I love coffee. Especially a great coffee with milk, sugar, and maybe chocolate? Vanilla? Caramel? Chai? Mmmmm. Full Van Fun is about farm to family food, music, and destinations parents and children can both enjoy, and for us, the whole family enjoys when I have coffee. Of course, the whole family also enjoys the baked goods, hot chocolate, and other treats they find while out with me searching for coffee. These are our 10 Favorite Coffee Spots from more than 20,000 miles of roadtrips around the U.S. and Canada over the last few years. In alphabetical order . . .
Inspired by the romantic tale of Franz Kolschitzky, Blue Bottle Coffee is focused on a simple idea, “getting great coffee to everyone who asks for it.” With locations in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo, and a growing legion of dedicated customers, their simple idea has become a delicious reality. We had one morning in San Francisco as part of our 10,000 mi roadtrip. We left our hotel in South San Francisco and while we sat in traffic on our way to San Francisco Maritime, Ghiradelli Square, etc, I searched Google Maps for coffee. While there were a lot of promising options, one name was everywhere, and had consistently strong reviews, Blue Bottle. From all of the possible locations along the route, we picked the Linden St location. However, once we got where Google Maps said it was, it took a couple of trips to realize that a pair of garage doors, on an alley, with people everywhere, and no sign, was the coffee shop. Oh, but what a coffee shop.
I got out of the minivan and got in line, while Mr. Full Van Fun (Mr. FVF for short) circled the block with the kids. Waiting in the alley with the smell of coffee, the sounds of San Francisco, and the smiles of everyone around, I knew this was going to be special. In those brief moments, I shared fun conversations about our trip with the customers and staff around me and even though a stranger, felt welcomed as a friend. When it was finally my turn, I ordered a Mocha, my go-to-drink that combines the two foods I love most, chocolate and coffee. The Mocha, in the alley, at Blue Bottle, was one of the best I have ever had.
Sunday morning in Perrysburg, OH, after church, 8 hours from home, on the last day of our 6 week 10,000 mi minivan roadtrip with our six children, I wasn’t looking for the best cup of coffee, I was just looking for COFFEE! Everyone else was just hungry and Mr. FVF was interested in a hot chocolate. So, from a quick search of Google Maps, we found The Flying Joe with a nearly perfect rating on Google Maps, Yelp, and almost everywhere else we looked. The Flying Joe is multi-roaster (Actual Coffee, Populace Coffee, Deeper Roots Coffee, and Intelligentsia Coffee) cafe that offers a “diverse range of single origin coffees and espresso, sourced and roasted with care.”
Driving to the outskirts of Perrysburg, which is a beautiful small town outside of Toledo, OH on the Maumee River, we found The Flying Joe. The shop was comfortable with a clean design and a striking logo. I ordered a Dirty Chai (another favorite) while Mr. FVF ordered his hot chocolate and picked out a few baked goods for everyone to enjoy on the road. The Chai was excellent, with the perfect balance of spicy, sweet, and bitter. Back in our van, we distributed the yummy muffins and coffee cake to everyone and started driving to I-90 east and home.
After a couple days of “hotel coffee” on our most recent roadtrip to Syracuse and upstate New York, I was ready for something better. We did a little Internet research and decided to try Freedom of Espresso. With four locations around Syracuse, NY, Freedom of Espresso is “Syracuse’s Local Roaster and Coffee House.” We visited the location in Liverpool, NY, a suburb of Syracuse on shores of Onondaga Lake. We were familiar with the Liverpool area from prior visits to Heid’s of Liverpool, a truly unique hot dog experience. We found Freedom of Espresso in downtown Liverpool and I was dropped off to run in and grab a coffee. Walking in to the shop, I was struck by juxtaposition of the industrial decor and the warmth of the staff. I ordered a Mocha and loved it. The next morning as we prepared to leave Syracuse, we went back to Freedom of Espresso and this time, Mr. FVF joined me. I ordered a Vanilla Latte, Mr. FVF got a hot chocolate, and both were very good.
Before we even got to Santa Fe, NM, we had heard of Holy Spirit Espresso and the one man show that is Bill Deutsch. Owner, master barista, and ultimate character, Bill Deutsch crafts his coffee creations in the equivalent of a walk-in closet tucked into a building on San Francisco Street. Every surface of the shop is covered with postcards, pictures, notes, Mardi gras beads, signs, and currency from all over the world. On our first morning in Santa Fe, we stopped at Holy Spirit Espresso on the walk from our Casita to the center of Santa Fe. I ordered a Mocha, admired the decorations, and waited for what was to be, one of the best Mochas I’ve ever had. Coffee is the fusion of nature (beans, water, milk, etc), machines, and humans (barista, roaster, etc), and each of those elements influence the final product. Nowhere have I had a coffee that so captured the human-element, than Holy Spirit Espresso. The next day, before we left Santa Fe, we went back to Holy Spirit Espresso and I ordered another Mocha. This Mocha was just as good, if not even better, the second time. The next time we visit Santa Fe, I hope to begin every day with a visit to Holy Spirit Espresso.
