Coffee is the most commonly traded commodity, second only to gas, so it’s no wonder everyone’s got their favorite cuppa joe and their go-to local java joint to satisfy that caffeine craving! Birmingham’s bean scene is booming, and the coffee culture is not filled with caffeine fiends, but educated baristas who travel for continued training, shop owners who stand by organic and locally sourced ingredients, hardworking employees who get up early to make scratch-made soups and loyal customers who not only love their favorite cup of coffee, but their favorite seat at each of these beloved neighborhood coffee shops.
14 Birmingham Coffee Shops by Neighborhood
1826 Third Ave. North, Unit 101, Birmingham
“We’re in the thick of downtown Birmingham with the marquees of the Alabama Theatre and The Lyric casting their light on our block. We’re in the center of the city, with new developments and residences going up left and right,” says Meredith Singer, director of marketing at Revelator. “I love that energy, the spirit of entrepreneurship and growth.” With coffee shops in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville and New Orleans, this rapidly growing specialty coffee company is proud to call downtown Birmingham its headquarters. Meredith says their espresso will convert you, while barista Sarah Witowski is partial to their iced coffee. “People have this notion that all iced coffees are created equal, which is most certainly not the case with ours,” says Sarah. “Ours is cold brewed overnight for 16 hours which pours up a smooth and delicious cup of iced coffee.”
And if you are hungry, you can grab a bite to eat in this large, beautiful, zen-like space. Enjoy fresh croissants and cookies made by the local bakery Birmingham Breadworks; doughnuts made by We Have Doughnuts, a pop-up shop right around the corner; or a slice of pie from Greensboro, AL-based Pie Lab. And last, but not least, is their in-house, open-face toast. Choose from a house coffee butter toast, seasonal sweet potato miso toast or the most popular, avocado toast.
2901 Second Ave. S., Pepper Place, Birmingham • (205) 616-8450
Red Cat Coffee House owners Kirk Summers and Erin Isbell decided to learn how to roast their own coffee when they couldn’t find a cup of joe in town in that met their high standards. “A small roaster turned into a big roaster, and we got a business license, so we could start roasting for other people,” says Kirk. “Eventually, our friends who own McEwen & Sons organic grits urged us to start coming to Pepper Place Farmers Market to sell our coffee. We were successful there, so Sloss Real Estate asked us to take over one of their vacant spots and the Red Cat was born.” Red Cat roasts its coffee in-house, so they can respond to what the customers want and like. It also allows them to look for small batches of exotic coffees, such as the Costa Rican Honey coffee on the menu now. “Our drinks run the gamut from purist to indulgent. The customer gets to decide what they want and can always be assured that we craft it carefully.”
The large, airy space has a comfy, down-home feel, where you can choose a comfortable nook to study, work, surf the Internet or visit with friends. For breakfast, try their omelets, McEwen & Sons’ organic grits with Gouda cheese, breakfast sandwiches or pastries, and for lunch, choose from panini sandwiches, wraps, seasonal salads, a Greek salad, soups or in-house Greek spanakopita. The Pepper Place Farmers Market keeps the Red Cat hopping every Saturday morning for eight months out of the year, but Kirk is also deeply supportive of the neighborhood that is taking root around the cafe. “It’s exciting to see Iron City Lofts going up and the Rotary Trail coming our way,” says Kirk. “We’ve been here to see the neighborhood grow into an active, supportive community.”
2007 University Blvd., Birmingham • (205) 328-2007
Greensboro, AL, native Lucy Bonds lived in Seattle in the late ’80s and early ’90s, during its coffee heyday, so when she came back to Birmingham, she wanted to bring a taste of that coffee culture to the city. She chose UAB as the location where she could find a diverse cross section of people from all over the country and the world. She started with a coffee cart on the corner of University Boulevard and 20th Street in February 1993. “After two years of working in the elements, I started looking for a permanent place and Lucy’s opened in September of ’95,” says Lucy of her shop, where UAB is still her favorite thing about the cafe. “My customer base is diverse and brilliant, seriously brilliant. The meetings that take place in the shop are often in other languages and often so scientific it sounds like another language,” says Lucy. “And Lucy’s is a home for a lot of folks. It’s a soulful place, not fancy at all.” In addition to the coffee menu, Lucy’s serves panini sandwiches, salads, tuna and chicken salads, and homemade soups that are 99.9 percent vegetarian and very healthy.
