Story and Photos by Hannah Collier
Let’s be upfront here. This is a list of some of the best coffee shops in the Triangle, written by a native-Rhode-Islander-Turned-Tar-Heel who only likes black coffee. Despite my conservative coffee tendencies, I do not underestimate the power of a good coffee shop. Whether you’re a college student, a freelancer, or a 9-to-5er looking for a change of scene, chances are you’ve found yourself like me, in need of a good cup of coffee and a place to get some work done in the Triangle. I would have loved a list like this when I first moved here.
Relying on recommendations from my adventurous Carolina coffee contingent, I've stepped far beyond my comfort zone to try lattes, chai teas, and cappuccinos, all in the name of bringing you an extensive Guide to Coffee in the Triangle. If you find yourself in the Triangle for home, work, or play, here are the places to grab a cup of Joe and catch up on work—or binge watch some Netflix.
What & Where: Wedged in-between China Café and a State Farm office in an unassuming shopping plaza off NC Highway 54, this is a true Durham treasure. Bean Traders opened its doors in 2000 and has since expanded into the adjacent facility to provide TONS of tables for getting work done—I highly recommend getting a seat by the window for some natural light.
What to Order: Iced Coffee. All of their coffee is diverse and delicious in flavor and origin, but their iced coffee has an almost hazelnut or chocolatey taste. It is simply superb. As far as food goes, Bean Traders does a great job at offering actual meal options to get you through a long work session. Any of their bagels—from The Bagel Bar in Chapel Hill—or waffle combinations—especially bananas and Nutella—come highly recommended.
Parker and Otis
What & Where: Named after a beloved family pug, Parker and Otis is a uniquely self-proclaimed “restaurant and gift shop” near Duke’s campus. They have an extensive breakfast and lunch menu including Durham’s own Counter Culture Coffee, and house everything from cookbooks and Le Creuset cookware to champagne and cards for every occasion.
Unique Features: They boast an entire section dedicated to North Carolina food culture, from Mama Dip’s Cookbook to April Mcgregor’s Farmer's Daughter Brand Jams and Preserves. The large outdoor wooden patio with iron railings makes Parker and Otis the perfect place bring your canine friend for an outing! Be warned— P&O Does NOT have Wifi — which makes it an excellent place to have a face to face meeting or get some reading done distraction free.
What & Where & What to Order: For 27 years, Francesca’s has been serving Durham just off Duke’s East Campus. It opened as a dessert café in 1985, and was taken over in 2012 by a local family with a commitment to small business. Francesca’s is the kind of coffee shop that makes you want to cozy up and stay a while with a hot espresso based beverage, or a cold gelato sundae.
Joe Van Gogh
What & Where & What to Order: Joe Van Gogh has five locations throughout the Triangle, though we’re counting it as a Durham shop because the first technical Joe Van Gogh opened its doors to the Bull City in 2007. Owner Robbie Roberts is a true coffee shop expert, having opened and sold over a half dozen different coffee shops. He united his remaining five under the flagship Joe Van Gogh brand in 2012. For nearly a decade, Joe Van Gogh has served as a haven for writers, students and professionals. Their coffee is produced in partnership with coffee farmers worldwide, roasted in house and renowned for its sustain-a-bull-ity business model throughout Durham and the Triangle!
What & Where: Beyu café shares a street with Dames Chicken and Waffles, and Toast Paninoteca, but delivers as a one of a kind coffee shop and jazz bar in the heart of downtown Durham. The business mission of this shop is stated in the pronunciation of it’s name, Be-You. Come for breakfast and a peaceful place to work or to watch local musicians play over a dinner with a sweetheart.
What to Order: Mocha and Bull City Beignets may sound like a decadent combo, but trust me it’s worth it! Aside from sweet treats, Beyu also offers real meals unlike many pastry-only coffee shops. For the more adventurous, try the Pomegranate Grilled Salmon, and (for the southern faithful) you can’t go wrong with the Buttermilk Fried Chicken.
