We've seen a wave of all things "craft," specifically pertaining to beverages. The word latches onto all types of beverages: craft beer, craft cocktails, craft soda. It's an ambiguous meaning that's largely up for debate, but meant to imply that the beverage was created with better ingredients and more innovation than say, normal beer, cocktails and soda.
In Niagara County, tucked in busy (or not-so-busy) city and village centers spread apart by miles of farmland, cafes are doling out dirty London Fogs (Earl Grey tea, lavender syrup and espresso) alongside strong cups of dark roasts, best accompanied by fresh baked goods or breakfast sandwiches.
You don't need to venture into a large metropolitan to find these craft drinks; You can find them in a village with less than 2,000 residents. Here's a guide to Niagara County's cafes, from espresso bars with specialty drinks, to bottomless, no-frills coffee.
51 Canal St., Lockport
A coffee shop should be somewhere you could spend any amount of time at. You should be able to run in while you're running late and snatch a hot cup of coffee or spend the day, lazily switching between working on your laptop, reading a book (bonus points if a few are provided), chatting with a friend or playing a game. The Steamworks owners are big board game fans and their overflowing bookshelf -- featuring popular and barely known games -- should clue you in.
As for the coffee, the owner once described it as "more than fair trade," ethically sourced from farmers all over the world, bought either fair trade or direct trade.
“The specialty coffee world is very focused on helping farmers get the most for their crop. We turn around and we sell it for more because it’s a better coffee. It’s a better quality,” Brose told The Buffalo News in 2018.
Have your coffee a couple of different ways: pour-over, pre-brew drip, French press and cold brew. If you're not having coffee, order an espresso drink mixed with one of their house-made syrups, or a loose-leaf tea, such as Betty's Tonic, a dry blend of rosehips, star anise, mint, chamomile, lavender and vanilla.
31 Webster St., North Tonawanda and 45 East Ave., Lockport
People who choose whether they're Team Marvel or Team D.C. often find refuge on the internet, where they indulge their interests and even chat with like-minded fans Niagara County is home to two places where you can do all that -- read and purchase comics, interact with other fans -- in person, over a cup of espresso or bubble tea.
Originating in Lockport, then expanding into North Tonawanda in 2017, Pulp 716 is an award-winning hangout where you can buy comics and drink orange chocolate bubble tea all in one place. If you're looking for caffeine, your best bet is a bubble tea or plain coffee. But if you're seeking an interesting flavor combination, such as a white lavender hot chocolate or a chocolate-covered-raspberry hot chocolate, you'll have to forgo caffeine.
2 East Ave., Lockport
Espresso, flavored lattes, blended drinks a la Starbucks frappuccino style, and coffee, all grace Scripts Cafe's chalkboard menu. Specialty drinks change seasonally, rotating espresso and steamed milk with different syrups and teas, usually named something cute.
As you bite into a Lockportian breakfast sandwich and slurp down a seasonal latte, start planning your lunch move. Will you opt for a fiber-filled quinoa bowl and stick to your New Year's Resolution? Or a Kong Mi sandwich, a ciabatta roll encompassing roasted Asian barbecue pork, pickled vegetables, cilantro and flavored with sriracha and Asian mayonnaise? Maybe you're seeking a more savory meal, like an Alexander panini, ham, mozzarella, roasted red pepper and pesto pressed into a ciabatta roll.
For fresh sandwiches that could keep you full past dinner, Scripts does the job as well or better than many casual lunch spots -- and it's often a lot more health-conscious -- which is why it's remained a Lockport favorite for over five years.
[Related: Lockport’s Scripts Cafe serves great food]
17 Main St., Middleport
Edging the Erie Canal in a sleepy small town, the cafe provides all of the essentials: coffee, espresso, smoothies and baked goods. But the vogueish coffee shop excels with its frosted, layered cakes. Its Instagram feed features attractive photos of toasted coconut layered cakes next to chocolate raspberry buttercream. A walk down the canal, which is right outside the window, is better with a coffee in hand.