2320 Second Ave. N., Birmingham • (205) 250-8200
Anchoring the Second Avenue North neighborhood, Urban Standard offers some of the most beautiful espresso-based beverages in town, as well as a creative menu of sandwiches, homemade soups, salads, their Thai noodle bowl, hummus plate and “hippie gumbo,” among other offerings. The exposed brick, vintage furniture and warm, industrial decor offer a growing community of loft dwellers, students, creative thinkers and busy professionals the perfect refuge.
“I feel like that’s what sets the Second Avenue neighborhood apart,” says Trevor Newberry, general manager and chef at Urban Standard. “There’s a distinctly homegrown, local feel that you can’t find elsewhere in the city. People live here, both literally in lofts and apartments, as well as figuratively, as devoted regulars and patrons. Urban Standard and the neighborhood are inescapably linked. They both thrive on the creativity and eclectic personality of the folks that live and work here. We’re built by and dedicated to the loyal people that have stuck by us for over seven years.”
1500 First Ave. N., Birmingham • (800) 295-9485
“While we may not have a traditional brick-and-mortar coffee shop, I think we still provide something unique to the coffee culture in Birmingham,” says John Pearce, Icebox Coffee marketing manager. Icebox started when founder Bebe Goodrich moved away from her New Orleans home and discovered that her beloved cold brew coffee was not the mainstay it was throughout New Orleans. After settling with her husband in Birmingham, Bebe decided to share her delicious NOLA-style coffee, and thus Icebox Coffee was born. Now, Icebox brews and bottles a cold brew coffee in a variety of flavors that can be delivered to your home or enjoyed in a growing number of local restaurants, such as OvenBird, Brick & Tin, Carrigan’s Public House and El Barrio.
“Our coffee concentrate is very versatile,” says John. “It can be mixed into a variety of drinks or into some baking recipes. Some of our favorite recipes are the Eggnog Iced Latte or the Coffee Crunch Ice Cream.” Through its presence at Pepper Place Farmers Market, Icebox has amassed a loyal following in Birmingham and is now even sold in stores throughout the Southeast!
7619 First Ave. N., East Lake • (205) 838-0559
East Lake resident Amber Tolbert and her husband love the creativity and diversity of their eclectic neighborhood so much that they decided to open their cafe and vintage store as a way to contribute to the revitalization of the neighborhood. “Lots of people questioned whether we could possibly be successful in our neighborhood,” says Amber. “But when people walk into our shop, they see that we can. And as they walk out, they see our neighborhood with all of its wonderful beauty and amazing assets. People say they have a renewed sense of hope for our community. We want to continue to create a space that allows people to think bigger and dream bigger for the urban neighborhoods of Birmingham.”
And the neighborhood is definitely enjoying its new gathering spot. Knitting circles, business meetings, Bible studies and neighborhood groups can be found enjoying East 59’s high-quality, affordable, classic drip coffee or the most popular, iced mocha. Amber’s favorite drink is the con panna, a double shot of espresso with whipped cream. They also offer breakfast and lunch options, including the popular box lunch, as well as the recently launched take-home dinners, hot homemade meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
174 Oxmoor Road, Homewood • (205) 259-6405
Seeds Coffee was started by a group of friends whose passion for community and coffee inspired them to create a gathering place. “Seeds Coffee started with roasting coffee beans on a popcorn roaster,” says Jeff Huey, roaster and green coffee buyer of the nonprofit Seeds Coffee Co. Now, the sprawling cafe with its sharp vintage interiors and heated outdoor patio serves up fantastic cold-brewed coffee on nitrogen, lattes and Ethiopian pour-overs and a mean single origin espresso, along with an old-fashioned donut or other pastries from local bakeries and culinary artisans. At night, guests can enjoy a cold local draught beer and live music. “Rumor has it that the wife of one of the NFL’s general managers loves our coffee,” says Jeff. “But my favorite thing about Seeds is the family relationship we have amongst our employees.”