What & Where: George’s Java has a cozy feel from the outside in. The shop occupies a corner lot on 9th street in Durham, and shares its warm green storefront with Vintage Home South, a home décor store whose name perfectly describes George’s atmosphere. Reclaimed wood from around the Triangle lines the interior, and the legacy behind the name George is as southern as it gets (see below). Opened in February of 2016, George's Java is a specialty coffee micro-roaster that prides itself on small 2-pound batches.
What to Order: In addition to phenomenal coffee, try their peach black iced tea. An online review suggested this, and I couldn’t put it down all summer.
Unique Features: The name George’s is a nod to owner Terry Metts’ ancestor, George Metz, one of the original 1710 settlers of New Bern on North Carolina’s coast.
What & Where: Cocoa Cinnamon boasts two Durham Locations, one on Hillsborough Road, and the other on West Geer Street. The West Geer location is next to Cross Fit Durham and down the road from The Pit and Fullsteam Brewery. You could spend all day within a few blocks of this Central Park District.
Unique Features: One of Cocoa Cinnamon’s best features is its outdoor patio. Allow yourself to be enchanted by it's unique wood grain tables that look particularly lovely under the glow of lights hung from the patio's pergola at dusk. Cocoa Cinnamon also gets bonus points for hosting food trucks throughout the week, and for having a very dog friendly outdoor space!
What to Order: I’m a sucker for iced coffee, but Cocoa Cinnamon is the kind of place that makes you want to branch out. After a recommendation from a friend, I tried the Moctezuma, which combines Dulce de leche and cayenne pepper into a latte, and I was not disappointed.
What & Where & Unique Features: You can find Driade just off UNC’s campus down East Franklin Street. Tucked back from the road and covered with vines, Café Driade feels a lot like the treehouse of my childhood dreams. My friends have a self-started “Fall Club” that celebrates all things fall themed, and Café Driade is one of their favorite places to sit outside and watch the foliage change.
Bread & Butter
What & Where & What to Order: Come for the sourdough bread, stay for a cup of coffee and one of the best smelling places I can think of to work. Bread & Butter is on West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, far enough away from Franklin Street to feel off-campus, but within walking distance of Carrboro and Chapel Hill's restaurant district. If you’re like me, and the thought of buying an entire loaf of bread to eat as a work-day snack sounds like a totally logical thing to do, this is the place for you. If you’re not like me, then a variety of muffin and scone options abound.
The Open Eye Cafe
What & Where: Open Eye is parallel to Neal’s Deli, and perpendicular to Glasshalffull and Steel String Brewery in Carrboro. It is my favorite kind of coffee shop, spacious with LOTS of tables. Not one to cozy up next to a stranger, I’d rather be able to spread out across a table, which Open Eye typically has room for. This cozy but spacious setting has earned it the nickname “Carrboro’s living room.”
Unique Features: Open Eye roasts its coffee on-site, at Carrboro Coffee Roasters (who also serves Café Driade). You can find plenty of local treats here, including buttery, top-of-the-line pastries by Guglhupf Bakery in Durham—which can also be found at Coco Cinamon!
The Root Cellar
What & Where: About a mile down Martin Luther King Boulevard from the heart of Franklin Street, The Root Cellar is a café that prides itself on “scratch made” foods and community involvement. Formerly Foster’s Market, The Root Cellar is the best of all coffee shop worlds: tables of all sizes inside and out, plenty of outlets for charging laptops, delicious full meals or quick snacks and solid coffee.
What to Order: Anything breakfast. Try the farm plate or grits bowl. Seriously try their cheese grits they are worth every bite. Their cake and dessert bar is also on point!
Unique features: Their impressive wine collection is a self-care treat waiting for you at the end of a long work session. I actually bought my first legal bottle of wine from their selection of 300 local and international wines. When you're looking for a place to work on the weekends, bear in mind that The Root Cellar is a restaurant and coffee house so be respectful of how long you post up at a table.
