The Coffee Culture chain may have closed up shop and left town, but the culture of coffee is flourishing in Western New York.
While corporate caffeine delivery systems like Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts still dominate local market share and the curated allure of Starbucks is fading like the foam on your flat white, a handful of small and independently owned new coffee shops are meeting a new thirst for both artisanal brews and chill environments distinct from the prefab feel of the chains.
This “third wave” of coffee culture, which emphasizes quality, took a while to reach Buffalo after its 1990s beginnings in hipper locales. But now that it’s here, neighborhood joints with an uncommon focus on quality beans, advanced brewing methods and clear, clean flavors are popping up in unexpected places. They join an already healthy trove of cafés that, in many cases, have been pumping out quality coffee for years and sometimes decades.
The new shops that have appeared over the last few years are far from uniform in their commitment to third-wave articles of faith. Some focus more on the vibe than the product, while others pride themselves on calibrating the parameters of your single-source pour-over to within tenths of a degree and fractions of a second.
That can rarely be accompanied by an unrequested side-serving of light pretentiousness, perceived or real, but don’t let that distract you: The owners and employees of these new shops are just evangelists for the transformative power of a perfectly crafted cup of joe that’ll put your daily double-double from Timmy Ho’s to shame. And if the quality of your brew is not a concern, these new joints are still worth checking out purely on a people-watching basis.
Here are seven new (or newish) shops to get you started.
– Colin Dabkowski
23 Allen St. (427-3147)
Description: If you’re looking for a relaxed, laid-back corner coffee shop, Caffeology is your jam. With burlap coffee bag-covered stools, rustic-chic furnishings and local art on display, this is the opposite of the sleek, coiffed coffeeshops we’ve seen popping up locally. Coffee snobs need not steer clear; Caffeology features Turkish, cold brew and Syphon coffee alongside a wide range of espresso and blender drinks.
Hipster factor: 5 (out of 5)
Vibe: With reggae playing on the stereo the day I visited and open mic nights, poetry readings and drum circles on the schedule, Caffeology is as laid-back as it gets.
Unusual coffee options like Turkish and Syphon styles, with signature blender drinks including the Buffalo Truffle (toffee nut, caramel and white mocha blender drink).
Drip coffee is $1.76 for a small, lattes are in the $3-$5 range.
Breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and soups, with a focus on healthy, wholesome offerings.
Hangout rating: The chill vibe makes Caffeology a great stop for studying, reading or writing on an average day, while its events can draw a crowd. Stop by during the day for a cozy solo spot, or bring friends for an evening hangout.
- Lizz Schumer
Daily Planet Coffee
1862 Hertel Ave. (551-0661)
Description: In a time when superhero culture makes billions for toy manufacturers and movie studios, it would be understandable to assume the Superman-referencing Daily Planet Coffee is a place for those who enjoy capes with their caffeine. This assumption is wrong.
But instead of a joint serving Styrofoam-cupped mud for Clark Kent-types, it’s an inviting bastion for latte lovers and live music, both situated in harmony at the corner of Parker and Hertel avenues.
College students and nearby residents coexist through rounds of Mucho Mochas or a variety of organic coffees, and local singer-songwriters take the shop’s timber-backed stage via its regular acoustic lunches or evening performances. Stir it all together and you have an aromatic and rhythmic oasis bustling in a now burgeoning stretch of the city.
Hipster factor: 2
Vibe: Laid-back corner coffeehouse, but one predicated on its North Buffalo neighborhood and nearby music community.
Papua New Guinea (medium roast); French Roast (dark).
$2 coffee, $4.15 latte
Diners can feast on standard egg sandwiches and bagels for breakfast; turkey gouda panini, grilled cheese sandwiches or homemade soups for lunch; or simply skip all sensibility and storm right to a slice of Daily Planet’s carrot cake, delicious with one of the locale’s fair trade coffees.
Hangout rating: If you’re looking for solitude amid school assignments or a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s latest offering, find a table in the morning or early afternoon. If you’re eager to hang with friends over some hot caramel apple ciders, a few laughs and eclectic offerings from the Planet’s intimate stage, schedule time in the early evening.
– Michael Farrell
160 Allen St. (725-6300)
Description: The 1990s are alive again. At first glance, Grindhaus is a hodgepodge of secondhand aesthetics: Bohemian, grunge, hipster, garage-sale-chic, millennial, organic pride, reading circles. A limited beverage menu caters to third-wave coffee drinkers, with lots of vegan and vegetarian food options available.
Grindhaus takes over the prime corner spot at Allen and Park streets previously home to New York Pizza. Thankfully, the place is cleaned up and expanded, with lots of window space out onto this busy pedestrian corner. Spotted inside: voter registration forms, free condoms, board games and potted plants.
Hipster factor: 5
Vibe: Vegan (and vegan-friendly) hipsters, buried in their Macbooks and study groups, to the sound of pour-over being stirred.
Bootleg Blend, a Mexico-Guatemala hybrid from Ugly Mug, a coffee roaster in Ypsilanti, Mich. Plus assorted teas.
$1.84 for a 12-ounce mug.
Vegan and vegetarian sandwiches and salads, with tofu, tempeh, beans, mock fish and lots of vegetables. A dessert menu includes vegan-baked goods and fruit. There’s an emphasis on sustainability and locally sourced ingredients, where available.
Hangout rating: The room is small and quaint, with a low ceiling and tight traffic flow; a small bar is ideal for loners. It’s cozy enough to meet a new acquaintance, if that’s your thing. Personal conversations could prove uncomfortable, but if you’ve got a study group, this is your place.
– Ben Siegel
448 S. Elmwood Ave. (856-0709)
Description: Relocated and consolidated from two downtown cafes, Perks Cafe took over the former Coffee Culture and turned it into a comfortable, pink-walled caffeine stop.
With a full espresso bar, local coffee and tea, homemade baked goods and fresh-made food, Perks is the friendly neighborhood coffee shop that’s a step above the green-logoed guys.
Hipster factor: 2
Vibe: Perks is unpretentious and approachable, with friendly faces behind the bar, cheerful paper flowers hanging from the ceiling and inspirational wall art to boost your spirits as well as your caffeine content.
Perks does chai and specialty coffee drinks as well as drip coffee, and has unique flavors like the Hot Buttered Rum latte that change seasonally.
Drip coffee is $1.75-$2.25 for 12-20 ounces, lattes are in the $3-$4.50 range.
Breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and soups. The homemade baked goods are not to be missed, including chunky cookies, inch-tall brownies and a wide range of vegan options. Soups change seasonally, and most of the options are homemade to order.
Hangout rating: Perks can be a bustling place during the morning rush, but its plethora of seating makes for a great study or work spot, as long as you bring headphones. Larger tables and gathering areas would make it a fun date night or group hangout place, and the fireplace is great for cozying up on a chilly afternoon.
– Lizz Schumer
45 East Ave., Lockport (201-1034)
Description: Following the model of other small businesses that are diversifying their offerings to stay afloat in a tough economy, this mecca for comic nerds on Lockport’s main drag offers an unexpected fusion of high-end roasts and popular comic book titles.
Pulp 716’s coffee game is geographically on point, featuring historically accurate roasts designed to mimic what coffee tasted like during distinct periods in the city’s history. There’s the Erie Canal Builder Blend, scientifically calibrated to taste like coffee brewed in the 1830s (not half bad, as it turns out), as well as blends that approximate the roasting techniques of the 1920s, ’60s and a special Blizzard of ’77 blend.
Comic-wise, the shop competes with the best of them, offering a wide selection of popular books and plenty of trade compilations, figures and merchandise.
What’s more, it offers a large, kid-friendly lounge space stocked with board games, a small foosball table and a record player customers are encouraged to use as they flip through comic books or work on their laptops.
The popular shop, opened last year by Jay and Amy Berent, is well worth the trip up Transit Road.
Hipster factor: 2
Vibe: Starbucks meets Kevin Smith’s living room meets the children’s section of your local library. In other words, refreshingly eclectic.
A range of historically accurate coffee blends at $1.79 a cup. Also offers an enormous range of bubble teas at $3.99 each.
Coffee, $1.79; no espresso drinks
Food: Various prepackaged pastries.
Hangout rating: The space offers an inviting atmosphere, designed more for fostering conversation and camaraderie than solitary work.
– Colin Dabkowski
Hotel @ the Lafayette, 391 Washington St.
Description: From the name of the shop spelled out with red envelopes in the Lafayette’s former mail slots to the absurdly enticing selection of pastries sitting in a handsome glass case on the counter, this place has been interior-designed to within an inch of its life. Which fits, because it also delivers some of the most meticulously crafted coffee beverages on this edge of the state.
You can get coffee flights of one bean prepared three different ways – pour-over, espresso and with steamed milk. You can get three different seasonal hot chocolates for $4. You can get something called a raspberry espresso tonic, bound to challenge your taste buds while also waking you up, for $4.50.In the summer, Public provides an equally impressive array of cold drinks, from cold brew coffee pulled from an actual tap to ice-cold coffee infused with nitrogen gas for Guinness-like look and effervescence. Beans are roasted in Public’s Grant Street roastery, which co-owner Sam Scarcello said is on track to open as a standalone shop in the spring.
Hipster factor: 3.5
Vibe: Opulent hotel lobby trafficked by the famous-for-Buffalo. A Rust Belt version of Stumptown Coffee’s outpost
128 Fargo Ave. (331-3954)
Description: Tipico popped up last summer on a residential West Side corner to little fanfare but much anticipation; one day, it was open, and it’s been packed since.
Owner Jesse Crouse is a Chicago transplant (his wife is a Buffalo native), and he’s worked around the world in the premium-coffee industry. Those influences show in this third-wave museum: exquisite care, magazine-worthy aesthetics, superior customer service and simply good coffee.
The interior is designed by Buffalo’s Davidson Rafailidis Architecture, and it’s buzzworthy. Prepare your Instagram filters. And be sure to use the bathroom, if you can figure it out.
Hipster factor: Right on the international border of design-chic and third-wave coffee smarts. 4
Vibe: Sleek, clean and white, with an astute attention to detail and refinement. Still, it doesn’t feel stuffy or uptight.
Now brewing: Ruby, a roaster in Wisconsin; Detour, from Burlington, Ont.; Parlor Coffee, from Brooklyn. Pour-over coffee and espresso drinks, plus loose-leaf teas from Kilogram Tea.
Cost of regular coffee: $2.75 for a medium quick brew, $4-$5 for pour-over.
Food: A limited menu of toasts (available with avocado, housemade ricotta and jam, or Nutella), sandwiches and a house salad. A la carte items include a hard-boiled egg, cheese and yogurt. Baked goods from local baker Butter Block available on certain days.
Hangout rating: This space is so head-to-toe beautiful, it’s easy to be intimidated into sitting in silence, staring at every intentional corner. Acoustics support a private conversation if you’re discreet. It’s a great place for groups and couples looking for a serene sip of premium coffee.
– Ben Siegel
Enjoy maps? Colin Dabkowski wove together this Google masterpiece:
Story topics: coffee/ coffee shops/ Daily Planet Coffee Company/ Grindhaus Cafe/ lizz schumer/ Lockport coffee shops/ Michael Farrell/ New Wave coffee/ pour-over coffee/ public espresso/ Pulp 716/ Tipico