Some weather, eh? Hot. Very very hot. And bright. Very very very very bright. Really very hot and bright bright bright. Kill. Ing. Me.
If it seems like I start out a lot of my columns betchin’ about the weather here in beautiful Asheville, it’s just because I’m a natural born complainer, and the weather is always getting on my nerves in one way or another. Too hot. Too bright. Too cold. Too wet. Too many people. Huh? Whazzat? People aren’t a weather condition you say? Bah. That won’t stop me from complaining about them.
Let’s start with Men. Gimme a fuckin’ break! Am I right ladies? You know what I’m sayin’. Ask a man what time it is, and he starts explaining to you how a clock works.
“Y’see, when the big hand is on the…”
The other day I got to complaining on FaceBook about the lack of a certain type of hippie bohemian coffee shop in my life, and in this town, and I asked the readers, “…am I wrong? Are there ones that I don’t know about? If you know of any, please inform.”
Almost immediately dudes started man-splaining the economy to me, and how my out-dated concepts of coffee houses were no longer viable in today’s high-rent market, and how a foolish public had ruined everything by accepting mediocre goods wrapped in shiny packaging, and that “trustafarians” and tourists were the cause of the downfall of the bohemian cafe, if not Asheville itself.
Jebus effing cripes.
Y’know what the women did? They answered my actual question by suggesting coffee houses that might fit the bill for me. Dripolator in Black Mountain, The Coffee Emporium on Eagle Street, All Good Coffee in Weaverville, West End Bakery, Odds, and Battlecat in WAVL all came up. Some of those I’ve been to, some I haven’t. Thanks, Ladies, I’ll check ’em all out eventually.
I remember the first time I posted a picture of a cup of coffee on Ashvegas, some dude decided to question my manliness based on how much cream I added to the cup. Yes, I take 1/2 & 1/2 in my coffee. Not a ton. Just enough to make it a warm, raw umber-y brown… like millions of other people all over the world. I don’t take sugar, but if I did, I’m sure that would completely reduced my man-stats to zero, possibly negative, into the realm of pansy or even worse… perhaps worst of all… “woman.”
In the meantime, none of the women I know give a flying fuck how I take my coffee (unless they’re offering me a cup), and I don’t think one female human has ever questioned the number of Y’s in my chromosome sequence based on my 1/2 & 1/2 consumption.
I’m telling you… Men! Who needs ’em?
Well… they ain’t all bad. I guess even I have to admit that. Take my friend Jay for example.
Jay operated the original Asheville location of The Dripolator on Biltmore Ave, which I cited in my FaceBook complainings as being the closest thing to that bohemian esthetic I was pining for. His current shop, High Five Coffee on Broadway is very nice, but it’s just not the hippy haven that his Biltmore Drip was. I may have even said in my post that it “doesn’t come close.” Okay, I did say that.
Rather than blowing a gasket and angrily ‘splainin’ the ways of the world to me, Jay wrote me a nice note instead. It said, in part…
“…I feel H5 is not the coffee shop of days past, but taps into the same magic that made those places wonderful.”
When I asked him if it was true that the boho cafe was not an economically viable business model, he wrote…
“I’m not really one to make overwhelming assumptions about why models don’t work. The old Dripolator model did not work for me for a few different reasons, but honestly it was as much that it was a restaurant as well as a coffee shop and I wanted to focus on coffee and relationships, and I am not a chef.”
See? This is why I love Jay. He’s just the real effin’ deal. Honest, forthright, genuine… thoughtful. He’s passionate about something I love too: Coffee. He’s not a snob about it, though. He went on to tell me…
“I think the moments that we have at H5 during the day of numerous different types of people coming in are reflective of that magic that was so great about the 90s coffee shop and the Bohemian feel that it gave. I certainly do not think that is an unviable option, however I wanted to tap into a different feel that in some ways felt more open to people that were different than myself. I’m bohemian by nature, and I didn’t and don’t want to create a place that only I and those like me are comfortabe in. Above all I think the wonderful thing about coffee shops is that you find one, or ones, that fit your personally and take it from there to build your community in that place.”
