Coffee balances on a fine line between want and need for many undergrads. Coffee shops nowadays are sellers of everything from pure caffeinated fuel to rich indulgence. The esoteric wine and food scene has also begun to creep into the world of coffee, with vendors boasting various organic beans, exotic brews, and purer sugars and creams. Some even offer coffee tastings (a.k.a. cuppings). Whether you’re searching for striking hints and aromas, recharging for a cram session, or needing a caffeine fix, we, or rather the baristas at these local joints, have got you covered.
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141 Meeting St.
This cozy spot is anti-establishment in all the right ways. It has a great offbeat vibe combined with super-friendly service. At City Lights, it’s all about the little touches: the silent auction art on the wall, a flip-book of poems on the back table, and the baristas offering refills before you even bother to ask. They also have some breakfast and lunch options and baked goods. City Lights brews Counter Culture Coffee out of North Carolina, and it’s a flexible joint, great for a grab and go or hanging out.
East Bay Meeting House
160 East Bay St.
The Meeting House may feel like it’s targeted toward an older clientele, though it’s hard to pin down exactly what causes the sentiment. Perhaps it’s because the furniture is slightly more luxurious than at other stops, and there’s also a full bar. It’s got a basic breakfast and lunch menu, as well as tapas at night, and you might be tempted to assume this isn’t a coffee spot at all. But the coffee menu and the local King Bean brew would belie that assumption. In truth, the Meeting House is just that: a place to meet up and chat with friends, whatever your choice of libation.
827 Folly Road. James Island
This James Island coffee shop is easy to miss if you’re zooming down Folly Road, but it’s definitely worth a tap on the brakes if you’re looking for great coffee as well as breakfast or lunch. Kronic has a laid-back vibe: comfortable seats, a reggae soundtrack, even a fireplace (though it’s unused), plus a great coffee menu courtesy of organic Charleston Coffee Roasters beans. Try the banana nut latte if you’re looking for something different. It’s satisfyingly rich without being cloying. Kronic also serves breakfast and lunch every day, as well as brunch on Sundays, and a glance at the menu shows they mean business. In addition to great food, Kronic also offers live music with their brunch. Don’t worry, it’s usually acoustic, so it won’t aggravate your hangover.
354 West Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant
Located right across the bridge in Mt. P, Metto is owned by a Seattle transplant who imports Zoka coffee beans from her old West Coast digs. You’ll be missing out, though, if you let your Charleston loyalty get in the way, because Zoka, an artisan outfit that buys straight from farmers, knows how to roast ’em and Metto knows how to brew ’em. We especially love the honey latte, and we’re also big fans of Metto’s outdoor seating. They’ve got a lovely shaded porch built around the trunk of a huge oak tree. Metto is also one of the only non-chain coffee shops with a drive-thru and an in-house pastry chef.
4 Vanderhorst St.
Specializing in Africa beans, Kudu has gained a loyal following among students on the peninsula. Part of that’s due to its close proximity to CofC, located on Vanderhorst between King and St. Philip, and part of it’s due to the popular musical performances on the weekends. Kudu has also boned up on their craft beer selection, and they offer sandwiches and pastries. The best place to enjoy any of Kudu’s treats is in the coffee shop’s peaceful courtyard.
1739 Maybank Hwy. James Island
Muddy Waters has two locations relatively close to downtown: one on the corner of Maybank and Folly and the other on Ashley River Road. Muddy Waters, which brews Counter Culture Coffee, has a great team of very knowledgeable baristas, and it’s also quite obvious they’re absolutely batty for the beans. Between the two stores, they host occasional cuppings, which allow participants to sample various, and often unusual, roasts, and they also help facilitate art competitions with other coffee shops.
11 Magnolia Road. West Ashley.
A favorite of the West Ashley crowd, Alchemy is just down 17 from downtown and tucked into a little Avondale shopping center a couple of doors away from Voodoo. Alchemy, the only one of our stops to brew Island Coffee from Ravenel, has a hippyish ambience to it and a fairly spacious floor with plenty of cozy seating. They also have a solid sandwich menu.
160 East Bay Street
Baked has built its reputation, as well as its name, on delightful desserts pulled straight from the oven, but the hot coffee ain’t bad either. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with factoring pastries, cookies, and pies into a grade for a coffee shop. After all, every coffee shop in town sells ’em, and we think Baked sells the best. However, with a different brew every month as well as creative weekly drink specials concocted by the baristas, Baked is showing they’re serious about coffee. We also love the schizophrenic décor; a louder, brighter room where you enter and order is juxtaposed with a second, somewhat darker and quieter area that’s perfect for reading or studying. The latter even has a large bookshelf with real, honest-to-God books on it.
Hope and Union
199 St. Philip St.
This sparsely decorated spot off St. Philip is a recent addition to Upper King, but it is fast making friends thanks to its pure, high-quality offerings and an intellectually fashionable style. Even the restaurant’s front, with an overhanging sign that simply reads “COFFEE,” is unadorned in a way that conveys authenticity rather than shabbiness. It’s the kind of place to sequester yourself in the corner with a latte, issued from the baristas in lovely white china, fire up your MacBook, and start that novel you’ve been thinking about for four years.