Incredibly good coffee has become ubiquitous in New York City, and I regularly take full advantage of it. But I remember a time when it was not. I remember a time when you had to really hunt–and often suffer–for a cup that was merely passable. Nowadays, I’m rather spoiled. The dilemma is no longer about adequacy, it’s about choosing between degrees of excellence. We were recently in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I will admit to a fair bit of pre-trip anxiety. How humid will it be? What should I pack? What if I forget something? Dear Lord, what on earth am I going to do about my morning coffee?
Now, granted, I was well aware that neighboring Durham had some serious coffee cred. I knew this because it is the home of Counter Culture Coffee, the purveyor whose beans I have mailed to me across state lines and grind fresh when I make myself a cup at home. (Their Hologram blend happens to be my favorite.) But Raleigh? I worried Raleigh would return me to the days of dishwater coffee, or worse yet, coal pit sludge.
My concerns, as it turns out, were completely without merit. Raleigh has a robust coffee culture. What I mean by this is there are unlimited options available, fantastic local roasters, and expert baristas behind the counters at cafes and coffee shops throughout the city. In fact, from my count, you could spend a week and not cover all the options available. I tested this theory myself and failed miserably, succeeding only in whipping myself into a palpitating frenzy in the process.
The following are a few of my favorites from the capital of the Tar Heel State:
42 & Lawrence Espresso Bar and Coffee Lab
After multiple visits, this was far and away my favorite place for coffee in Raleigh, whether that be espresso, cold-brew, or draft lattes. 42 & Lawrence is the cafe-extension of Larry’s Coffee, a well regarded local roaster whose founder hails, of course, from Seattle. A corner shop housed in a sleek, modern space, with bowler hat light fixtures above the bar and a nook with booth-style seating tucked away in the back, I instantly imagined myself a regular here. Oh, and if you are looking for a little something to nibble on, their cookies and pastries are divine.
134 E Martin St
Sun-Thurs 7:00am – 6:00pm
Fri-Sat 7:00am – 8:00pm
The inspiration for Benelux Coffee came from its founder’s adventures in Brussels, Amsterdam, and San Francisco, and the influence of these distant locales are easily discernible at their cafe. Whether it’s the laid-back vibe of the venue, the associated cycling club, the made-to-order Belgian Waffles, the in-house roasted, small-batch coffees, or the solitary Biscoff cookie served with each cup, you’ll feel like you’re somewhere foreign and familiar simultaneously. While you’re there, snap a pic with the world’s largest coffee bean mural (recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records!). Oh, and to sweeten the deal just that much more, snag a stroopwafel to top your cup of morning brew for a negligible upcharge. (We fell in love with these in Amsterdam, and our lives have never been the same.)
402 Oberlin Rd Suite #118
Mon-Fri 7:00am – 9:00pm
Sat 7:00am – 10:00pm
Sun 7:00am – 7:00pm
Yellow Dog Bread Co.
Clean, unpretentious, with just a subtle hint of “country” in a decor that deftly avoids being mischaracterized as kitschy, Yellow Dog Bread Co. is a lovely, quiet space to spend an hour, two or four. Now, you may be asking: what does a bakery have to do with coffee? Um, who doesn’t like a little nibble with their cup of joe? Indeed, their breads, cookies, pastries, pies, and cakes are–true to reputation–tremendous. But don’t shrug your shoulders at the coffee. Yellow Dog Bread Co. serves delicious coffee from Richmond, Virginia’s Lamplighter Coffee Roasters, and the staff know their way around a commercial espresso rig.
219 E Franklin St
Mon-Fri 7:00am – 7:00pm
Sat: 8:00am – 6:00pm
How did I hear about Jubala Coffee? Biscuits. Yeah, Biscuits. They’re supposed to have really, really good ones with a variety of spreads. I can’t confirm that, though, because I managed to arrive at one of their two locations exactly 15 minutes after the kitchen had closed. So that was a real bummer, especially since I did not come close to my desired carb and butter intake on this trip. But all was not lost. Jubala Coffee is a bright, modern space, perfect for a sturdy cup of tasty brew and some time spent studying, working, or just hangin’ out.
And the coffee itself? Well, I’m a bit impartial. Their roaster of choice is Counter Culture Coffee, and as I said previously, it’s a favorite of mine. They weigh, grind, and prepare each cup to order, so whether you are looking for espresso, pour over, or french press, you’re in excellent hands here. Oh, and just in case you thought I went hungry, I sampled one of their muffins–a browned butter peach–and it was excellent. I wouldn’t bet against them biscuits.
Hours vary by location
The Morning Times
I actually learned about The Morning Times because of its legendary brunch. On Sundays, The Morning Times hosts a brunch next door at The Raleigh Times, a gastropub now residing in in the historic former home of the now-defunct newspaper. I didn’t feel particularly aggrieved at missing brunch, because the cafe is itself a treat. They serve Counter Culture Coffee and offer homemade bagels, various pastries, sandwiches, salads, and even vegan cookies. Their upstairs space features exposed brick walls as well as wood-paneled floors and ceiling. The gallery-lounge hybrid is the perfect space to work or just while away the hours.
10 E Hargett St
Mon-Fri 6:30am – 10:00pm
Sat-Sun: 7:30am – 10:00pm
To say I’m not a morning person would be the most unreasonably benign, egregiously euphemistic way possible to characterize the sleepwalking, unholy beast that I am in the morning. That’s right, I openly admit that I don’t even qualify as human until after that first cup of coffee. After the second, I may qualify as a citizen. (Note that “good” didn’t precede “citizen”.) So thank you, Raleigh, for making my journey back to civilization so enjoyable.
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