Are you starting to love this guy as much as I do or what? As you know, nice people make a big dif to me when I’m faced with the choice of where to spend my coffee dollars. Here’s more Jay, on the subject of his chosen vocation…
“I do think there are some wonderful things to say about how coffee has advanced in terms of how it is made. This however is not a statement about people who like dark roast, very cheap, cream and sugar coffee being wrong. I believe coffee is as much a ritual experience as a product made with more or less quality. I think when we talk about coffee and espresso we are really talking about apples and oranges too. There are places that serve good coffee but really have no idea how to make espresso and steam velvety delicious milk. There’s so much to say on the subject but it’s really not worth diving into every corner because at the end of the day it is just a cup of coffee.”
Ermergerd. A man with a little humility? That is rare. Here’s a guy who has made serving coffee his life’s work, and yet he’s comfortable saying “it’s just a cup of coffee.” Jay’s note ended with this very thoughtful and intelligent statement about his own mission and how he envisions his own business model.
“I am more interested in serving coffee that fits a range of palettes but ultimately reflects a chain and process of integrity from those who Farm it, to those who roast and serve it, to the impact it has on the dirt it came from. This range can be accomplished in my place I believe. However there are people outside of that range, and that is okay. The vision of my business is truly centered around serving people well, and being a pleasant place to be. The product reflects an integrity as well, but I am not here to judge what you bring to the counter, just that you walk away feeling served well.”
What a guy. The same day that Jay sent me the note above, Dawn sent me a link to this Mountain Xpress article, featuring Jay, who will soon be opening a second shop, right on Rankin Avenue in Downtown Asheville. As Dawn said, “Maybe THIS will be the coffee shop of our dreams.”
Hey, if any man can fulfill my dreams, Jay is as good a candidate as any!
COFFEE. COFFEE. COFFEECOFFEECOFFEE
Here’s my top 5 places — in reverse order — to grab a cup of Joe in Asheville. This list is based on several factors that do include proximity to my own house.
5) Sovereign Remedies – It’s just a really nice place, that serves really great coffee, and is owned and staffed by really nice people. I only ever get espresso drinks here. I’m not even sure if they offer a “house cup” or pour-overs. Bonus: They are open 365 days of the year.
4) Bomba – Location location location… and coffee coffee coffee! I probably get more espresso drinks at Bomba than anywhere else. I heart their cappuccino, made either old school with a meringue on top, or new school with the “artwork” on top. Their house cup is excellent as well. And, too, also… you will “see and be seen” 80-90% more often if you sit at the counter of Bomba, which is a little bit like sitting inside of a fish tank, facing a wide-screen TV.
3) Vortex Doughnuts – I’m gonna say it: The doughnuts do not rock my world. I get one occasionally, but I’m just not the hugest fan. (Sorry Vortex, I’ll keep trying them, and maybe the love will come.) The coffee on the other hand is effing awesome. I can’t always afford to drink as many espresso drinks as I would like to, but when I can afford them, Vortex makes some of the best in town. Fortunately for my bank account, their “house mug” is fantastic too. I stop in on my way home from Downtown on Bikey pretty often, and it is also the meeting place of choice for the Ashvegas staff… meaning me and Jason like to go there to get our gab on.
2) Clingman Cafe – Oh, c’mon now, STU!!! You can NOT be saying that Clingman Cafe has the second best coffee in Asheville! No. Settle down. I am not saying that. What I was about to say is that of all the places in town that I go to for coffee, I go to Clingding’s the most often. It is literally the closest cafe to the back door of my house. The decanterred coffee is decent (the fresher it is the better it is) and reasonably priced, the people are very nice, the AC works all Summer, and it’s as warm as can be all Winter. I practically fucking live there. I’m sure this is true for a lot of you too, that proximity plays a huge part in frequency of visits to your “favorite” cafes and restaurants. I’ve actually never tried their espresso drinks at Clingman’s, so I’ll have to do that soon, but I kinda never wanna bug the nice people at the counter, because they always look so busy!
