For centuries ahead of the curve in a country that was until very recently something of a coffee desert, modern New Orleans has taken its sweet time coming to terms with the seismic events that rocked American café culture over the past few decades. At a time when you can buy chicory-infused iced coffees in supermarkets across the United States, when baristas everywhere from Boston to San Diego can rustle you up a proper cortado, the rustic coffee blends and all-night café au lait parlors no longer feel nearly as essential as they once did. Good news, however—even New Orleans eventually recognizes the need for change. These days, it's as if you can barely move for espresso bars and their spanking new La Marzocco machines. Here are five cafes that you absolutely shouldn't miss, all working overtime to transform the local culture.
Congregation Coffee Roasters
This brand-new café in historic Algiers Point—just a short ferry ride across the Mississippi from the French Quarter and the seen-better-days Café du Monde—fuses Seattle expertise and New Orleans flair in a classic corner storefront that invites lingering. (There are snacks.) Ask about the house beer, brewed in collaboration with local startup Urban South. congregationcoffee.com
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Cherry Espresso Bar
Lauren Fink is considered to be one of the city's best baristas; her long-running pop-up in the Lower Garden District was for years the place for a perfect shot. Now, Fink's got a place of her own, a renovated Uptown firehouse where she's able to expand her offerings to include classes and tastings. A big fan of the Portland, Ore. scene, look for names like RoseLine and Coava in Fink's regular rotation of roasters. Don't sleep on the ambitious pastries here, from in-house baker Christian Avilés. cherryespresso.com
This 250-square foot multi-roaster operation on St. Peter Street, just behind the cathedral, brings the revolution to the heart of the still largely traditionalist French Quarter. (This one's a godsend for visitors sleeping one off in the Quarter's many hotels.) Practically a veteran on the scene now, having opened in 2013, they do a terrific toddy cold brew for summer days and a potent Cuban for those times you can't wake up fast enough. spitfirecoffee.com
The odds of most visitors ending up anywhere near this cool little hideout, just a stone's throw from the Industrial Canal on an unkempt block north of St. Claude Avenue, are slim to none—at least until they figure out just how good the coffee can be. Using beans from one of the best roasters in the East (Miami's magnificent Panther Coffee), the typically friendly baristas here execute some of the better espresso drinks in the city. soloespressobar.com
Emerging as a community hub in an unlikely spot—Rampart Street, on the relatively unloved northern fringe of the French Quarter—you can drop by here any day for a proper cappuccino (look for beans from Four Barrel in San Francisco), but this is more than just a coffee stop. Evenings and weekends—any time, actually—look for everything from one-act play performances to vegan noodle bowl and pastry pop-ups.