A coffee bar displays all of the distinct ways you could have your coffee and a similar espresso bar offers all the usual suspects, plus a white mocha and a caramel macchiato.
703 Center St., Lewiston
At Orange Cat, there's no shortage of options. Behind the bar, more than 20 jars hold loose leaf tea. They can make any espresso drink you could imagine, plus an overwhelming amount of choices you would have to be fairly creative to imagine, such as an Island Delight (a latte with caramel, coconut and kiwi flavors) or a Smelly Ellie (English toffee and peanut butter flavors).
The coffee shop regularly sees a line out the door and a full front lawn of patrons sitting at tables, especially during its busy summer season with annual festivals like the art and jazz festivals lining Center Street and crowds visiting nearby Artpark. In the winter, sit inside its cozy living room -- the cafe is inside a converted house -- sipping on your specialty espresso beverage.
417 Center St., Lewiston
Whether you prefer to dunk your cookie in your coffee or enjoy both separately, it would be difficult to order a coffee without a baked good when a cabinet of confections is staring back at you. Order any of the usual cafe classics -- espresso, tea -- and indulge in a rich piece of cheesecake or a freshly frosted cupcake before shopping around quaint Lewiston.
You go to The Village Bake Shoppe mostly for its made-from-scratch desserts. However, that doesn't mean you can't run in for a latte or wash a cupcake down with a macchiato. Make sure you take a peek at the drink of the month or try the house brew.
1319 Main St., Niagara Falls
There is undoubtedly nothing "craft" about this diner/coffee shop. And that's why people love it. A community staple since its 1979 opening, the cash-only diner is cheap and steadfast. There are no Edison bulbs or neon signs in sight. Locals love it. Tourists love it because locals love it.
You won't find fancy espresso drinks here, but you will find bottomless coffee.
315 Catherine St., Wilson
Western New Yorkers venture out to Wilson for generally one reason: Lake Ontario. While they're out there, perhaps they'll stop at one of the town's lakeside restaurants, a brewery or a coffee shop. In the city, espresso shots and macchiatos are never more than a ten-minute drive away. But in more rural areas, you don't often come across niche cafes without seeking them out.
Wilson Brew Co. offers all of the espresso drinks -- red eye, Americano, cafe breve -- hot and most iced, with coffee ice cubes, so they don't get watery. If you need more of a sugar fix, ask for a double hot chocolate or a mocha with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.
6535 Campbell Blvd, Suite A, Pendleton
With "craft" in the name and in front of many regular menu items, such as craft toast or dip, expect some unexpected flavors. For coffee, the shop boasts typical espresso drinks along with some you might need to Google, but it will be worth it. Try a Chemex coffee instead of your regular brew for a thicker and richer version or a Black Eye, which is a regular coffee with two shots of espresso. As for the other craft items, a craft grilled cheese boasts blue cheese (no ranch here), provolone, tomato and balsamic onion jam. The craft waffle is made from scratch. And if you're a sucker for pop-culture references, there's an avocado toast with Regina George's name on it.
Bonus: Shirt Factory
115 West Center St., Medina
Technically this is in the Orleans County town of Medina, but it borders Niagara County. The cafe-meets-cocktail-bar brings an avocado toast-like slice of metropolitan to Medina, a charming small town that's recently seen a flock of new restaurants opened by expats-turned-repats and longtime residents. The cafe features vegan baked goods and a toast bar, as well as typical espresso drinks, rotating specials, light fare and cocktails.
The shop uses coffee roasted by Steamworks in Lockport. For something out of the ordinary, the Cufflink is the daily brew with a splash of house sweet cream.
You might not expect cocktails like these outside of downtown Buffalo, but co-owner Scott Robinson mixes avant-garde, seasonal cocktails using top-shelf, local liquors and surprising ingredients.