As I love coffee, I love Charleston, SC. So it would only make sense that in a list of my favorite coffee spots, I include my favorite coffee spot in my favorite place. When visiting Charleston, we typically stay in Mount Pleasant, SC as it is the perfect place to stay with a family. Mount Pleasant is just across the Cooper River from downtown Charleston and a very short drive across the Intracoastal Waterway to Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. We first discovered Metto Coffee & Tea several years ago when I was looking for a coffee on our way to the amazing Mount Pleasant Farmers Market. Metto Coffee is an independent coffee house featuring Zoka Coffee and scratch made pastries, sandwiches, and more. Walking inside, Metto Coffee had a casual atmosphere with the aroma of coffee and freshly baked treats blending with local art displays. In my many visits to Metto Coffee, I’ve had Mochas, Dirty Chai, Lattes, and all of them were great. Now it is possible that my love of Charleston may bias my opinion of Metto Coffee, but trust me, when you visit Charleston, especially in the Spring with the scent of the sea, flowers, and rosemary in the air, bright architecture, narrow streets, restaurants and shops beckoning you in, and the glistening Ashley and Cooper Rivers, you’ll be biased too.
We first learned of Parisi Artisan Coffee and their award winning coffee and baristas a couple of years ago when they were featured on an episode of Somebody’s Gotta Do It with Mike Rowe. So when we planned our 10,000 mi family road trip around the US, we made sure we had a stop in Kansas City for Mr. FVF to try some award winning BBQ and for me to try some award winning Parisi Coffee. We drove into Kansas City from Quincy, IL and a visit in Independence, MO to the National Frontier Trails Museum. Arriving in Kansas City, our first stop was a late lunch at the original gas station location of Joe’s Kansas City BBQ. Filled with easily some of the best BBQ we’ve ever had, we drove around downtown to see the city and it’s famous fountains. By late afternoon, we were ready to head to our hotel in neighboring Overland Park, KS, but not without a stop at Parisi’s Union Station cafe.
Parisi Artisan Coffee began as a roaster in 2006 and opened their first cafe in 2011. In all aspects such as small batch roasting, finished hand-brewed cup, and homemade syrups, Parisi Coffee’s goal is to achieve perfection in their craft. Walking in to Kansas City’s historic Union Station, the scale, grandeur, and beauty of the old building took my breath away. I entered Parisi Coffee through a massive entrance of marble and glass and ordered a Vanilla Latte. The cafe was stunning, the staff was friendly, and the coffee was spectacular. The Mocha was rich, earthy, and creamy. I had high expectations for Parisi Coffee and they exceeded all of them.
I had always wanted to go to Santa Barbara, CA. So a few years ago for my birthday, Mr. FVF gave me a trip to Santa Barbara, free of kids, to just explore and relax. I loved Santa Barbara and ate at several incredible restaurants, but one spot sticks in my mind like nowhere else from that trip. Before the trip, Mr. FVF did some research and suggested that I try a place called Renaud’s Patisserie. During my trip, I found one of their Santa Barbara locations, a small comfortable shop in an unassuming strip mall. My eyes delighted at the dazzling array of pastries and the shop just smelled so good. I ordered a Vanilla Cappuccino and fruit pastry that had caught my eye. Sitting in the cafe, in the Southern California sun, enjoying my pastry and coffee was perfect. Everything tasted even better than it looked, and it looked delicious.
After spending the night in Overland Park, KS on our 10,000 mi roadtrip and enjoying a surreal Parisi Artisan Coffee the day before, we debated whether to go back to Parisi or try somewhere new. We read about Kansas City as an unsuspecting coffee destination, so we decided to test the theory and try somewhere else. Driving around Kansas City the day before, we noticed a coffee shop, called The Roasterie. With a giant airplane mounted on top of the building as if it is about to take flight, it was hard not to notice The Roasterie and their “air-roasted coffee”. After quick search on Google Maps, we found a Roasterie location in Leawood, KS, close to our hotel and our next stop, the Mahaffie Stage Coach Stop and Farm.
While The Roasterie in Leawood didn’t have the same dramatic visuals as their main location in Kansas City, it was a nice shop. The star of this spot was clearly the coffee with an impressive array of different roasts to choose from. I ordered a Mocha and the coffee had a wonderfully rich clean earthy chocolate flavor. It was another one of the best Mochas I’ve ever had. Combined with Parisi Artisan Coffee, The Roasterie makes Kansas City a phenomenal coffee destination.