Johnny's Gone Fishing
What & Where: Down Main Street in Carrboro, Johnny’s Gone Fishing feels like an old best-friend's kitchen. Originally a grocery store then a tackle and bait shop (hence it’s storied name) Johnny's has since transformed to a community center then coffee shop, eatery and music hall. The wooden planked walls and vibrant blue exterior give the shop a coastal feel. Come for coffee, fresh biscuits, tamales and homemade ice-cream.
Unique Features: On most Friday evenings and Sunday mornings, you can find the Lost Boys food truck and Parlez-Vous Crepe food truck parked at Johnny’s. Local musicians often play at Johnny's, and you can even rent the AirBnB apartment above the shop to stay the night!
Looking Glass Cafe
What & Where: Located between Open Eye and Johnny’s on West Main Street, Looking Glass is another excellent Carrboro shop with an identity all its own. Supplied by Carrboro Coffee Roasters, the shop boasts bread from Chapel Hill’s own Bread & Butter. Sip a Chai outside in their garden-style patio!
Unique Features: Although exhibits featuring local artists are staples in Triangle coffee shops, Looking Glass goes one step further with a screening room where they host community movie viewings. A pool table and a number of board games provide solid study-break opportunities for students.
What & Where: Cafe Carrboro sits at the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and is a community intersection of sorts. Close to both UNC's campus and Carrboro, the shop is typically filled with a mix of families, young professionals and college students. Their big, round, white coffee mugs are the kind of mug you want to hold snuggly in your hands and sip from while catching up with an old friend.
What to Order: From biscuits & gravy to thick cut French toast, the cafe has an enticing menu of decadent breakfast food. I consider myself a connoisseur-in-training of Huevos Rancheros, and theirs, available only on weekends, comes highly recommended.
Cup a Joe
What & Where & What to Order: For an “inside the beltline, downtown locals spot,” Cup a Joe’s two Raleigh locations are a must! Each cup of coffee is individually brewed with your choice of beans — which we black coffee drinkers adore. Cup a Joe also has some pretty incredible daily deals, like milkshake Monday and Thursday Mocha Madness to help bring down the cost of some of the specialty drinks!
Unique Features: There’s wall art and then there’s Cup a Joe’s wall art. Hillsborough Street's Cup a Joe’s full wall mural to be more exact is just the kind of thing you need to take your eyes off your computer screen for a break. Vinyl and wooden furniture, bright walls, and a Frank Zappa shrine of sorts give the shop a retro 60s diner-vibe.
What & Where: For a great coffee spot outside the beltline in North Raleigh, visit Sola at the corner of the Greystone Village shopping center. Sola’s family owners, Jeanne and John Luther use Sola to build community by bringing people together around farm-to-cup-coffee sourced by Counter Culture Coffee in Durham.
What to Order: Hot. Mini. Donuts. Need I say more? They are served every day until 11am or when they sell out, so set your alarms and get there early because these things are amazing, and they go fast! To date, they've sold over 1.3 million of them. If sweet isn’t your forte for breakfast, try their artisan toast bar that boasts a variety of seasonal toppings, or a heartier form of sweet in their acai bowls. I’m a huge fan of the lunch sandwiches, particularly the heirloom tomato sandwich or the charcuterie flatbread.
BREW Coffee Bar
What & Where & What to Order: Nestled into Seaboard Station, near Peace College campus, Brew Coffee Bar is focused around its own triangle: coffee, beer and people. Brew works with Raleigh Coffee Company as their primary roaster, and features a guest roaster every month. Their signature drink is a nitro cold brewed coffee. It is made in house, kegged, charged with 100% nitrogen, poured on draft through a Guinness style tap handle and served like a beer. In addition to coffee that pours like a beer, Brew has a rotating selection of local breweries on tap to complete the “Brew” moniker.
The Morning Times
What & Where: Opened in 2006, The Morning Times serves Counter Culture coffee and with house made bagels and vegan cookies. I first stumbled upon The Morning Times when I desperately needed a cup of coffee, and of course, was running late for a convention at the Raleigh Convention Center in downtown Raleigh. I felt like I was rediscovering a lost treasure when I went back there for this story.
