We asked for your picks. We drank coffee at new places. We even asked Asheville coffee uber-nerd Jared Rutledge, head honcho of the superb Waking Life Espresso, for his insight into what makes a really great cup of coffee.
Not just a good coffee shop, with wifi, muffins and a quiet corner. But a damn fine cup of joe.
Below are our Ashvegas picks.
THE BEST: Ashvegas picks for coffee nerds
Two Asheville coffee shops were head and shoulders above the rest, in our estimation. Take your coffee-snob friends here:
– High Five Coffee Bar (the former Dripolator), downtown near Greenlife.
– Waking Life Espresso in West Asheville.
For commitment to craft, taste, selection, knowledge and pure love of coffee, these are our picks.
Who in Asheville sponsors a latte-art contest? High Five. Who in Asheville has a coffee pop-up downtown at Urban Outfitters? Waking Life.
THE REST: Ashvegas picks for coffee drinkers
Battle Cat Coffee Bar. Dog-friendly, with outdoor seating and even its own restaurant in the back, Asheville hipsters and West Ashevillians find bagels, muffins and coffee nirvana right here.
Bean Werks. Only three tables, and Bean Werks takes cash or check only. But the upside is coffee roasted in-house and right in front of your eyes (that’s their roaster above), plus an assortment of coffee toys including cordless electric espresso makers, grinders and percolators.
Bomba: The new kid–Hector Diaz’ coffee shop and eatery on the corner of College and Biltmore–serves coffee from 1000 Faces of Athens, Ga. Cubanos, cocktails, doughnuts and light fare as well as good coffee.
Izzy’s Coffee Den: The downtown champ! A hipster hangout extraordinaire with toasty bagels, local art, tattooed baristas, lots of laptops, and a variety of ways to improve your productivity. It’s so Asheville you might meet an Avett brother, or think you have walked right into an episode of Portlandia, which you kind of have.
Filo: Though Filo might deserve more praise for it’s rockin’ pastry selection, you CAN get a real latte on the east side, and you can get it here. This easy-to-miss gem is near the East Tunnel Ingles (Riceville Road area), in the stone building.
Biltmore Coffee Traders: Selling bagged coffee roasted in-house along with a limited but very tasty selection of muffins and cookies, the unassuming Biltmore Coffee Traders on Hendo Road packs a caffeinated wallop. Look for their whole-bean coffee at the downtown farmer’s market, or pick it up at the shop (call ahead and they’ll grind it for you).
Tod’s Tasties: Tod’s is supposed to be a restaurant last we checked. But its coffee, much like everything else at Tod’s, is yummy. Full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus baked goods and tasty lattes.
The Ursa Minor Coffee Truck: Check their Facebook page for the day’s current location. Their coffee is from Dynamite Roasting, a local roaster of note (see below). Mint mochas, bagels, drip-brewed coffee and more.
Dynamite Roasting Company: It’s a little bit of a drive east to Black Mountain, but worth it for coffee from this local artisan roaster of 100 percent certified organic and fair-trade coffees. Hm, maybe you can take your coffee-snob friends here, also.
The beginner’s guide to what makes a great cup of coffee
(mostly by Jared Rutledge; edited down by Jennifer Saylor)
The best coffee houses usually includes the following characteristics:
Great coffee is picked only when mature, and beans contain zero or minimal defects. It’s processed properly, and is stored/shipped without anything adversely affecting the quality. (Rutledge says he’ll pay a premium for coffee that meets these criteria.)
There is clear indication of where the coffee is from.
Rutledge adds: I need a lot of info about coffee as well, including farm, region, altitude, bean variety, and process.
2) Properly roasted beans.
Great coffee is never roasted into what’s called “second crack” (where the cell structure of the coffee bean begins to break down and literally crack–the lightest Starbucks roast BEGINS here). No scorching, etc.
3) Proper preparation.
In a great cup of coffee, grinding to order for both espresso and drip is non-negotiable.
Latte art is usually an indication that the milk is steamed well.
Look for scales, pour-overs, and various other implements that indicate coffee geekery. Good equipment (espresso machines/brewers/grinders) is another indicator.
From Rutledge: “If the barista appears confident and is able to discuss the coffee they’re serving in a knowledgeable manner, I usually feel confident drinking their coffee.”
4) Commitment to craft.
Why did the owners open the shop? If the reason is anything other than to brew and share high-quality coffee (“we thought it would be fun to create a welcoming community space”), and owners don’t have several years of coffee experience, this is not the place to take your visiting coffee-snob friend from New York.
Again from Rutledge: “These little clues taken together usually give me an idea of whether the coffee is good or not. The presence of them doesn’t indicate great coffee, but the absence guarantees terrible brew.”