2821 Central Ave., Homewood • (205) 969-1177
2221 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., Birmingham • (205) 969-1177
“Our staff strives to gain trust with all of our customers by making the right drink for them over and over,” says Mary Cate Prendergast, general manager at Octane Coffee and Bar. “When that trust is built, we begin to share new drinks with them, and it can spill over to the excitement and joy that is specialty coffee from the baristas to the customer!” Octane’s coffee beans are roasted on-site and all of the pastries are made in-house in the modern cafe and bar, where the biscuit is most popular breakfast item. Mary Cate says the coffee is always changing and new techniques are always being introduced into the industry. “We have been experimenting with single origin espressos, which have become wildly popular on the West Coast. In general, they tend to have brighter notes and hints of sweetness,” says Mary Cate. Be on the lookout for public cuppings at the Uptown location and future classes in home brewing, espresso 101 and palate building.
2831 18th St. S., Homewood • (205) 870-1198
2915 Highland Ave., Highland Park • (205) 250-1195
Regions Tower, 1901 Sixth Ave. N., Birmingham • (205) 323-1198
569 Brookwood Village, Ste. 101, Birmingham • (205) 870-1148
“In 1993, a retired orthodontist and avid coffee lover named Dr. Henry Bright decided he would open a nifty little coffeehouse, because there were no specialty coffeehouses in Birmingham at that time,” says Randy Adamy, O’Henry’s Coffees owner, who bought the business in 1999, when Dr. Bright wanted to pull away from the demands of owning a local business. Between their four locations, O’Henry’s now serves more than 8,000 people each week. Randy says the medium drip coffee is probably still the most popular drink, although they also offer a menu of delicious specialty drinks. O’Henry’s rotates through 30 to 40 different coffees each month from all over the world, which they roast themselves. Guests can purchase their choice of beans in the shop or find them at many local grocery stores. “We do fresh baked muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls and other pastries every morning. They come out of the oven, and people just go crazy,” says Randy.
“We are kind of like the bar at Cheers, where ‘everybody knows your name,’” says Randy. “I love the relationships that we have with our guests and employees. We have people that have been coming to us for years and years. We know when they are going to come in, where they are going to sit, what they are going to drink, and then we get to know about them. We get to know about their kids and their work — the relationships, far and away, are the best thing about O’Henry’s.”
81 Church St., Mountain Brook • (205) 870-1117
“We value a quality product and will always appreciate an exquisitely made cappuccino, but what we value most is life with our customers. Many have become good friends,” says Calvin Morris, Church Street Coffee and Books owner and manager. “I cannot say how thankful I am for the neighborhood’s support of us. Sometimes I feel that they want Church Street to succeed more than I do!” Calvin opened Church Street more than four years ago after Starbucks closed its Crestline location, leaving him without a barista job. He decided that the loyal clientele still needed a coffee shop, so he set about opening one — with a bookstore included to satisfy his inner bookworm.
In addition to quality coffee and espresso drinks, Church Street serves up delicious culinary offerings, all made from scratch, in-house, with all natural, if not organic, ingredients. “We believe in healthy eating and many of our treats are catered to several dietary and allergen restrictions in the hopes that everyone can have at least one thing to indulge in when they come through our doors,” says Calvin. Try the infamous Break-up Cookie, a big, chewy chocolate chip cookie topped with sea salt, or the Sweet Mud Bar and Sunrise Cookie, excellent energy treats that are sweetened only with molasses, maple syrup and agave.
5184 Caldwell Mill Road, #206, Hoover • (205) 980-7445
“We have live music nights, wine tastings, open mic and karaoke. We have had football tailgates, Bible studies, small classes and students from Oak Mountain, Spain Park, Jefferson State and Westminster schools hold study groups here,” says Michelle Grossmann, owner of The Neighborhood Brew. “We have people studying at our tables and customers sharing conversation over a beer or glass of wine at the bar. Customers come in and have extensive conversations with Craig, my husband and co-owner, about the soccer games, which are almost always on the back TV. The Neighborhood Brew is truly a place where there are no socioeconomic lines.”
In addition to coffee drinks and smoothies, beer and wine is served at the bar. The Brew offers muffins, scones, their original and most popular homemade Brew Biscuits — a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit; pastries and desserts made by local vendors; flatbreads and small pizzas; small appetizer plates and chili, plus a soup of the day every day. One day, their most “famous” regular customer, Curly, didn’t show up at his usual spot at the bar, so another regular, Mike, went to his house to take him a coffee and check on him. That’s what Michelle loves most about The Brew. “We are friends and neighbors taking care of each other and their community,” she says. “It’s a place where friends, family and neighbors can come to sip, relax and enjoy time together.”
