From South Dakota to New York, we’ve compiled a list of the best coffee shops to help you start your day off right.
By the time I arrived in Vienna, the situation had deteriorated. Typically, the latter half of February in one of the world’s greatest coffee cities is not known for cheerful weather, or for anything cheerful; this was 2020, and the late-winter skies felt grayer than usual, the winds chillier and less forgiving. A strange new virus was already ravaging neighbouring Italy and establishing a foothold in the Austrian Alps. Is it possible that the capital will not be far behind?
But first, coffee, lots of coffee—I was here to spend time in some of the world’s finest (and oldest surviving) coffee houses; worrying could wait. Neither modernised nor particularly interested in such an endeavour, the best of the grand, Habsburgian relics evoke a bygone era and place, resembling retired nineteenth-century first-class rail carriages, complete with wood panelling and carpeting, jacketed waiters, and deep banquettes that one could lose hours in. All are welcome, however, for energising espresso drinks, the best of which are served with an abundance of whipped cream, and thick slices of delicately layered strudel or Sachertorte.
My trip to Vienna was not intended to be a joyride, at least not entirely. Rather, it was intended to be the culmination of an intensive appreciation course on coffee and cafe culture throughout history, which I hoped to complete prior to entering year three of Food & Wine’s Best Coffee in America survey. Originally intended to highlight and encourage our own, homegrown scene, the project had grown larger and more daunting than ever, and I found myself in desperate need of inspiration, or at the very least, a history lesson.
And so I began walking backwards, to the surviving 1990s haunts of Seattle and Chicago, to New York’s Caffe Reggio, birthplace of the cappuccino in America, and to San Francisco’s ever-magical Caffe Trieste. I spent the majority of the winter passing the time in the bars and cafes of Italy, France, and Spain, and then there was Austria, not for the first time. The entire experience had been energizing—I was more than prepared to write.
February exhaled its final breath, March arrived, and we all know what happened next. Months later, I was sitting at home, clutching my memories of Vienna and a jumble of notes in the place of a story.
Not that American coffee culture — or the coffee world in general — ceased to evolve once the world came to a halt. In fact, the pandemic appeared to have accelerated an already rapid rate of change. Some survived, others thrived; new shops and roasters began popping up left and right, while long-standing favourites vanished entirely from the landscape. Eventually, I was able to return to the road and witness events unfold firsthand—I visited at least half of the states in 2020 alone, and well over half again in 2021, witnessing the industry struggle through this most trying period.
What will the Best Coffee in America look like in 2022, when most of the country has reverted to normalcy? One thing became clear—with many of our favourite coffee shops beginning to roast in the last two years and numerous accomplished roasters downsizing or diverting their efforts away from retail, it was time for the list to split into two sections—one for the best coffee shops and another for the best roasters. Additionally, given the circumstances, the ranking mechanism introduced in 2019 will not be reinstated—for 2022, both lists will be divided into the best of each state, resulting in one of the most representative surveys we’ve ever published.
And so, what does the ideal coffee shop look like? Let’s begin with perfect coffee, or something close to it; they will be brewing the best (and pulling the best shots) in the immediate, or not-so-immediate, vicinity, and this is critical. Aesthetics and the environment are critical, but not nearly as much as functionality—from Fargo, North Dakota, to the heart of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, one can safely assert that we have mastered modern coffee shop design. However, truly exceptional coffee is still exceedingly difficult to come by.