After perusing the coffee shops in South Central Austin — see links below — we headed up north to Burnet Road. One finds many parallels.
Upper Crust Bakery. 4508 Burnet Road. 512-467-0102. uppercrustbakery.com. 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun. Limited onsite parking. Decaf (brewed), teas and chai. No discernible Wi-Fi. Either no music, or it’s very quiet.
The name says it all. Upper Crust has been among Austin’s best bakeries for decades. The main attraction is a long, bent counter filled with cakes, pies, cupcakes, Danishes, croissants, breads and other baked good. Guests stream by, then reach two almost always busy registers. But wait. Upper Crust also offers sandwiches, soups, tortillas, as well as espresso-based and drip coffee drinks.Worn wood chairs, tables, cabinets and shelves lend it a warm Old World feel. At certain times of day, an Old Austin crowd actually read print newspapers. Despite the high ceilings and hard surfaces, it’s quiet enough for the conversational arts. Juices, milk, pop supplement the lunch specials. Telling detail: Black and white pictures of staff at work through the years. This is an excellent place to pick up a special occasion cake, but I couldn’t pick up a Wi-Fi connection and, let’s face it, more attention is given to the baked goodness. Coffee drinks are more of an afterthought.
We’ve long thought that Pacha serves some of the best coffee in town. Maybe it starts with the beans. Or the roasting. Whatever the secret, we’re regularly impressed. Bright colors, tiles, round and square tabletops amplify the Latin American atmosphere, where one can order from dozens of coffee drinks and a complement of teas, juices, mile, Italian sodas, smoothies and hot chocolate. A few tables and chairs are perched out back on a cute deck. Beer and wine are also available. The menu? Start with “always organic” eggs, milk, yogurts, fruit, vegetables, beef and honey, all clearly sourced. The sign informs us: “No more tamales.” Breakfast specials might include pancakes, hash or french toast. There’s more: Quiche, salad, empanadas, tortas. Just as importantly, the place radiates soul, that hard to define quality that includes authenticity, worldly wisdom and joy.
Monkey Nest Coffee. 5353 Burnet Road. 512-505-8033. monkeynest coffee.com. Open 24 hours. Generous onsite parking. Password-free Wi-Fi. Decaf, teas. Moderately amplified music fills many a quiet corner
Boy, did the founders of this coffee shop fill a waiting niche. Before Lower Burnet Road took off to the tune of hundreds of new apartments and dozens of refilled and refined midcentury shopping centers, Monkey Nest packed its long, softly lighted space — angled to the street — with more tables than you’ll find in most other Austin coffee spots. On a winter Wednesday afternoon, almost every table was taken up by laptoppers using the password-free Wi-Fi. At the long, clearly organized counter, one lines up to order from a vast menu that includes espresso-based, French press and brewed coffee drinks, as well as teas, smoothies, pastries, soups, salads, pizza and sandwiches. Your name goes into the register, so when your order is ready, it’s as easy as listening for your call. Folks in business attire join the usual younger types that haunt coffee shops. Bonus: The coffee is actually good and, amazingly, it’s open 24 hours a day.
Genuine Joe Coffeehouse. 2001 W. Anderson Lane. 512-220-1576. genuinejoecoffee.com. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m-10 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Lots of onsite parking, but watch the signs. Password-free Wi-Fi. Decaf (Americano). Pleasant music and plenty of quiet.
This former northern Austin coffee outpost now feels comfortably central these days. First, there’s the funky, laid-back scene in a old commerical building, surrounded by a giant parking lot. Up front are stools and counters as well as unmatched tables and chairs. Out back is more like a lounge or a rumpus room. The main counter is bisected by the pastry displays and the whole service area is plastered with images and slogans. The place offers plenty of waters, sodas, juices and teas to back up the hot and cold coffee, as well as smoothies and a few lunch items. On a very cold day, there were plenty of spots to fill, but that meant more time with the extremely engaged barista. Among amazing things here are the prices. Low! A decaf cost me under $2, which made my usual dollar tip a 50 percent grace note. And that Americano decaf, served with an unforced smile, was darn good.
Now that we scout the Austin coffee trail almost every day for ongoing series of guides (see below), we can report on happy openings, too. This one has been active on my usual walking path for two months, but I just noticed out of the corner of my eye for the first time today.
What great timing. And a great location. This southern colony of a shop that opened in the Domain in January fills the old Kiwi sports medicine slot on South Congress. It sits on the sidewalk level of a large apartment complex. Premiered a few weeks ago by owner Aamil Sarfani, originally from San Antonio, it’s large. Very large. The L-shaped interior is brightened by light wood panels and buttery hues. An extra-long counter winks at guests with espresso-based drinks, drip coffees, teas, juices, pastries, hearty sandwiches and pub grub. More than a dozen beers can be had on tap. One can choose, too, from multiple outdoor tables set next to the busy avenue. A couple of imports from the world of bars: different happy hours each day and (muted) TVs above the seating areas near the counter. But there are plenty of places to focus here. The sharp staff is ready to serve, inspired by Sarfani, who stayed at a coffee farm in Nicaragua during college — the shop is named after a lake there — and figured out how to offer the farmers “double fair trade” for their distinctive beans.
