The 7 Best Cups of Coffee in Pittsburgh
Cold brews. Single shots. Lattes. Simply the best cups in the city.
Photo via Flickr
Coffee lovers know that nothing in the world is as important as that first cup in the morning. Attempting lucid conversation is a futile act before that point. But after that first hit? BAM! We solve problems. Heck, we owe The Age of Enlightenment to coffee. Did you know that Voltaire drank as many as 50 cups a day?
Pittsburgh is percolating with great independent coffee shops, so if you’re drinking Folgers or Starbucks, you’re doing it wrong. Here are the top seven spots to get the best cuppa — plus another to visit if you’re looking to up your java knowledge.
Best straight-up cup of joe: Zeke’s Coffee
For a no-frills, down home, good ol’ cup of coffee, Zeke’s is the place to go. Owner Chris Rhodes roasts the beans in his Penn Avenue shop and serves only freshly brewed cups. Hungry? His wife Brye makes delicious pastries that pair perfectly. Zeke’s also serves its coffee at many regional farmers markets – just look out for the Blue Collar Coffee Cab, a souped-up bike carrying a coffee keg. Yes, a coffee keg. Or the Rocket Man coffee backpack.
Best single shot: La Prima Espresso
Word of advice: Do not try to order like this at La Prima. Act like you mean it and order a shot. You won’t regret it because it’s the best shot of espresso in town. End of story. And judging by the language often overheard in the shop, if the Italians like it, you can’t go wrong.
Best cold brew: 21st Street Coffee and Tea
Coffee snobs will have your head if your think cold-brew coffee is just plain old coffee with some ice tossed in the cup. If espresso is an Italian blessing, then we have the Dutch to thank for this innovation. Cold-brew coffee is brewed for at least 12 hours with room temperature water. The fact that the grounds never are heated produces a concentrate that is a less-acidic, slightly sweet blend. The folks at 21st Street take that a step further by passing it through a nitrogen/CO2 keg that gives it a gentle carbonation. It’s astonishly refreshing.
Best coffee that’s not for the faint of heart: Square Café Dragon Queen
Do you go for level-10 spicy when eating Thai food? Do you consider yourself a hot-blooded hombre or chica who will not be tamed? Do you like to lure people with your silky-sweet charm and then give them a hit of your searing charisma? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this is the cup of coffee for you. Square Cafe’s Dragon Queen is a coffee, cream and cayenne blend that will wake you up with sweet heat even on your most discombobulated mornings.
Best cortado: Marty’s Market
The big coffee chain that will not be named has ruined cappuccinos forever by making everykindofccino imaginable. Refined folks instead will order a cortado – espresso “cut” with some steamed milk. Not to be confused with a macchiato, the Spanish-derived drink does not use foam, although it often contains the same coffee-to-milk ratio of 1:1. Kira Hoeg at Marty’s Market knows her cortado and makes a perfect one every time.
Best latte: Espresso a Mano
Baristas at the Lawrenceville anchor Espresso a Mano live up to all the expectations that the business name (“coffee made by hand”) implies. Espresso a Mano starts with great espresso. What separates its latte-based drinks from the rest is a combination of hard-to-perfect factors: (1) achieving the right ratio of milk so as not to mask the flavor of the espresso (2) with milk that is never burnt and (3) served at the perfect temperature. Only Jedi baristas know how to do this dance. What’s more, Espresso a Mano baristas definitely make the best latte art in town, and the always-crowded café is a great place to people-watch.
Best pour-over: Commonplace / Commonplace Voluto
“What is the deal with pour-over coffee? Isn’t it just like your standard coffee maker brew but without the machine?” Go back to coffee school, you heathen! A pour-over is inarguably the brew for control freaks or coffee-mancers. This highly precise method — popular in Japan — is as ceremonious as it is exacting. Baristas must choose the right water temperature and take time to allow the coffee to “bloom.” The slow, swirling pour of water from a curved-neck kettle may seem precious, but it produces a brew that is complex and delicate at the same time. Plus the decidedly lo-fi, analog process makes all those machines seem excessive. Commonplace gets this ritual just right.
Bonus: Best cuppings: Tazza d’Oro
Want to learn more about different coffee brewing methods? Tazza d’Oro holds weekly cuppings where the staff takes the same coffee and brews it many different ways to show you the subtle yet important differences that each method produces. It’s the best crash course to boost your coffee IQ. Follow Tazza d’Oro on Twitter for cupping dates.
Did we miss your favorite? Join the conversation in the comments.