1) City Bakery – I’m telling you, their coffee is like crack to me. Huh? Whazzatnow? Crack?!? “Crack cocaine?” No? Okay, well, crack cocaine is a highly addictive drug widely used and reported on in the 1980’s, when it also seeped into the popular culture as an often used metaphor for other addictive things, such as pizza, sex, Ms. Pac Man… what have you. No? Still not ringing a bell? Okay. How’s this then: The coffee at City Bakery might be as addictive — though certainly not nearly as dangerous, lethal, or with the laundry list of side effects — as any given number of legal prescription drugs that one might get from a licensed doctor these days. Does that serve to contextualize my metaphor a little better? Aaanyhoooooooooo…. City Bakes serves Dynamite Roasting Co. coffee, and when I told the lady from Dynamite that I thought the house cup at City Bakery is the best in town, she said something like, “That’s because they follow our instructions.”
Huh. Following instructions. What a concept. I’m gonna have to try that some day.
Nahhhhhht very manly, Stu.
Although Jay’s shop didn’t make my top five list, that’s mostly because I moved further away from that neighborhood, and don’t go as often as I used to. I should mention however that High Five is currently the only place in town (as far as I can ascertain) that offers Dawn Roe’s new favorite drink: Iced Americano with Sparkles. The “sparkles” being fizzy water, aka Pellegrino or some such. She says it’s the bomb-diggity.
The single BEST cup of coffee I’ve tasted in the past several months was from my guy The Coffee Pedlar. Good lord. He is a master. His bike rig is usually parked at Pritchard Park, and he makes thee best fucking coffee ever, IMHO. The last time I chatted with him, he said business is good, but it’s mostly out-of-towners, which he likes just fine, but he would love for more locals to stop by and see him. He’s really very nice and super good at making coffee, so please go pay him a visit at The Pritch, say howdy and try a cup. I guarantee it’ll be one of the best, if not THEE best cups of coffee you’ll have all year.
So there you go. I like Coffee. It is good. Find some that you like and drink it! Dress it up however you want. Cream. Sugar. Put fucking sweet ‘n’ lo in that shit if that’s what you’re into. The truly cool kids ain’t judgin’.
Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
I was surprised at how good the coffee was at Happy Jack’s on Tunnel Road.
Well bred, Weaverville. And free refills.
High Five has the best coffee in town, hands down. 2nd best is Waking Life.
City Bakery has the worst coffee..it always tastes burnt and disgusting. I respectfully disagree, High 5 for the win! Best coffee in town, the diablo is awesome. Bomba is truly delicious also.
I agree on City Bakery – I’ve tried light and medium roast on a number of occasions and is (to me) almost undrinkable. Tastes like Starbucks…still looking for good early AM downtown coffee.
I get my coffee at Carolina Mountain Bakery and it’s cheap. PLUS they make the best donuts and danishes in town.
The Biltmore Ave Drip was such a comfy little home away from home! Loved those window bench tables. Vincent’s Ear, of course, also missed.
I find Dobra’s tea house to be a great hang out and sip for hours on end kind of place, but of course there’s no coffee there. You get to geek out on tea instead. Those back tables are so relaxing. But it is a bit of a cave which isn’t fun on pretty days.
Agree on Vortex, coffee is very good, the donuts are just something to avoid. Which is really too bad, as I believe it is called Vortex Doughnuts, not Vortex Coffee.
Izzy’s doesn’t even get a mention?
Agreed on Vortex. Their coffee is outstanding but doughnut quality has gone steadily downhill since they opened. It’s obvious that the owner is a coffee roaster. They need to either hire a pastry chef or change their name to Vortex Coffee.
Hard to support Bomba, Salsa’s , or any of the other restaurants owned by a confirmed woman-beater with a record for child abuse too…..Just saying.
Good call on City Bakery, especially when paired with their delicious cheese danish! A big surprise for me on a plain old cup of drip was when I mixed the light and dark roast at Biscuit Head. Fantastically delicious!