Unique Features & What to Order: Don’t be fooled by the counter space when you walk in. Head upstairs for a solid place to work. If you watch a lot of HGTV, picture something Joanna Gaines would want in her farmhouse. If you don’t watch a lot of HGTV, then imagine old brick walls and striking wooden tables. I don’t often splurge for an individual pour over, but I would definitely recommend it here! The Morning Times also serves phenomenal Sunday brunch next door at the Raleigh Times bar from 9am-2pm.
Third Place Coffee House
What & Where & What to Order: Off Glenwood and next to Lilly’s Pizza in Raleigh's Five Points neighborhood, Third Place is eclectic and cozy with plenty of couches to settle into and a variety of rotating local art to view. Third Place serves Larry’s Coffee, kombucha, extremely filling breakfast burritos, and lavender vanilla lattes (among many other things). Watch out for parking, it can be a hassle — but is definitely worth it.
42 & Lawrence
What & Where: 42 & Lawrence, aptly named for its location, serves as the retail home for Larry’s Coffee. The interior is CLEAN. Not just clean in the “observes the health code” kind of way, but in the sleek, high contrast, modern kind of way that just makes you feel at peace. Taps and machines are built into the counter, which creates a unique experience for customers who get to see their drinks poured up close.
What to Order: Anything on tap. From kombucha to nitro brewed coffee, to the newly minted coffee soda, 42 & Lawrence offers exceptional and exclusive pours.
Cafe De Los Muertos
What & Where & What to Order: This shop sits a few blocks from Raleigh's Warehouse District near The Pit Barbecue, the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center and the old State Capitol. The café houses its own roaster featuring beans from Central America, and has a killer carnitas sandwich.
Unique Features: Although it might go without saying, the entire café celebrates the Day of the Dead, an annual Mexican tradition that celebrates and honors loved ones who have passed away. The interior is decorated with hundreds of reclaimed pallets, bright walls, and a lending library. Stop in for a satisfying cup of coffee, and you might just find your barista wearing Day of the Dead face paint.
What & Where: Situated within the same few blocks as The Morning Times and Café De Los Muertos, Joule still manages to find its own artisanal niche. Exposed ductwork, arched entryways and long wooden tables give it an underground, high-class subway station kind of feel. Owned by restaurateur and James Beard award winner Ashley Christensen, Joule joins her other successful Triangle restaurants such as Death & Taxes and Beasley’s Chicken & Honey.
What to Order: Aptly named for the unit of energy, Joule has a wide selection of coffee, espresso drinks and teas to keep you going. Come to work, and stay to eat. Make sure you try the huevos rancheros, or the short ribs and gravy over cheese biscuits.
What & Where & What to Order: Jubala has two locations, one on Hillsborough street and one in North Raleigh. The exterior of the North Raleigh location in Lafayette Village reminds me of a charming European street, but it's interior is sleek and modern. Come for the Counter Culture Coffee, brewed by their award winning baristas, and stay for the maple bacon and pimento cheese biscuits.
These amazing Triangle based coffee spots didn’t technically make the list, because they don’t entirely qualify as “places” to grab a cup of joe and get work done, but. they're here for the mobile working bunch!
What & Where & What to Order: Slingshot Coffee Co. was founded by husband and wife team Jenny and Jonathan Bonchak, who brew, bottle and distribute cold brew coffee in Raleigh. Slingshot headquarters hosts a seasonal weekend-only outdoor patio and shop appropriately called The Weekend. You can also grab a bottle of this Counter Culture-sourced cold brew at plenty of NC locations, just check Slingshot website’s “where to buy” tab for a list of retailers.
What & Where & What to Order: An Italian inspired mobile coffee bar serving Durham and serving Carrboro Coffee, Café Belleza also earned itself an “honorary” spot for being a one-of-a-kind coffee proprietor. The name Belleza (beautiful in Italian), is an inspired by the craft of cultivating coffee from seed to cup. Café Belleza is the only solar powered food truck in North Carolina. Track down Café Belleza on their online schedule and map, and plan your drive to work around their route!