Locally grown shops prove java and ambiance go hand in hand
Coffee is in an era called the Third Wave. Mass-produced and nationwide coffee chains were so Second Wave. Production origins and methods that are fair and sustainable pervade this third wave, and Knoxville’s coffee culture is booming with shops serving up everything from Brazilian and Ethiopian blends to single source and locally grown and roasted. I hung out at six coffee shops around town, sipping espresso, drip, pour over, and everything in between. I’m no connoisseur, but just like you, I want a little ambiance and a good cup of coffee. And that’s exactly what I got.
In maybe one of the most aesthetically pleasing of all the small coffee shops in and around Knoxville, Awaken defines coffeehouse ambiance with light colored wood and exposed, turn-of-the-century brick walls. You can even climb the stairs to an odd little loft that hovers over the coffee makers’ heads providing a voyeuristic look at the customers below. Chloe the barista drew a beautiful espresso shot that filled my mouth with a zesty and robust coffee that was, yes, an awakening! One of the few, if not the only, place in town, where you can get a burrito and cup of coffee, Awaken Coffee has settled in and comforts us with ambiance seeping from its pores.
125 W. Jackson Avenue
Southern Grace Coffee Co.
If you want to feel like you’re sitting on your own front porch sipping a cup of java, welcome to Southern Grace which is literally on the front porch of a 1920’s craftsman style home. I happened to stop in on a day they were closed. Owner Tosha Wilhelmson said she was just stopping in to pick up some paperwork, saw a customer on the porch wanting coffee, and popped in to make him one. More than an hour later, Tosha was still making coffees for customers trickling in. She is living her mission of providing good community and fellowship over Peruvian, Mexico Chiapas, and Guatemalan coffee. Delicious!
312 Tedford Street
The Empty Cup
Why are cups always empty at The Empty Cup? Because as people pour in for cups of sumptuous coffee and tasty nibbles, they know that their dollars will pour back out to local families in the form of adoption grants. Adoption is the mission here, and the mission statement—“Pour it forward”—is an attitude we should all have. Overstuffed couches and chairs spread across the floor, inviting you to come in and taste an artistically created cafe latte with drizzled chocolate. I had never tasted Ethiopian Sidamo coffee before, but it was rich, smooth, and full-bodied. Stop in for the coffee, stay for the message.
9111 Executive Park Drive
Owner Leticia Fernandes road-tripped across the country before she decided to settle and set up shop near campus. A perfectionist, Leticia wouldn’t let me photograph the first espresso she drew from her gleaming machine, as the “crema” wasn’t as outstanding and photogenic as she liked. Therefore, I got to drink two, and as a lover of Brazilian coffee, I wasn’t complaining. Capybara Coffee deals in Brazilian specialty coffee, and that’s it. Harvested in small batches from small farms, the shots went down like silk with no assistance from frothed milk or sweetener; the truest test of a coffee. Test passed!
2457 University Commons Way
Vienna Coffee Co.
Situated in the historic Regas Square in Knoxville, Vienna Coffee’s pop-in, pop-out location is the kind of place where downtown workers might stop to grab a quick breakfast bite and a delicious organic Sumatran espresso. Barista Luke’s deft hand poured some steamy and frothy milk into a large latte cup creating one of the prettiest coffees I had on my tour. I don’t sweeten espresso and the complex flavors of this full-bodied-and-dark-roasted Indonesian coffee came right through. The coffee is roasted right in Maryville at the Vienna Coffee headquarters. The company is the supplier for many restaurants and grocery stores throughout Knoxville.
318 North Gay Street
Honeybee Coffee Co.
No. Dark. Roast. Why would you char the flavor out of a bean? My velvety Cortado at Honeybee Coffee came with an education from my barista about how much of a coffee’s essence is lost in the roasting process. Coffee from Honduras and Papua New Guinea are available (and lightly roasted) at Honeybee’s locations. Owner Norris Hill is a strong advocate of using a single farm for all their coffee beans, creating a more personal and conscious relationship with growers. Fair trade coffee helps developing nations with more fair pricing for the coffee they harvest and sell. Honeybee is proudly Fair Trade Certified—and down right delectable.
10716 Kingston Pike