In our fast-paced, multicultural society, few things bring people together like the local coffee shop. This modest cultural institution has become a hallmark of thriving urban neighborhoods, and countless anecdotal evidence suggests that it helps cultivate a sense of community. The coffee shops in beautiful and innovative Charlottesville are no exception, and there is a vast array from which to choose, whether you prioritize taste, location, or sustainably sourced beans.
When Shenandoah Joe first opened in 1993, it was not as a coffee house but rather a warehouse where customers could buy bags of beans roasted in small batches. In the summers they sold fresh coffee at the City Market, continuing to draw a following, and began serving shots of espresso in their warehouse. Finally, in 2007, they moved out of the warehouse and established the Preston Avenue Espresso Bar and Roastery, eventually opening the Ivy Coffee Bar and Corner Joe locations as well. Each location has a distinct atmosphere, while all serving up the same high-quality coffee. Preston Avenue is relaxed and comfortable with a couch, armchairs, communal table, and bar. The music is usually louder at Ivy Road where there are booths and indoor and outdoor tables. It’s noticeably quieter at Corner Joe where students sit behind laptops, earbuds in their ears, their eyes downcast in fixed concentration.
Local roaster and coffee shop Mudhouse was just named 2017 Micro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine! Founded by power duo Lynelle and John Lawrence, Mudhouse began as a coffee cart on the downtown mall and has been a Charlottesville staple for the last 20 years. It now boasts two brick and mortar locations: one on the Charlottesville pedestrian mall across from the Violet Crown movie theater, and the other in downtown Crozet. You can also find Mudhouse coffee bars at Bellair and Mill Creek Markets, convenient when refueling your car or grabbing a sandwich to go. Wherever you find Mudhouse coffee, their mission is the same: to provide high caliber coffee that is responsibly and sustainably sourced from small farms all over the world. The downtown Charlottesville location has limited indoor seating but is a lovely place to sit outside during the warmer months, while the Crozet location is more spacious. And if you’re looking for an extra dose of energy other than the caffeine in your coffee, try one of their healthy and delicious power balls made on site with honey and peanut butter and other yummy goodness.
The inviting and cheerful yellow storefront of Java Java is hard to miss near the east end of Charlottesville’s downtown mall. A display case of croissants, bagels, and delicious baklava greets you at the counter as you enter. It is often a quiet place to take a beat and reflect while instrumental music plays softly through the speakers, and passersby bustle past the large front window. An alcove with armchairs invites seclusion while a loveseat and many tables both inside and outside invite companionship and conversation. Java Java’s Chai latte is one of the most flavorful and economic choices Charlottesville has to offer, and service is usually courteous and fast.
C’ville Coffee has many advantages over other local coffee shops. Located in McIntire Plaza, it is very close to downtown and yet has a parking lot as well as on-street parking. The interior is spacious with large, round tables that aren’t too close together if you’re looking for a place to have a private conversation without being at your neighbor’s elbow. It has a play space for children as well as a “kid-free zone” where adults work at their laptops and groups sometimes meet for discussion. A substantial breakfast and lunch menu offers eggs, wraps, sandwiches, and generous salads. Hours extend to 8 pm on weeknights and weekly evening performances offer music or improvisational comedy for entertainment.
Milli Coffee Roasters
Having opened its doors in 2012, Milli Coffee Roasters is one of the relative newcomers on the Charlottesville coffee scene. Owner and manager Nick Leichentritt studied the art of making coffee at the American Barista Coffee School in Portland, Oregon. He returned to Charlottesville with the goal of elevating the role of barista to craftsman, and founded Milli with a preference for personal touch and attention over automation. To this end, Milli roasts their own beans in small batches in-house. They also offer substantial menu items such as waffles and paninis. Open until 9 pm most nights, Milli may be your best bet for evening coffee in Charlottesville. They host occasional readings, art shows, and comedy shows, and have ample indoor and outdoor seating, not to mention parking.
Calvino Italian Bar and Eatery
In the part of Charlottesville known as Midtown (West Main Street), tucked into a corner of the Main Street Market sits Calvino. Named after the renowned Italian writer Italo Calvino, this eatery is modeled after Italian style cafes and was established by Ken Wooten and Charles Roumeliotes, the same chefs that own and operate Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar. Calvino serves Shenandoah Joe coffee, as well as smoothies and Italian sandwiches. Whatever menu item you select, you can trust that if it was conceived by the masterminds behind Orzo, it will be beautifully presented and taste delicious.
Like Mudhouse, Greenberry’s is also the brainchild of a couple: Sean and Roxanne Simmons. You wouldn’t know it from the looks of their modest and cozy shop at Barracks Road Shopping Center, but since first opening this flagship store in 1992, Greenberry’s has expanded with multiple franchises throughout Virginia, as well as in Maryland, Louisiana, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. While the Barracks Road location has somewhat limited seating, it is a pleasant shop that has the advantage of the extensive shopping center parking. The savory menu includes wraps and breakfast sandwiches, and the display case of baked goods includes gluten-free options. This location often serves as a gathering place for local business people, students and professors, as well as local running groups post-workout.
Local franchise Grit Coffee currently has four locations: downtown in York Place, Elliewood Avenue on the Corner, in the Shops at Stonefield, and in Crozet. Founded on the mission of “thoughtful hospitality,” Grit Coffee has not only coffee and espresso, but also breakfast, lunch, wine, and beer. The full downtown menu includes eggs, “Grit Bowls,” waffles, sandwiches and salads. While smaller, the Crozet menu also offers select breakfast sandwiches, quiche, and lunch items. The Corner location is a great spot to grab a coffee and cookie while exploring University grounds and the shops nearby, and has a lovely row of outdoor tables for basking in sunshine.
If a hole in the wall is more to your taste, Atlas Coffee is the place for you. Located in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood at the intersection of Fontaine and Jefferson Park Avenue, Atlas Coffee occupies a small storefront beside Guadalajara’s. While inside there is a small bar for sitting and sipping your coffee, outside there are patio tables with bright umbrellas. Atlas Coffee sells coffee roasted by Shenandoah Joe, pastries baked by Albemarle Baking Company and Carpe Donut, as well as tacos to-go made by Brazos Tacos.
MarieBette Café & Bakery
MarieBette offers everything you could wish for in a café, while also crafting the most delectable breads and pastries in-house that you can imagine. Another Charlottesville power couple is the creative impetus and rock foundation of this institution: Jason Becton and Patrick Evans, who met at the International Culinary Center. (The name MarieBette comes from the combination of their two daughters’ names.) They serve coffee roasted by La Colombe, one of the biggest independent coffee roasters in the United States. And while their coffee may not be roasted locally, their café and dining menu draw heavily from the seasons and farms in Central Virginia with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. In their dining room, you can enjoy breakfast dishes such as croquet monsieur and baked eggs served in a cast-iron skillet, as well as lunch items. In the bakery, be sure to try the combined chocolate-almond croissant to get the best of both worlds, as well as the canelé for a flavorful treat.
The paradox implicit in this café/bakery’s name is the fact that owner Jenny Peterson is a personal trainer in addition to being a baker. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she moved to Charlottesville and worked to help others achieve their fitness goals at ACAC while continuing to bake in her home. She opened Paradox Pastry in 2012 in the beautiful Glass Building downtown, where it has remained the site of her culinary guilty pleasures. The prominent display case frequently features fruit tarts, quiche, butter croissants, and huge cookies—often with a gluten-free option. Don’t let the narrow storefront fool you. There is a second floor with more seating tucked away, and on temperate days the front windows are flung open, making for a very pleasant dining experience.