I’ve lived in South Austin on the other side of 290 for over a year, and one thing I’ve noticed is the lack of coffee houses in the 78745. If you want good coffee and a place to study, your closest zip code for that is likely the coveted region of 78704, which houses Austin greats Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse, Flipnotics, Jo’s and the newer (but tasty) Irie Bean. If you get the urge for some caffeinated studying at, say, 3 am, Epoch and Bennu are at least 15-20 minutes away (depending on how far south you live- I’m at s.1st and William Cannon, and it takes me 20 on a good day to get both places.)
For me, the whole appeal of a coffeehouse depends on three key things:
1) Proximity to home and hours open. If my home is feeling particularly distracting and I have a lot of homework to do, one thing I don’t want to do is spend 40-45 minutes of travel time round-trip to get somewhere to study, only to have to leave a few hours later because they close at 10.
2) Good coffee, of course. Secondary to good coffee comes a good selection of pastries for brain power. I’m a snob, what can I say?
3) Ambiance and seating arrangements. I need an outlet, a comfy chair, and some not-too-distracting but still upbeat tunes and I can churn out some papers no problem.
Strange Brew is located in a… well, let’s say “quirky” shopping complex off Manchaca, and since they opened they just keep getting better and better. If I didn’t know already, I’d guess they’ve been open a few years rather than just a few months. They offer organic & fair-trade coffee from Third Coast Coffee, Zhi Tea, Torchy’s breakfast tacos, a variety of pastries from local businesses; and now panini sandwiches designed by Mike Rypka, the taco mastermind behind Torchy’s. Not only do they have excellent coffee and food options, the sense of community is strong with this one. Everyone seems to know everyone, and the owner is routinely seen doing his business about the shop. Even though the space is on the small side, it is utilized incredibly well with great attention paid to it. I’ve seen it re-arranged at least three times, with each setup better than the last. I never have to worry about getting a comfy spot or an outlet here. The best part: they recently extended their hours to 24 hours a day. Many a fancy IKEA-ed out coffee shop opens in Austin with great promise and promptly falls flat soon after, and I know Strange Brew won’t be one of them because they’re doing their coffee and community right.
Drink to try: The Strange Brew. Too predictable? Get over it and try it immediately.
Red Table Coffee has more of an upscale vibe than Strange Brew, but it’s the kind of hoity-toity where you can have your beautiful latte art and listen to No Doubt and Radiohead, too. Even though it’s located on the ground floor of a multi-use office building off South Congress and Stassney, the place doesn’t have the corporate feel I suspected it might before I visited. The space is beautifully well-lit in the daytime with lots of natural light, and at night time large lamps provide just the right amount of glowy light. Wraps and sandwiches are provided by The Green Cart, coffee is supplied by Katz, and tea by Mighty Leaf. Excellent food, coffee, and tea all at a good price + glowy light + good barista-DJ makes for one happy lady. I can’t wait to see what this place does as they get more traffic.
Drink to try: The Wilner. I have not tried this one for myself, but all reviews I’ve read suggest it is akin to liquid chocolate crack.
78745’ers, I know the greats are pretty, well, great. I’m a Bouldin Creek gal myself. But if you live in the neighborhood, save your gas and support these new businesses not because they’re simply there, but because they stack up against any 78704 coffee shop.