Coffeehouses, coffee shops, roasters and coffee bars are plentiful in Philadelphia. If you asked a random selection of Philadelphians what their favorite coffee spot was, there would assuredly be a mixed bag of answers — presumably dependent on where they lived and where their work was.
Of course, there would be the assured Wawa coffee answer from many respondents. This is not to say that Wawa coffee is bad, and it most certainly is not saying it doesn’t serve a vital role in the Philadelphia coffee community, but there’s a whole lot more out there for the coffee junkies and java aficionados alike.
If you’ve walked around Philadelphia anytime in the past fifteen years, odds are high you’ve seen the logo of a cup of coffee being seemingly lifted by a hot air balloon of its own steam. If you can say you recognize this niche and charming logo, you’ve seen a Saxbys before.
Back in 2005, Nick Bayer was only five years out of his college experience at Cornell University when he opened his first-ever Saxbys. Now, in 2020, Saxbys has 24 locations in multiple states and Bayer is striving to expand Saxbys more.
The biggest thing to Saxbys’ name, aside from their coffees and food offerings, is the fact that they are more of a social impact company than they are a coffee company. There are many Saxbys locations that are entirely student-run and operated, and this Experimental Learning Program began in 2015 at Drexel University.
Five years later the ELP now reaches from Drexel and Temple to Penn State University, Bowie State University, University of New Hampshire and Georgia State University.
Every Saxbys delivers a slightly different menu, but the mainstays right now seem to be their chai and their ruby chocolate matcha.
From here, the Philly coffee scene dives into many local spots doing a lot of things right, and it can seem tad overwhelming and confusing to break it down. Is it really worth trying all of them? What if there’s one you already love and you’re afraid to find a new place for coffee in the city? What if your neighborhood coffee shop isn’t as great as you think it is?
All of these are valid concerns, but just in case you find yourself in a new part of the city and craving a really good cup of coffee, you’ll know just where to go. The first spot that comes to mind is a place I personally frequent due to its proximity to where I live, Ultimo Coffee.
Ultimo Coffee has four locations: one in Rittenhouse Square, one in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, one in the Newbold neighborhood of South Philly and one off in Germantown.
Ultimo has been roasting in Philadelphia since 2009, when they began in their South Philly location, and their coffee is downright delicious. In 2016, Ultimo unveiled Ultimo Coffee Roasters, and has since been able to “select and roast their favorite coffees, and then deliver that fresh coffee directly into your hands.”
Get a bag of their beans, get a latte with oat milk, or just get a simple coffee. This place takes quality and service very, very seriously. Oh, and their baked goods are righteous. Lemon bars, blondies and crumb cakes made daily along with freshly stocked wholesale goods from local Philly spots make them a sweet tooth haven.
Following the mantra of coffee being treated with the highest quality and love, another spot that comes to mind is ReAnimator Coffee. Operating five locations in Philly anywhere from Kensington and Fishtown to inside the aforementioned spots Res Ipsa Cafe and Hello Donuts, ReAnimator has a stamp on the Philly food scene.
They are a wholesale partner for many places and offer a wide variety of their roasted beans and grounds on their website. If you want to visit their original spot, head to their Fishtown location.
When it comes to high quality, a lot of people favor a high review on Yelp over trying things with an unbiased mind. However, it does help when this next spot garnered over 1000 reviews on Yelp with an aggregate score of 4.7/5 stars. The place that warrants such a prestigious rating is none other than Elixr Coffee Roasters.
What began in 2010 has a lot to look back on. They’ve won the Krups Best Brew Award, they’ve been heralded the Best Cold Brew in America and they’ve placed second at several National Roasting Competitions.
Elixr is known for their lighter-roasted coffees, as they opt for the tastiest and most floral coffees they can find within the lighter roasts. They have three locations in Philadelphia while also providing wholesale to seemingly the entire Northeast corridor with no signs of slowing down.
If you want to go to their original location, just know it is harder to find than you may think. Tucked away off a side alley in the heart of Rittenhouse Square and with tables that fill up quite fast, this hide-away is worth the wait.
