Atlanta has long evolved beyond the (already perfect) basic format of meat-n-three Southern cuisine. Following on the heels of one of the most dynamic food scenes in the south is an expanding oasis of great coffee. Already full of contenders like local roaster Batdorf & Bronson, and having even played host to the 2009 World Barista Championship, Atlanta's been long poised to watch its scene like, totally explode, man. And things appear to be firing up hot right now.
Octane Coffee (Westside)
The first of the tribe of new-generation specialty shops in Atlanta, this mom-and-pop cafe is now the anchor of a city whose driving forces now give coffee the nod as much as any other beverage (what do they call that stuff again—tea?) A wifi-camper-filled cafe by day and a smoother scene by night—as the artisanal donuts of daytime are swapped for top-shelf booze—the dark brick library-lounge vibe somehow feels cozy at all hours.
The company recently purchased a roastery to begin providing their own beans: for now, espresso drinks are sultry and sooty-rich, harmonized sweetly by local milk from Sparkman's dairy. As is sometimes the custom in these parts, service includes bringing your coffee to you when it's ready. So sit back and enjoy some southern hospitality and a smooth cappuccino.
Octane Coffee Grant Park
...and moving across and down, the second full-sized Octane Coffee merits a mention on its own, an equally high quality and unique space in a characteristically Atlantan mixed-use pseudo-industrial compound known as "The Jane". The sunny warehouse spot shares the floor with Little Tart Bakeshop, meaning your morning cup of Kenya can be paired with a gougerè (or as they call it, "cheese puff") that will make an indelible print on your mind's tongue. Like the original location, this Octane becomes a night creature as well, offering cocktails and night food alongside the continued treats from the La Marzocco Strada espresso machine and hand-poured coffee bar. Replete with that factory-style capaciousness and fully sunny windows, this place feels great, lively—and delicious.
Octane Coffee Grant Park
Steady Hand Pour House
Wandered across the county line to nearby Decatur? This shop, founded by three baristas looking to make their own little gem shine, has had somewhat of a past as previous fancy-coffee-places Method and briefly Octane West. Now renamed and reimagined, the Steady Hand thrives as both a coffee oasis and a student oasis, its wee bar purveying treats from Intelligentsia Coffee and a small range of treats, with espresso served up deftly next to a rotating Chemex brew bar. The ample balcony fills up with the younger set, while that smell wafting in from next door is pizza. Ah, it really brings you back to finals days, doesn't it?
Steady Hand Pour House
In Atlanta, it's not at all unusual to find amazing food or drink wedged into the lobby of a condo developent or office building, and Condesa continues to reinforce the city's nouveau tradition of offering full lifestyle synthesis. This modestly appointed spot along the Freedom Park trail sits in the foot of a condominium, but offers startlingly unique service.
Once inside, the vibe is instantly specialty shop, nerdy magazines and Aeropresses and corrugated metal and bike messengers taking a break from the daily grind. Counter Culture Coffee is on brew here, in a number of fashions to suit your mood—feeling V60 today or Chemex-y?—and are delivered with humble care and exquisite execution. Definitely worth a stop if you're walking, running, or biking in that part of town (and, uh, there's parking in the building's garage.)
Empire State South
And last but not least: when was the last time you had amazing coffee in a restaurant? Not often enough to name a last time, I'm guessing—though maybe you're lucky enough to remember the one or two times. Empire State South, one of the most delicious takes on Southern-modern fine dining, twists the tables here and offers a full cafe from morning (via a walk-up window outside) through night (from a kiosk adjacent to the bar). Set deceptively in the ground level of a Midtown office building, reflect not on the unusual setting so much as how sophisticated it is for a city to line their office landscapes with wonderful coffee service and bocce courtyards.
Grab a cup of Counter Culture Coffee-roasted goodness from the pourover bar or espresso machine, or have something sweet and local like the "Georgia coffee"—described only as an "iced concoction of sweetness, cream and coffee". Small baked treats from the restaurant teeter temptingly on an adjacent table, should you need a Phatty Cake to wash it all down with.