We’ll add Apanas to the South Congress guide below.
South First Street rivals South Congress Avenue in several ways, including its comparable wealth of quality coffee shops.
Seventh Flag Coffee Co. 1506 South First St. seventhflagcoffee.com. Open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Parking in back. Strong Wi-Fi. Teas and chai. No decaf. Music sometimes loud. Despite traffic outside, picnic area fairly quiet.
I adore this place. This, despite the fact they don’t carry decaf coffee of any kind. The owner took an old wood residence and transformed the inside with almost Scandinavian precision and lightness, then added a variety of tables and counters accompanied by amazingly comfortable molded wooden stools. One low couch sits in a niche and shaded picnic tables tempt the mostly young crowd on fine days. Perhaps to maintain quality or efficiency, the menu is quite limited. An increasing number of themed non-food-and-drink items are for sale. Three toasts have proven quite popular, and there are also a few nutrition bars, water and juices on offer. The always alert baristas — who looked like they were hired from the same talent agency — moved over recently to City of Saints coffee beans for espresso-based drinks, as well as cold and hot brews. Sometimes the musical volume is too loud for us oldsters, but they’ll turn it down if you ask. What do I order without the decaf option? Coconut green iced tea in the summer, green tea in winter, unless I’m going crazy on the caffeine. Above a mantle hangs a black flag adorned with seven white stars. It reads: “Our country of friends.” Indeed. Both my husband and I feel supremely at home here.
Once Over Coffee Bar. 2009 S. First St. 512-326-9575. onceovercoffeebar.com. Open 7:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Onsite parking in front. Good Wi-Fi, no password. Decaf, teas and chai. Muted music. Serenely quiet on back creekside deck.
One of the first places in town to offer French press coffee, Once Over now uses a shiny Curtis Gold Cup machine, which a helpful barista described as “robo pour over,” to go along with espresso drinks. Recessed in a nondescript strip center, this always packed place offers a few tables out front under a big tree surrounded by untended planters, as well as a divine creekside deck out back. Now that nearby Bouldin Creek Cafe is more of a restaurant and less of a coffee shop, the mix-and-match Once Over provides the most reliable link to the neighborhood’s funky coffee house past. It’s very laid back. There’s a 10 percent discount if you use cash and another $.25 if you bring your own cup. You don’t pay at point of contact, but rather after being served. The excellent drinks aren’t extravagant or whimsical. The baristas pours four types of red wine and four types of white wine, along with Austin Beer Works varieties. The usual snacks and pastries call out to an easy mix of people working on projects together or alone. The baristas usually engage with folks sitting at the long, bar-like counter. As you could guess from the rest of this description, a good number of guests are loyal regulars, who engage in fluent banter with the staff.
Summer Moon Coffee. 3115 S. First St. 512-804-1665. woodfiredcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-12 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri.Some onsite parking, also street parking nearby. Solid Wi-Fi with password posted on chalkboard near entrance. Decaf (Americano), teas, chai. Moderately loud music. Not too noisy on small deck out front.
This place is very popular with students. And the brand has expanded to other neighborhoods since this original shop opened in a tiny strip center on South First not far from St. Edward’s University. A good deal of emphasis is placed on the fire-roasted coffee beans — “100 percent organic, 100 percent Arabica” — and products that come with variations on the shop’s name, including Moon Milk (secret recipe). The five kinds of breakfast tacos usually sell out by 10 a.m., a Sunday barista told me, after which one can choose from three types of sandwiches or wraps, along with pastries and snacks. A few comfy chairs and meeting tables complement a fascinating staple-shaped laptop counter. I like that this place maintains a sense of humor, which is adopted without coyness by the young baristas. The stone and wood decor lend Summer Moon a sense of place, and although I can’t tell you why the fire roasting makes a difference, the coffee here is definitely superior.
UPDATE: Fair Bean Coffee has closed.
Starbucks. 516 W. Oltorf St. 512-534-6654. starbucks.com. Open until 11 p.m. Not too much parking, plus a drive-through ramp. Instantaneous Wi-Fi. Decaf (pour-over or Americano), teas, chai. Low music. Partially shaded outdoor seating set back from busy intersection.
Face it, this part of South Austin deserved a big, new, drive-through Starbucks. Sometimes, that’s exactly the option you need. The new one at Oltorf and South First streets takes the place of a defunct chicken joint. If you are driving there, enter via westbound Oltorf or northbound South First. Don’t try left turns across traffic into the undersized parking lot. Do try the smooth-as-latte drive-through. The interior is vast, enclosing with windows on three sides at least two dozens metal seats and two types of stools, some counter seating, also some lounge seating. The pristine wood, concrete and masonry finishes dampen the feeling of chain sameness. Partially shaded seating invites one outside, but only on the sunny west and south sides. Of course, there’s a dazzling array of espresso and cold brew selections, as well as bagged coffee beans, water, chips, juices, pastries, teas. A sign you’ll probably see more often: “Now serving almond milk”! The college-age baristas handle the traffic handily, happily. Despite all the hard surfaces, the place doesn’t sound loud and there are plenty of spots to close those laptops to chat. Of course, Starbucks is a globally recognized way of life, not just a coffee shop, which you can take or leave at will.