Best Coffee in Baltimore

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Since moving to Baltimore a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to seek out the best caffeine options Charm City has to offer. A self-professed coffee snob, (remember my little coffee shop in the mountains?) I have pretty specific criteria for what grinds my bean.

  • Ambience: this may come as a surprise, but I don’t care how good the coffee is, if you can’t serve it in a real mug in an atmosphere conducive to hanging out, it won’t be on this list.
  • Coffee quality: yes, I am judging your espresso machine. A dirty set-up makes me nuts.
  • Authenticity: what makes the coffee shop unique? Is there a story behind the business? Can love be found in that cup?

Best Coffee in Baltimore

(in no particular order)

  1. Common Ground (Hampden) – this is a case where ambience trumps actual coffee quality. While they source good beans (from Ceremony and Zeke’s) their espresso game is errr…better to order a drip coffee and one of the excellent muffins. The place is very busy so the coffee is always fresh. Well-trod, eclectic furniture basically forces you to makes friends with your neighbor. With tons of character and charm, it is the neighborhood coffee house perfected.
  2. Ceremony Coffee Roasters (Mt. Vernon) – coffee done right. Supreme attention to detail, talented baristas and excellently roasted beans makes this place coffee snob heaven.  As far as coffee quality goes, this is Baltimore’s best. The shop itself is very clean and modern without being sterile. This company obviously cares about the coffee drinker’s experience. Great place for a meeting.
  3. Charmington’s (Remington) – Hooray! The trifecta! This shop is basic, but adorable and obviously well-loved by a strong group of regulars. I even saw a barista from a rival coffee shop coming in to order her morning joe (with her work shirt on!). The coffee (sourced from Counter Culture) is excellent and the baristas know how to prepare it, with love I might add. The service here was super friendly and quick. Charmington’s embodies what’s good about Baltimore.
  4. Jabali (Fell’s Point) – this place is so unique, I have to mention it. As far as authenticity goes, you can’t get more real than the owner roasting, brewing, and serving the coffee himself. Assembling homemade coffee sleeves from paper towels and a glue stick, the quirkiness of Jabali is irresistible. The shop itself is full of antique character without even trying. Which is why I hesitate to send you there, the place needs an update and  an investment in coffee equipment. But it’s a fun experience all the same.
  5. Red Emma’s (District North) – another unusual coffee experience that can’t be missed, this coffee spot offers affordable vegan/vegetarian food amidst a politically fueled book store. You have to see it to believe it! Great place to send visitors from out of town for a true glimpse into the Baltimore arts scene.
  6. Park Cafe & Coffee Bar (Bolton Hill) – adorable little nook with darn good espresso and food to boot. The place gets unbearably crowded during peak times, but it’s worth making the effort to get here for the impeccable service, sleek atmosphere and spot on coffee served in REAL mugs.
  7. Dovecote Cafe (Reservoir Hill) – not exactly a coffee shop, this cafe is has so much goodness, it must be mentioned here. You will be most welcome to snuggle up to homemade baked goodies and a coffee, but their breakfast and lunch items are not to be missed. There is a lot of love in this place, from the decor, to the menu, to the extra welcoming staff and customers, it seems like this place is a magnet for straight up friendly folks. Going to Dovecote just makes me feel good. Plus! They have an exciting, continuous line-up of art and food related events and are making a helluva a dent in a neighborhood that needs it.

So go check out these favorites if you haven’t already. And a quick plea to the coffee Gods: we are in need of a cozy coffeehouse here in Highlandtown/Canton/Patterson Park neighborhood. (Maybe it’s time Yellow Arrow makes a reappearance?)

Beauty is Pain

Baltimore row house

I’m sitting at a little writing desk, next to a sleeping puppy, inside a row house, surrounded by the city of Baltimore. Landing here is random, so random, I know. But embracing the unknown sometimes sends you to unexpected places.

And so here I sit, just down the block from an ancient, and excellent, donut shop that sells out of marshmallow fluff filled dough, and up the block from a convenience store whose owner was shot and killed just a few months ago. Baltimore is like that, a place of extremes. You might know this place for blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning, or Freddie Gray and Serial. You might not know this place for pretty brick row houses, a deep culture of the arts, friendly people, or really good Italian food.

I work in a vastly white neighborhood, among hipster record stores, a vegan bakery, and restaurants that serve only small, shared plates. On the bus ride home, I am usually the only white person among polite teens and old ladies who shout “have a blessed day,” before exiting at their stop.

Prostitutes roam the busy street a block away from my house in the late and early hours, while art galleries have openings on Fridays just across the street. Flower pots bloom right along with the rats nests and the methadone clinic surges with clients near the independent book store. More garbage floats down the sidewalk in a light wind than leaves, and every other block sports a creepy, bullet proof glass enclosed convenience store. The busiest place in the neighborhood is a little Latino bakery and rowdy kids skateboard in the elementary school parking lot after hours. Entire blocks of homes sit abandoned and crumbling a mile away from the newest brunch hotspot. Packages left on the stoop won’t stay there for long, and neighbors are happy to stop for a chat on their way inside.

Baltimore, as far as I can tell, is a tortured, starving artist. Full of promise and ideas, talent and genius. But that talent often comes from a dark, depressed place. There’s something about survival and suffering that fosters great art. About loneliness, obscurity and hanging on by your fingernails that forces beauty to the surface. So while a very real chunk of this city starves, suffers, and caves in, life beats on behind front doors, between library shelves, in basement bars, on a canvas, under headphones.

It’s sunny again today. I will pass the same liquor store with the same guy sipping away on something covered with a black plastic bag on my way to the park. He will say, “how are you today ma’am?” and I will wave. I will admire the gold-domed church visible from the other side of the park and stop to buy bread at the Italian deli. There are no gurgling creeks or perfect drifts of snow, no perfectly silent mornings or owl sightings. But there is a pulse here, there is a warm light behind closed blinds, there is a challenge to be more.