200 41st St. S., Avondale • (205) 703-9545
Satellite Coffee Shop is housed within the Saturn music venue and bar, the brainchild of former Bottletree owner and concert promoter Brian Teasley, a touring musician who has always been passionate about bringing great music to Birmingham and creating an artist-friendly space for visiting musicians and locals. “Avondale was the natural choice, as Brian has lived in the neighborhood since he opened Bottletree in 2006. In fact, the entire management staff lives in the area, and we all love the community,” says Camille Henry, coffee shop manager. “Once the idea for the Saturn music venue and bar began to be realized, the coffee shop was a natural extension of wanting to create a neighborhood gathering place where our friends and neighbors could come hang out during the day.” And the touring bands, who often stay in the plush loft upstairs, are always excited to get a great cup of coffee in the morning after playing at Saturn the night before.
Satellite uses Stumptown Coffee out of Portland, OR, a specialty roaster that has been integral in the movement toward creating a sustainable and fair trade coffee market. Several members of the coffee shop’s dedicated staff have traveled to Stumptown headquarters in New York and Portland to continue their coffee education. “Our coffee soda is a pretty unique offering that people are sometimes a little hesitant to try,” says Camille. “It’s an espresso-based beverage with our housemade vanilla bean syrup and club soda, served over ice. It’s slightly sweet, and very refreshing. We have quite a few converts who order it almost daily, once they’ve tried it.” Pair your favorite coffee drink with a rotating variety of Continental Bakery’s croissants, as well as We Have Doughnuts’ made-from-scratch doughnuts.
131 41st St. S., Avondale • (205) 703-9538
“We encourage conversation at our shop by serving fantastic coffee and espresso, offering opportunities throughout the week for community and discussion, and hosting a monthly series of theological debates,” says Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, director and vicar of The Abbey. “We think that it’s important for people to discover and wrestle with questions about life and faith in an authentic way, and The Abbey strives to create a safe and comfortable space for that to happen.” In addition to coffee from Red Bike in Irondale and tea from Piper & Leaf in Huntsville, this coffee shop that also serves as an Episcopal church makes an assortment of smoothies and milkshakes, fresh cookies and pastries, a breakfast sandwich, and a variety of paninis and homemade soups for lunch and dinner. “Our most popular menu item is our housemade bacon jam, which you can order on a bagel, on a breakfast sandwich or even as a BLT,” says Katie. “Bacon, slow-cooked with maple syrup, coffee, onions and garlic – it’s rich and absolutely delicious!”
The Abbey also enjoys developing partnerships with other nonprofits around Birmingham. “We sell pottery from King’s Home, an agency that reaches out to abused women and girls, and every month, we donate the proceeds from a particular menu item to a corresponding nonprofit. For example, St. Francis Day is at the beginning of October, so we donated sold dog treats to raise money for Hand in Paw. We also keep a community gift card behind the register to help buy coffee or food for folks in need.”
5512 Crestwood Blvd., Crestwood • (205) 595-0300
“We are in the heart of Crestwood and have so much support from the locals,” says Susan Hartley, manager of Crestwood Coffee. “Seeing everyone on a daily basis makes it a pleasure to open every morning. We know what they drink and eat. There is a real sense of community.” Besides the daily roast, Susan says the mocha latte is the most popular coffee drink. The shop also includes a bar that serves beer and wine and the sizable menu includes the most popular eggspresso biscuit, an egg and cheese biscuit with a choice of bacon, sausage or ham. Another delicious item that Susan recommends is the breakfast strata, a savory breakfast pudding loaded with bacon, sausage, egg, cream cheese and cheddar cheese. The funky decor is peppered with local art, books and games, and terrific music is always playing. It’s the perfect place for meeting friends or stealing away for a moment with a book. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Crestwood Coffee has fresh baked goods and pastries, made-from-scratch soups, grilled and toasted sandwiches, wraps, quiche and more.
Let’s raise a coffee mug to these terrific local java joints that make Birmingham great!