March 3, 2020

A Specialty Coffee Shop Tour of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Few cities in the USA can claim as rich a historic pedigree as Philadelphia, and it’s an area to visit for any serious history buff, thanks to sights such as the Constitution Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Museum of the American Revolution. 

Philadelphia is also known for its rich culture, which has produced the famous Philly cheesesteak, and increasingly, several great specialty coffee shops and roasters. 

Here are five specialty coffee shops worth visiting in the fifth largest state in America.

Lee este artículo en español Un Recorrido Por Las Tiendas de Café de Filadelfia, EE. UU.

The Signer statue. Credit: Ryan Uy

Why These Five?

Seeing how Philadelphia is the second-largest city on the East Coast, it’s not surprising that it’s also home to a number of coffee shops. In putting this list together, I’ve selected five specialty coffee shops I feel represent Philadelphia’s specialty coffee community. Beyond these five, there’s a good number of others that you can discover for yourself. 

The exterior signage at Ox Coffee. Credit: Ryan Uy

1. Elixr Coffee 

In the heart of Philadelphia is Center City, the area’s most prominent business district. Specialty coffee shops are aplenty here, but none are as famous as Elixr Coffee Roasters, which was US Roasting Champion Finalist for four years, and a US Roast Masters Competition winner.

In the decade since Elixr was founded, they’ve opened three cafés, and in addition to sourcing, roasting, preparing, and delivering coffee, they offer a weekend coffee tasting omakase – where you allow Elixr to select the coffee you’ll try. For coffee shops seeking wholesale options, Elixr offers access to exclusive coffees, in addition to a custom blend creation and packaging service.

The Omakase Bar at Elixr Coffee. Credit: Mike Smith

Where315 N. 12th Street
AtmosphereArtsy and chic
Espresso MachineVictoria Arduino Black Eagle, La Marzocco Linea PB 
GrinderMahlkönig EK43, Nuova Simonelli Clima Pro
Coffee OfferingsPour over, espresso, and milk-based drinks
Must-Try DrinkTry a light to medium roast coffee, which Elixr specialises in
Retail OfferingsChoose from an assortment of beans, including ones from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica
Food & Other DrinksAssorted pastries and sandwiches, as well as tea and hot chocolate
Nearby SightsVisit the Reading Terminal Market, which is one of the largest and oldest public markets in the country

A busy day at La Colombe’s flagship store. Credit: La Colombe

2. La Colombe Coffee Roasters

La Colombe Coffee Roasters has a presence across the country, with cafés located across seven states. Their flagship store was first opened in Philadelphia, near Rittenhouse Square in 1994. Their location in Fishtown also doubles as their roastery, and has become a local tourist attraction due to its sheer size, as it occupies an entire 14,000 square feet warehouse.

Visit La Colombe after hours and you’ll be able to sample one of the drinks from their on-site distillery, or enjoy the complimentary sparkling water that they offer on tap. However, unlike most coffee shops in the area, you won’t find WiFi at La Colombe.

Where1335 Frankford Avenue
AtmosphereElegant and refined 
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Strada (3 Group)
GrinderMahlkönig EK43, Nuova Simonelli Mythos
Coffee OfferingsFilter, espresso, draft latte, and nitro coffee
Must-Try DrinkTry out the Fishtown, which is a medium roast with notes of bergamot, stone fruit, and caramel
Retail OfferingsLa Colombe offers an extensive product list online, including teas, draft lattes, and equipment and kits
Food & Other DrinksAn assortment of bread, including sourdough, challah, rye, and baguettes
Nearby SightsVisit the Green Tree Tavern, a historical vertical log structure dating back to 1790

The interior of Ox Coffee. Credit: Ryan Uy

3. Ox Coffee

If you happen to be passing through Queen Village, make sure you check out Ox Coffee. This coffee shop was founded by two friends – one with a coffee roasting background, and one who spent time as a jazz saxophonist. You’ll find coffee and music at Ox, as it’s a space that regularly hosts local musicians, as well as art exhibitions.

Visit Ox Coffee and you can enjoy your sustainably produced, organic coffee in their outdoor back garden. You can also take part in a range of classes being held, covering topics such as palate development and latte art development.

Where616 S 3rd Street
AtmosphereFriendly and Intimate
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco GB5 
GrinderMazzer, Ditting
Coffee OfferingsDrip coffee, espresso and classic milk-based coffees
Must-Try DrinkTry the Gibraltar, which is a cortado served in a Libbey Gibraltar glass
Retail OfferingsSingle origin, blends, and decaf beans
Food & Other DrinksOx Coffee has paired with various local bakers to offer biscotti, croissants, bagels, and vegan baked goods
Nearby SightsVisit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a sprawling sculpture and indoor/outdoor space

The quirky entrance to Menagerie Coffee. Credit: Ryan Uy

4. Menagerie Coffee

Menagerie Coffee is a relatively small coffee shop, and you can find it in the Old Town neighbourhood, a location choice made by owners April Nett and Elysa DiMauro when they noticed that there were next to no specialty cafés in the area. The space attracts a diverse range of customers, ranging from quiet workers with laptops to louder groups at communal tables.

A second Menagerie Coffee has opened at the Bourse Building, and the owners might venture into roasting next. As they value doing things in-house, pay them a visit and you may find yourself treated to baked goods made by one of the owners.

Where18 S 3rd Street
AtmosphereWarm and relaxed
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco GB5
GrinderMahlkönig K30, Ditting
Coffee OfferingsDrip, pour over coffee, espresso and milk-based coffees
Must-Try DrinkTry their seasonal single origin pour overs
Retail OfferingsHario Brewers and multi-roaster coffee beans are for sale 
Food & Other DrinksTry out one of Menagerie’s store-baked scones
Nearby SightsThe Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the National Museum of American Jewish History are all closeby

The white La Marzocco Strada in Ultimo Coffee. Credit: Ultimo Coffee

5. Ultimo Coffee

One of Philadelphia’s first specialty coffee shops, Ultimo Coffee has become an institution in Philadelphia. They already have four locations in Newbold, Graduate Hospital, Rittenhouse, and Germantown – and have branched out into roasting coffee. Ultimo Coffee begins serving drip coffee exclusively in the afternoon, and they regularly offer featured coffees from around the world.

Ultimo Coffee has both a wholesale service and a weekly and monthly roaster’s subscription, allowing fans outside of Philadelphia to enjoy the latest coffee on offer. However, you can also pop into the coffee shop to pick up a bag of your coffee of choice.

Where238 S 20th Street
AtmosphereFun and modern
Espresso MachineA customised powder-coated white La Marzocco Strada 2 Group
GrinderMahlkönig EK43, Mahlkönig Peak 
Coffee Offeringsdrip, pour over, espresso, and milk-based beverages
Must-Try DrinkTry the Spiced Cappuccino, which includes cloves, honey, turmeric, and smoked salt
Retail OfferingsYou can purchase a range of coffee, gifts, and gear from a range of brands
Food & Other DrinksTry a slice of the Spiced Cranberry Orange Cake
Nearby SightsVisit the Rosenbach, which houses over 400,000 rare books, manuscripts, and objects

The area outside Ultimo Coffee. Credit: Ultimo Coffee

Whether you’re passing through Philadelphia for work or pleasure – or call the area your home – there’s always space for more specialty coffee exploration. Visit the coffee shops on this list to see what each one has to offer, and you might find a new favourite one that meets your needs.

Article written by Ryan Uy. Feature photo caption: The Flag Waving at Constitution Hall. Feature photo credit: Ryan Uy

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, who is a local of Philadelphia, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance.

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