After the great coffee I had at places like Kansas City, Santa Fe, San Francisco, etc along our 10,000 mi roadtrip around the U.S., I had very high expectations for our visit to Seattle, WA. However, we tried a couple spots and while good, weren’t incomparable (Editor’s Note – after the trip we did some more research and realized that maybe we didn’t pick the best coffee spots in Seattle). Disappointed in my Pacific Northwest coffee experience, we left Seattle for our next stop, Richland, WA. After a day of driving, orchard visiting, and berry picking in the lush Yakima Valley, we made it to our hotel in Richland, WA on the banks of the Columbia River. Next to the hotel, I noticed Roasters Coffee and made a note to try it the next morning. Doing some research at the hotel, we learned that Roasters Coffee was a well regarded local Tri-Cities coffee shop featuring coffee roasted by its local sister company, Resilient Coffee Roasters.
In our plan, Richland, WA was just a one night stop on our way to Idaho and eventually Yellowstone. However, when we pulled into town, everywhere was buzzing with people and excitement due to a bunch of events, like Richland’s Arts in the Park festival planned for the next day. Given the short drive to our next stop in Boise, we decided to spend the next morning exploring the area and seeing what some of the excitement was all about. We drove over to Roasters Coffee and at first it looked like a regular stand-alone coffee shop and drive-thru. However, once we parked and I walked in, I realized it was more like an outdoor cafe. The shop was bustling with people, like me, grabbing a cup before heading over to Arts festival. Looking at the list of drinks, they featured a number of unique signature drinks. I don’t remember which one I ordered, but as I enjoyed it and strolled around the Arts festival on the bank of the mighty Columbia River, I had finally found my penultimate Pacific Northwest coffee experience, not in Seattle, but in Richland.
On a roadtrip to Boston a few years ago, we were visiting the Boston African American National Historic Site on Beacon Hill and I wanted a coffee. Before our trip, we had done some research to see if there were any coffee shops in the Boston area serving Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown Coffee Roasters started in Portland, OR and currently delivers some of the best coffee in the U.S. to select coffee shops around the country. In my experience, everywhere I’ve been that has served Stumptown Coffee ranges from good to exceptional. So if you need a quick way to find a nearly certain great cup of coffee, find someone serving Stumptown. In Boston, we discovered Thinking Cup Coffee, and they were exceptional.
We found Thinking Cup’s Tremont St location, across from Boston Common, and I walked into a shop with rich wood paneling and a classic style. On their menu, I saw they made their Mochas with homemade chocolate sauce and knew I had to try it. Since it was later in the day, I got a small Mocha. After I walked out of the cafe and took my first step toward Mr. FVF and the kids waiting in the minivan, I knew I had made a mistake. The Thinking Cup Mocha was rich and delicious and I wished I had ordered the largest one possible! Additionally, once Mr. FVF learned about the chocolaty goodness of my Mocha, he wished he had tried their hot chocolate. We’re currently planning a return trip to Boston in the next year or two and one thing we know, when I want a coffee, we’ll head to Thinking Cup.
It was very hard to pick my ten favorite, so I also wanted to give a few honorable mentions to other coffee spots definitely worth checking out.
- Ghost Town Coffee Roasters – Bozeman, MT. We first discovered Ghost Town on a visit to Bozeman, MT at the great Community Food Co-Op. I had a wonderful Mocha while we were shopping and the next day we drove over to Ghost Town’s roasting facility to pick up a pound of espresso to bring home.
- Macy’s – Flagstaff, AZ. We originally stopped in Flagstaff, AZ to pick up some Biff’s bagels, some of the best bagels we’ve ever had by the way, on our drive to the Grand Canyon. While at Biff’s, we asked for a coffee recommendation and they sent me down the street to Macy’s. Walking into Macy’s, it was clearly the place to be buzzing with a mix of locals, students, and great coffee.
- Mill Mountain Coffee – Roanoke, VA. I couldn’t make a list of favorite coffee places and not list the place that got me hooked on coffee in the first place! Mill Mountain Coffee with locations all around Southwest Virginia features a wide variety local roasts, as well as great teas, served in a warm and cozy atmosphere.
So, did all this talk of coffee make you crave a cup, but you don’t live near any of these great shops? Well, don’t worry, we have the same issue. Thankfully many of these great shops will ship their freshly roasted beans right to your door and some, like Blue Bottle, even offer a subscription service. We’ve ordered whole bean coffee from several of these places and while we don’t have their expertise, equipment, or environment, it’s still pretty good.
Did we miss one of your favorite coffee spots? Leave a reply and let everyone know!