Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


Caffeinated Charlotte

by Yvonne Ackerman
images courtesy Yvonne Ackerman-Scallionpancake

Whether it’s the beyond essential Monday morning cup or a leisurely Sunday afternoon iced concoction, there is nothing like good coffee. Charlotte is home to many great coffee houses, many of which are roasting their own beans or procuring beans from North Carolina roasters. We’ve narrowed down the top spots in your neighborhood that are perfect for grabbing a quick cup of coffee on the run, or for enjoying a leisurely afternoon catching up on work over a latté and a pastry.


The Spot: HEX Coffee
Neighborhood: South End

Caffeine Fix: HEX stands out because they roast their own coffee beans and they also employ a unique technique to brew their coffee: the coffee shot. Through this method, which is essentially brewing coffee through an espresso
machine, the coffee experts at HEX can ensure the flavor in each cup is rich and consistent. In addition to their hot coffee, there is cold brew on tap as well as seasonally rotating tap creations like a draft vanilla latté. Grab a bag of their beans to take home, and ask the awesome staff for tips on how to brew flavorful cups in your own kitchen.

Eats: Grab some locally-made Whisk and Wood pastries (often vegan and gluten-free), or a chocolate bar from Videri Chocolate Factory, based out of Raleigh.

Tip: HEX shares a space with Good Bottle Co., which offers loads of local and craft beer. Hit up HEX in the morning and Good Bottle for a nightcap!

The Spot: FABO Coffee Art Bar
Neighborhood: South Charlotte

Caffeine Fix: The name FABO stands for “fabulous art buying opportunity,” and the café features and sells the work of local artists in addition to a wide array of coffee and espresso drinks. FABO is super friendly for those who need to spend a few hours nursing their coffee as they work on their laptops, or to book clubs looking for a place to gather. They even host local musicians and offer evening art and wine classes! FABO is open late and serves wine and beer on tap if you find yourself holed up in this cozy spot long enough that you want to switch from a latté to rosé.

Eats: Grab a muffin or a scone from a local bakery to enjoy along with your coffee.

Tip: Check out FABO on Thursdays, when they have $6 glasses of wine all day long and trivia at 8 p.m.!

The Spot: Coco and the Director
Neighborhood: Uptown

Caffeine Fix: Coco and the Director is located in the recently renovated (and gorgeous) Marriott hotel, and every bit of this local gem feels special, from the stadium seating to the locally-roasted coffee beans. Enjoy your coffee brewed from an aeropress, a pour over, or served up as a cold brew. Their dirty chai tea latté (chai tea mixed with milk and a shot of espresso) is the best iteration of this drink in Charlotte. It’s extra spicy, strong on the espresso, and not too sweet.

Eats: If you’re in the mood for something sweet, their homemade banana bread is to die for. If you’re craving something more substantial, grab a sandwich made with their carved-to-order roasted meat of the day, like brisket or smoked pork shoulder.

Tip: Coco offers fun evening activities like movie viewings and networking events. Check out their Instagram for the lineup!

The Spot: South End Grind
Neighborhood: South End

Caffeine Fix: Seattle native and Queens University graduate Freddie Nordhoff opened South End Grind in June 2017 at Urban MVMNT, a mixed-use space that combines strength and conditioning classes, spin, and now, great coffee. Nordhoff brews beans from local favorite roaster Pure Intentions, and serves up creative seasonal options like the Gym and Tonic, a mix of espresso, tonic water, and honey-lemon syrup poured over ice. If you’re looking for a more traditional cup, you can get yours brewed from an aeropress or traditional drip.

Eats: Grab some doughnuts from Move That Dough Baking Co. But arrive early if you want one with your morning joe—they tend to sell out very quickly.

Tip: SEG sometimes offers pop-up events, like a recent collaboration with Two Scoops Creamery, where you could enjoy a shot of espresso or cold brew over ice cream for a delicious affogato! Follow Southendgrindclt on Instagram for upcoming events.

The Spot: Rush Espresso Coffee Company
Neighborhood: Ballantyne & Uptown

Caffeine Fix: Rush serves Di Bella coffee and espresso, and the flavor of each cup is rich and smooth. The menu offers some unique options, like the rarely-seen iced cappuccino (expertly shaken with lots of foam), or the Café Viennesse, which combines espresso and whipped cream for a truly decadent pick-me-up. While the Uptown location of Rush is designed for morning commuters, the Ballantyne location urges you to stay a while. There is ample seating and a huge selection of breakfast and lunch items (both served all day), along with a dinner menu available after 5 p.m. Rush Ballantyne also has a full bar menu with wine, beer on tap, and cocktails.

Eats: For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the bacon jam and eggs or the tomato crostini with whipped feta.

Tip: Rush Ballantyne offers live music every Friday and Saturday night and open mic on Wednesday nights!

The Spot: Smelly Cat Coffeehouse
Neighborhood: NoDa

Caffeine Fix: Smelly Cat brews their own beans, and they have been a NoDa institution for nearly 20 years. Enjoy your super fresh cup as a pour over, or in an espresso drink. Particularly high marks go to the dirty chai frappé and the sledgehammer, which is espresso blended with dark chocolate. All iced drinks are made with crushed ice, which immediately ups the deliciousness quotient of any cold beverage. There is plenty of indoor seating, as well as an outdoor seating area with a bowl of water if you want to stop by with your pup.

Eats: Enjoy a slice of quiche, or try one of their breakfast sandwiches on house made biscuits. There’s also a variety of assorted pastries.

Tip: Make sure to get your Instagram-friendly shot of the mural on the outside of the building—“drink coffee, be cool.” Bonus points if you sing Phoebe’s famous song from Friends while you snap and sip away.

The Spot: Central Coffee Co.
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood & South End

Caffeine Fix: Central Coffee Co. brews each cup with beans from North Carolina-based Joe Van Gogh, and the result is consistently smooth and rich coffee and espresso. Central is perhaps best known for serving up one of the city’s first and best cold brew coffees, and its full-bodied caffeine hit does not disappoint in the warmer months. For specialty drinks, they make several of their syrups in house, and nothing beats their spicy mocha in the winter—Central sources freshly ground local peppers and blends them into the chocolate espresso.

Eats: The food at Central Coffee Co. is so good that you may have a hard time choosing what to order. Standouts include homemade quiche, the best-ever zucchini bread, and a wide assortment of pastries including baklava and Greek biscotti.

Tip: The original location has limited seating, and patrons are encouraged to share a table if they are sitting alone. If you’re willing to share precious laptop real estate with another customer, grab a sign at the counter to place on your table to show that you are open to making new friends.