It seems as though every restaurant has a fancy espresso machine gurgling, sputtering and hissing on a counter. Holy barista, even McDonald’s is practicing the art of the lattè. That competition (and market saturation) means the independent coffeehouse has to try a little harder. It’s no longer “brew it, and they will come.” And WiFi can’t be your only draw either.
To find an audience, you have to create a vibe — whether glamorous or quirky or homey — that will attract a devoted following. And it had better be organic, the vibe, not the beans (although the latter doesn’t hurt). Here are some of 29-95’s favorite indie coffee houses and why we embrace the atmosphere and inhale the coffee.
Fans of this tiny Heights coffee house are a passionate bunch. For many, it’s the only coffee house in town. So what’s to love? The eclectic clientèle, the locally driven snack menu with plenty of vegan options, a brew-snob-worthy beer menu, the shabby-chic décor and a sincerely happy happy hour (4-7 p.m. weekdays) with $1 double espressos as well as alcohol discounts. The owners are opening a similar operation, Black Hole, at the corner of Graustark and Castle Court.
where: 729 Studewood
on the web: antidotecoffee.com
Antigua Coffee House
Pearland residents may be surprised to know that they have such a good coffee house in their midst. Owners Jeremy Perrine and Eric Hammond roast their own beans so every cup of coffee is super fresh. The atmosphere is so unpretentious and relaxing that time seems to just melt away. The sleek, modern décor is cozier than you’d expect thanks to the shop’s warm colors, wicker chairs and the local artwork. The coffee bag “walls” are a fun touch. There’s generally a good selection of pastries and other sweets. And if there isn’t, then shame on you for not getting there quicker.
where: 8201 Broadway in Pearland
on the web: pearlandcoffeeroasters.wordpress.com
Bohemeo’s is a meeting ground for Houston’s poets, artists and musicians, as well as folks who just want a cup of coffee. You can grab a couple of shrimp tacos and watch bands from all over the world play. Or maybe get a cup of coffee and relax on the gargantuan patio with some friends. No matter what you do here, it’s a nice spot to chill among smiling faces and creative people.
where: 708 Telephone
on the web: bohemeos.com
Youthful owner Max Gonzalez is just one of the friendly faces behind the counter at this coffee house that was serving Washington Avenue commuters before the area was cool. It’s not going to be the place you want to camp with coworkers while you’re finishing a project, but it is the place you want to hit if you’re looking for latte perfection. This place caters to folks serious about their coffee, and little more.
where: 2201 Washington
on the web: catalinacoffeeshop.com
As much community center as coffee house, the Oasis is where the folks in Seabrook gather for conversation, a turkey wrap and a jumbo iced mocha. Owner Rusty Cate’s weekly newsletter is filled with Oasis happenings ranging from open-mic nights and bluegrass jams to Scrabble club meetups and men’s Bible study. Compared to many coffee houses, the place is huge. There’s even a room for private events. There’s much to like here: hot sandwiches, homey (if cluttered) décor and a selection of wine and beer.
where: 4650 NASA Parkway in Seabrook
on the web: coffee-oasis.com
There are plenty of places to go for people-watching, but this is our go-to spot for people-listening. (Yeah, we said it: We eavesdrop.) On a recent visit, we heard a discussion of the geopolitcal ramifications of the Tunisian revolution, a diatribe against the upcoming British royal wedding (and, for that matter, all weddings) and a passionate framing of Justin Bieber as the next Paul Anka. You gotta love a place that spawns such lively conversation. Oh, yeah, and Fioza also serves coffee in a casually cool setting. There’s even a patio if you feel the need to take that conversation outside. Hungry? The soups of the day are always interesting and tasty, and there are sweets by Take the Cake. The latte artists are so good, they can make a logo in foam (see cover).
where: 9002 Chimney Rock
on the web: fioza.com
Midtown has several fine independent coffee houses, including Coffee Groundz and CoCo’s Crepes & Coffee, but we find ourselves always going back to low-key Khon’s. It’s one of the few coffee houses on this list where you won’t find a television. In the television’s stead, there are pieces by local artists on the walls and a couple of dart boards that have seen some serious play. Khon’s brews Community Coffee, sells sake and Texas beers, and frequently showcases musicians. It’s not the biggest, or most elegant, or most trendy coffee house, but we call it home.
where: 2808 Milam
on the web: khonsbar.com
Italy prides itself on the flashy; think the Alfa Romeo Spider and Pucci prints. Minuti sells Molinari-brand coffee that is “100 percent Italian.” The cafe is theatrical with dramatic red walls, chrome seating, über-cool fixtures and a well-coiffed staff. It’s almost a little too cool. But the caramel macchiato is as dreamy as an old Sophia Loren flick.
where: 1535 Texas 6
in Sugar Land and 909 Texas in downtown Houston
phone: 281-265-3344; 713-226-7500
on the web: minuticoffee.com
Octane Coffee Lounge
Can a coffeehouse be too cool? Sure, when you’re sitting on an iron chair and the management has the air conditioning set on Arctic. That said, we love little Octane, which looks like it was dreamed up by folks who spent way too much time prowling Restoration Hardware. The staff is crazy friendly and oh-so-earnest. The Garden Oaks cafe does have some comfy couches, as well as the aforementioned industrial seating and there’s even a small patio. As for the menu, it’s pastries, paninis and a short beer and wine list.
where: 3402 N. Shepherd
on the web: facebook.com/octanecoffeeandwine
The Warm Up Sport & Coffee House
The indie cafes in Katy continue to surprise us. This large, uncluttered coffee house is setting itself up as a kind of clubhouse where like-minded folks gather. In this case, cyclists are being courted. In addition to organic, locally roasted coffee, Warm Up serves pastries, breakfast tacos and sandwiches for lunch. There’s also a respectable variety of nutrition bars and cycling products.
where: 918 S. Fry in Katy
on the web: