Gourmet Coffee Bars: A Caffeine-Fueled Comparison

We look at some of the more notable coffee shops around the U.S.
This story first appeared in the July 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Whether a big chain or a tiny kiosk, great gourmet coffee shops get java drinkers juiced. A shop's success isn't determined by one specific factor; rather, it's a combo of the right atmosphere, culture, philosophy and--of course--coffee.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

First opened: 1999 in Portland, Ore.
Type of shop: Coffee bars (and tasting annexes)
Locations: Nine, with 11 by the end of the year, in Portland, Seattle and New York; scouting for a Chicago spot
Customers: Creative types: musicians, artists, grungers
Biz philosophy: Founder Duane Sorenson's M.O. is to provide great coffee, educate consumers about it and treat employees well--no matter the cost
Price of a cappuccino: $3 for 5 1/2 oz.
Order this: A cup of Costa Rica Helsar Reserva coffee--a blend of molasses and cherry jam with notes of raspberry, strawberry and lavender
The coffee cherry on top: Employee benefits include health care, a 401(k) and an on-duty massage therapist


Peet's Coffee & Tea

First opened: 1966 in Berkeley, Calif.

Type of shop: Typical coffee shop: tables and booths, often frequented by seekers of free Wi-Fi
Locations: 193 in California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington
Customers: Early-stage and hard-core do-gooders
Biz philosophy: Quality and freshness (each type of coffee is individually deep-roasted in single-batch roasters), along with partnerships with global nonprofits to better coffee-growing communities
Price of a cappuccino: $3 for 12 oz.
Order this: Dark chocolate mocha Freddo (their signature ice-blended drink) or a handmade three-berry scone
The coffee cherry on top: Twice-monthly guided coffee and tea tastings at local stores

 



Abraço

First opened: 2007 in New York City
Type of shop: Stand-up espresso bar
Locations: Just one
Customers: East Villagers (aka hipsters)
Biz philosophy: Hole-in-the-wall space, minimal menu and eclectic design put the focus on aroma and taste and create a micro-community. Owner Jamie McCormick greets locals by name
Price of a cappuccino: $3 for 8 oz.
Order this: The olive oil cake is a customer favorite among Abraço's seasonal, homemade sweets, savories and small bites
The coffee cherry on top: Uses Counter Culture Coffee beans and food items are sourced from the local farmers market



Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea

First opened: 1995 in Chicago
Type of shop: Coffee bars, and one café in Pasadena, Calif.
Locations: Six in Chicago and Los Angeles (along with roasting facilities) and a New York City training lab
Customers: Art-school grads and people who only own Apple products
Biz philosophy: Providing the complete coffee experience--excellent brew, skilled baristas, coffee education and sourcing the best green coffee--in a sleek, minimalist-design atmosphere
Price of a cappuccino: $3.50 for 6 oz.
Order this: A Black Cat Classic Espresso (part of "Black Cat Project" to create the perfect espresso)
The coffee cherry on top: Staff trained to be "the most knowledgeable and skilled in the coffee industry," offering public tasting and education classes at each retail location



Blue Bottle Coffee

First opened: 2002 in Oakland, Calif.
Type of shop: Varies by location: espresso bar, cafés, espresso carts and a coffee kiosk
Locations: Seven in Oakland, San Francisco and Brooklyn, N.Y., two roasteries and three Northern California farmers market espresso carts
Customers: Unpretentious hippies
Biz philosophy: Founders tired of the "grande eggnog latte and the double-skim pumpkin-pie macchiato" and opened Blue Bottle for those interested in the distinct taste of freshly roasted coffee
Price of a cappuccino: $3.25 for 6 oz.
Order this: New Orleans-style iced coffee with a saffron and vanilla bean Snickerdoodle
The coffee cherry on top: Coffee roasted in vintage roasters, ground and brewed one cup at a time and served in compostable cups; one location has a pricey Japanese siphon bar (see this article)

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