Louisville has a near dizzying array of great coffee spots. From national award winners like Quills and Sunergos, to out of the way spots like McQuixote Books and Coffee, to the local juggernaut of Heine Brothers, the simple question of “Where should we go for coffee?” is immensely complicated, so Louisville Distilled has decided to help you out, with some very specific suggestions.

Who Has Donuts?
If you have the time, or maybe you brew your first cup at home, then you might want to pick your first out-of-the house cup based on a shop’s proximity to certain amenities.

Let me introduce you to the Nord’s Bakery. They’ve got some of the best donuts in Louisville, and they are next door to Sunergos Coffee’s Preston Highway location. Sunergos is one of the national award winners I mentioned, and really any time of day is right to grab one of their drinks, but throw in an awesome donut, and your mouth will be doubly happy. Bonus: Take a dozen of Nord’s into the office and be greeted as a hero.

Morning Drive Though
Red Hot Roasters has been slinging brew out of the drive-through-only shop for years now, and they know how to keep the line moving without sacrificing their drink quality, a statement that doesn’t apply to quite a few coffee shops in the city.

They roast their beans dark, making their espresso nice and stiff for a morning latte, and it’ll get you going fast.

If you’re in a hurry and want donuts, in the St. Mathews area you can swing through Plehn’s Bakery, and then go across the street to Heine Brothers’ Chenoweth Lane location, which has a solid drive through as well.

Time to Get Work Done
If you are one of the growing number of Americans who telecommute, then after you get out of the house and get going, you may be looking for a quiet place to work.

Most coffee shops calm down a bit around 10 a.m., but one of my favorite work spots is McQuixote Books and Coffee. It’s one of the better shops in the city, due to the fact that its main employees are the owners, so every drink they make is a little chunk of the dream they are chasing. It’s in Portland, tucked inside the Tim Faulkner Art Gallery, just off the beaten track so you can pretty much always find a spot; and it’s going to be relatively quiet, too.

Or maybe you’re a stay at home parent with a couple of whipper snappers. Finding a coffee shop that doesn’t look down their nose at you for loving your kids can be tough.

The Douglass Loop Heine Brothers is one of their more spacious locations, and seems to have plenty of room for kids to hang out, as I frequently see several when I’m there. Grab your kid a Kizito cookie—long regarded as one of the best cookies in town—and a hot chocolate. Then enjoy a couple moments of peace while you both contentedly partake.

Need some Lunch?
Highland Coffee doesn’t get enough credit for their food. They have a rotating menu of sandwiches and sundries, which can provide a solid little meal. But I’m likely to cave and get a pastry or desert if I show up there for lunch. Or just a giant cup of their housemade raspberry whipped cream, and that’s not exactly a balanced meal.

But just a hop, skip and a jump away from Highland Coffee is Grale Haus, which offers great coffee from Intelligentsia Roasters in Chicago, but also food every bit as good as its sister restaurant Holy Grale, which has been making regional best-of lists since it opened.

Great food, great coffee, and they also have a decent little beer selection, in case it’s been a rough day.

The Collegiate Set
Quills Coffee is either the best coffee in the city or the second best, depending on how I feel on any given day.

My go-to early afternoon spot is their UofL location, perched on the edge of the ever-growing urban campus. Parking isn’t great— you have to either pay the meter or walk a couple of blocks—but I just call it exercise and use it as an excuse to visit the Comfy Cow located next door to Quills. Even with less than stellar parking, this is probably my favorite shop in the city.

Sit up at the bar, and you can talk coffee with the friendly baristas, or probably chat with a college professor or grad student, who’s just itching to explain their subject to a layperson.

Conversely if you wanna just soak in the atmosphere, the spacious location offers quieter corners if you are trying to finish up some work.

But get your drink squared away before 3 p.m.

Teenage Wasteland
Right around the time school gets out, nearly every coffee shop in the city gets over run by teens. Lord knows I had a couple of after-school hang out spots when I was that age, but now I’m a grown up and I find those kids exhausting. And good luck getting a decent drink, because baristas all over Louisville spend the hours between roughly three and five o’clock making a never-ending string of labor intensive smoothies and blender drinks.

Thank goodness for Press on Market. It’s located in a school dead zone, with no middle or high schools within quick walking distance. They have Good Folks Coffee, which is a high-quality local roaster, and relatively low employee turn-over, so the baristas have a decent handle on their jobs, and have even improved in the year or so that the downtown shop has been open.

Night Time Joe
As the day wears on your choices for joe start to slim down. Lots of the downtown shops close around five or six. You can hit up another Heine Brothers, or visit the Quills on Baxter Avenue up until 9 or ten, depending on the shop and the day. On weekends, Vint stays open to 11, and sells wine.

After that choices narrow down to spots like Denny’s and Steak and Shake. While my pallet has gotten a bit more refined over the years, I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve spent burning the midnight oil and chugging down stiff diner brew at these 24-hour spots.

Still, tip your waiter well, and ask them to put on a fresh pot. Because tomorrow is another day, and you’ll no doubt fill it with coffee.

Eli is a freelance journalist focused on arts and culture. He’s written for Salon.com, The MarySue.com, Howlround.com, Pointe Magazine, Louisville Public Radio’s news division, Insiderlouisville.com, and LEO Weekly. He lives in Shelby Park with two pitbulls and his wife.


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