Another nationally acclaimed coffee spot is Square One Coffee. While based in Lancaster, they have a spot in the Gayborhood that is definitely worth a visit. The Square One team is comprised of National Champion baristas who know how to make one hell of a cup of coffee. Plus, the Gayborhood location has ample seating.
Before this article gets eternally long, I plan to simply shout out some other fantastic coffee joints to give them the respect they deserve. Philly truly is a caffeinated city, folks.
Shoutout to Black ‘n Brew in Passyunk! They are holding down the fort in southeast Philly, for real. Rival Bros Coffee Bar is highly adored, and their three locations (with at least one on either side of Broad Street, albeit all three south of Market Street) make them a little more accessible than most.
The Callowhill spot W/N W/N Coffee Bar (pronounced “Win Win”) lives up to its name for real — they are all about coffee and alcohol. Try their truly out of bounds espresso and gin if you’re down for a good time and have a curious palate. Their food also looks phenomenal. They are serving up the best of both worlds.
If you’re into jazz and coffee, Ox Coffee is the wifi-free jazz haven that allows you to enjoy music and your drink in peace. The Queen Village spot offers a back garden that is open for music and relaxation, as the co-owners Will Gross and Max Cudworth were a coffee roaster and a jazz saxophonist in previous jobs, respectively. The intersection of coffee and music is found here, so don’t skimp out on either of them.
If you’re all about the science behind the coffee, make the trip to Function Coffee Labs. They dive into the science behind the brews and are the closest thing to a seasonally fresh coffee shop you can find. Their rotation changes every one to two weeks, and it’s remarkable to see how different your cup can taste from one visit to the next.
Another Queen Village coffee spot doing things right is Shot Tower Coffee who, while also heavy in the coffee game, boast an equally varied and respected tea game. The coffee and tea debate can be put to rest peacefully at Shot Tower.
If you want to respect the high-end restauranteur with his coffee escapade, go to Vernick Coffee Bar. Greg Vernick is the highly-esteemed chef of Vernick Food & Drink and its accompanying outposts, but his coffee bar is also as high-quality as everything else.
Saxbys’ own Nick Bayer reveals he is still inspired by Vernick Coffee Bar to this day, so Greg Vernick and his teams get the respect of everyone in the Philly food scene, with good reason. Vernick Coffee Bar also has a full service 40-seat cafe, operating out of the Comcast Technology Center every Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For the classics out there, Old City Coffee is the place. With two spots located in the Reading Terminal Market and a properly located spot in Old City, Old City Coffee does Arabica coffee the right way. They have been pouring good cups for over 35 years, and time really is the truest test of all.
If you’re a cross of a bibliophile and coffee lover, Rittenhouse’s Shakespeare & Co. is the place for you. Peruse the giant collection of books — or purchase a mystery book that is wrapped with only a vague description — to find the perfect book to pair with your coffee.
However, the winner of this week’s hidden gem award and the final mention in Philly’s coffee extravaganza is Herman’s Coffee — the Pennsport jewel serving real-deal coffee out of a repurposed garage. Open every day of the week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, Herman’s is the quintessential neighborhood spot that everyone knows to love.
When the weather is nice in the summer, Herman’s’ owner Mat Falco — who roasts the coffee onsite — opens the garage doors and lets Herman’s Coffee take in the sunshine. They offer fresh baked goods from Machine Shop Boulangerie — a French-influenced, south Philly located, small-batch & wholesale bakery — every single day. On the weekends they bring in food trucks to set up shop outside their space.
Oh, and they have the truest hidden gem of all — 1-900 Ice Cream is stocked here. This hard-to-get pre-ordered ice cream project was created by the founder of the now-closed Boku Supper Club, Ryan Fitzgerald. The man behind the popular underground dining experience is now aboveground and becoming a mastermind with his downright bonkers flavor creations.
Ice cream tangent aside — more will be discussed about 1-900 Ice Cream next week. Herman’s Coffee is doing their thing and their consumer base is here for it.
While that’s all on the coffee scene in Philly for this article, there’s truly so much more to it than you know. Go out and find your own brew, you cannot go wrong with so many good choices. Here’s to living in a city that loves its cup of joe.