You can’t be one of America’s fastest-growing cities without lots of caffeine—but is the product any good?
Americans are on the move, no secret there, it’s kind of our thing, and these days, so many of us are going to Texas. Pick a big city, and it’s growing, and most likely by the double digits, too; did you know, for example, that Dallas-Fort Worth has grown so much in recent years, it is now the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, right behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago?
Come here, and you’ll see it all going down; Dallas is big now, really big, and it never seems to stop adding on, and it feels like the place is moving faster, more hurriedly than ever, and, who knows, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but could it be all the coffee? So many roasters, so many cafes, and if you are looking to properly dive in, and get a feel for what’s what, and what’s good, you will need time, and you will need patience.
Time, because Dallas is enormous. Patience, because, as in so many American cities right now, while you are suddenly faced with more options than ever, many of them are not particularly good. Enthusiasm and ambition, they’re everywhere. Real talent, that’s harder to track.
During a two-week visit, I came across roaster after roaster, many of them doing solid work, others doing good work, and getting better, which was encouraging. Less inspiring were the many coffee shops, all-day cafes and espresso bars that cared more about all the other things they were doing, or the atmosphere they were providing, than the actual coffee. Some just didn’t seem to care at all, based on what they were serving. There were times I felt I’d traveled about five, sometimes ten years back in time.
Truthfully, the only thing current in too many Dallas coffee shops is the pricing, often some of the highest you will find in the country. Fair trade and fair wages are very fine things indeed, but to be paying a full dollar more for an espresso than you will typically pay in cities where the coffee is consistently superb, a situation I was faced with in more than one highly-recommended shop, you expect the very best, and in Dallas, you don’t always get that. Out of countless shots ordered, most were forgettable, and sometimes flat-out undrinkable; sour, sloppy, better left for dead.
In summary: Dallas may be charging ahead of many other cities, but the coffee has some catching up to do. Happily, while we wait, there are already some very good places you ought to try, and I’ve selected a few of them here. I expect that within the next year or two, this list will evolve considerably, not to mention grow much longer. There’s too much enthusiasm and raw talent here. It’s going to happen.
Found all over town in restaurants and cafes, Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters hangs its hat on a particularly current commercial block in the Oak Cliff neighborhood, on a side of town that feels nothing like the well-coiffed Dallas that most people used to think of, a Dallas still very much in existence, back on the other side of the Trinity River. This passionately source-conscious roasting operation shares space with one of the city’s best coffee bars, a ruggedly handsome space with two manual espresso machines for centerpieces. The espresso can be decent, but the Chemex brewed coffees are where it’s at, to the point where you won’t care so much about their borderline obsessive no-paper cups rule. (They will tell you that paper ruins the taste of the coffee, and takeout orders are served in burlap-wrapped glass jars, with a $2 deposit fee.) There’s good coffee shop food here, toasts and the like, they make their own chocolate, which you can sample freely at the counter; there’s even an in-house bakery, Candor Bread, and you can pick up loaves to take home on certain days. Some places, you drop by for a cappuccino. This place feels like an event.
This relatively small operation is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and nabbing a couple of Good Food Award nods has certainly helped. At their finest, the coffees are among the best in Texas, earning owners Kevin and Marta Sprague a spot on Food & Wine’s Best Coffee in Every State list for 2018. Once again, a warmly modern shop and a spiffy roasting plant are combined here, though on a slightly smaller scale. A typically out-of-the-way location (in October, the Texas State Fair is in residency, just down the block) makes for a mellow shop experience, perhaps a bit informal for some tastes. Once the lone barista turns up at the counter, for example, you will find some of the most consistent espresso drinks in the city, and if you stop at one Dallas shop on your next visit, definitely stop here. On a hot day, by the way, Noble Coyote’s cold brew is just the thing.
One of the most fashionable roasters in the area right now is Novel Coffee, and you’ll find their product served all over town; it wasn’t until recently, however, after a merger with a much smaller roaster in suburban Flower Mound, that Novel a proper flagship cafe, which is great if you are out that way, and not so great otherwise. A tiny counter in a naturally-lit corner of a rather unremarkable Uptown bar might not seem like an address for excellence, but coffee whiz / consultant Mike Mettendorf’s deceptively simple outfit, a place he hangs out between gigs, is not only one of the best places to sample Novel’s product in the city proper, it is also where you will find some of the best coffee in Dallas. Look for bigger things to come—Mettendorf is planning to unveil his own roasting operation in 2019, along with a proper cafe, in the happening Bishop Arts District.
Once merely a roasting plant, now a properly civilized hang on an up-and-coming strip just south of Downtown, Michael and Chris Wyatt’s modest operation has evolved over time to become one of the most pleasant shops in Dallas for easing into your morning. Beans, roasted on the very eco-friendly Loring (it’s that shiny thing, just steps from the counter), are sourced from an impressive roster of less-than-typical locations, including Yemen.