and grapefruit flavors.” Dude, all I can say is that the man knows his stuff and is serious about coffee – and you can taste the difference.
Overall: One of the top 3 coffee shops in all of Charleston. Plenty of sitting area inside and out. Parking could be better, but oh well. The only place we went to where there was live music – and that was good, too!
14. Charleston Coffee Exchange
2875 Ashley River Road, Suite 1, Charleston, SC 29414
This is the place where my son-in-law buys all his coffee. Literally, it’s only a mile or two down the road from his house, so that’s a contributing factor. However, like I told my youngest, no other coffee place smells as nice as this one when you walk in the door. Part of the reason could be the 20 or so bags of coffee sitting out in the open!
Charleston Coffee Exchange is certainly the place to go if you want to buy a good cup of coffee and take home with you a bag of coffee beans. The choices leave little to be desired.
Overall: Really good coffee by the cup. Not as personable as some of the other coffee bars, but still friendly. Plenty of parking and room to sit for a while. In a shopping area, so a little more fast-paced and less-likely to see more than one or two people chilling and chatting.
After all was said and done, even after visiting the most wonderful coffee shops around, the best part of the Charleston Coffee Crawl was spending time with my beautiful daughter, Haley Brianna.
Take the time to do something fun and inexpensive like this with someone you love, especially over a cup of good coffee 🙂
Watch the video I made on my iPhone!