Warning: The following post is LONG
Also, pictures of this trip can be found here.
My recent trip to Atlanta was like getting a new pair of glasses with the correct prescription after years of wearing glasses that were just a hint off. During that time you thought that you were seeing things clearly but in reality you had simply grown accustomed to seeing things in that way.
I went to Atlanta with one goal: to hit up all ten shops on the “Atlanta Disloyalty Card”.
It started with a message to Jason Dominy of Batdorf & Bronson. He, graciously invited my fiancee, Shannon, and me to stay at his place. Jason and April’s hospitality is a beautiful example of how inviting the coffee community has become for me. They, and so many others, have been so open to welcoming anyone who is passionate about coffee, no matter what their “level” is. There may be a great amount of pride in this industry, but for the most part, I have been humbled by their humility. On the night we arrived, Jason and I sat up playing Mario Bros. on his Nintendo Wii until about 2 or 3 AM, and talked about our stories; where we came from, how we developed and have ended up where we have, and the similarities in our stories and experiences reminded me to have hope, that we are blessed people and that we will be taken care of.
I will start by saying that I did make it to all ten shops on the card. Unfortunately, one of them was closed at the time that I went. Land of a Thousand Hills has a beautiful location and building. Their patio is gorgeous, however I was a few hours early on Sunday morning and therefor had to skip it.
Before I go into all the shops, I would like to say that I was amazed at how different they each were. None of them were quite like the other, and that was refreshing.
Octane has been and remains my favorite shop in Atlanta. First, I was warmly greeted (by name, embarrassingly enough) by Dustin Mattson at the Emory location. By far it was the best macchiato I had during those 2 days of caffeinated indulgence. The shop is a quaint spot with a patio that is absolutely wonderful, particularly on that Saturday morning with the breeze that was blowing through. The espresso I had at the Westside location was just as memorable. It was their Apollo blend, which I purchased a bag of and successfully brewed back home in Tallahassee.
The staff at Aurora was also pretty hysterical and welcoming. They seem to really know their crowd and while their customer service wasn’t as formal as some of the other shops I went to, it was natural and pleasant. It was like being served by your friends, a little unrefined yet comforting.
Dancing Goats was one of the shops that caught me off guard. Walking in was not what I expected. It is huge and seems corporate in a way. It lacks a certain localness which probably is what makes it inviting to many. It offers a wider range of products than the Octanes, for example, including frappes and batch brewed coffee, while also offering high quality espresso drinks and manual brewing options. Add to that the Clover and the impression I got was that of a coffee shop that both is passionate for their product but also understands that meeting people halfway has its benefits. I do not know if offering frappes will eventually lead a person to understand and appreciating a good cappuccino but I can see those frappe drinkers enjoying their time there and coming back for more, maybe even branching out at some point.
Rev was located just down the street from where I stayed and the espresso con pana I had there was enjoyable. It wasn’t quite what I had expected, though. After having enjoyed several espressos from different shops and “expecting” a certain thing from it, getting a traditional espresso throws your mouth into a moment of confusion. After the initial taste readjustment I thoroughly enjoyed it. The shop itself was beautiful. The menu offered so much, the furniture was classy and fun. The condiment bar was brilliant. All together, it was an excellent experience.
Drip was another unexpected visit. This was a prime example of the variety in shops that I referred to earlier. The shops around it made me think I was walking into a hoity-toity cafe, but when I walked in it burst with color and immediately made me feel like I was about to have a fun time. The latte was good. The stay was comfortable. The customers seemed to feel like this was their place.
Around the corner from Drip was Park Grounds. Again, a world of difference. Different type of neighborhood. Different type of cafe. The barista, in fact, shocked me a bit by expressing a bit of disloyalty to the disloyalty card. He said he thought it was a bad marketing idea to send people to other shops rather than encouraing them to come back. I didn’t respond, but it was the disloyalty card that brought me to Park Grounds. After people walk in the door, the rest is up to you. I ordered a Cubano because it was on the menu, and as I, myself, am Cuban thought I ought to test its authenticity. The bar area felt like a Miami coffee shop. Now, I am not saying if that is good or not, I am simply pointing out that it felt familiar. The rest of the shop gave me mixed feelings. It was darker than most of the shops I had been to. Old furniture, cool bookshelves and the key to the shop, in my opinion, the dog park. It had a dog park! What a great idea. Customers bring their dogs and let them roam while they enjoy their coffee. The Cubano was pretty spot on…..but again, its a sugary espresso (which I do love) which makes it hard to judge.
Element was the shop that I felt most comfortable in. If it wasn’t for the fact that it seems to be in another country and targeting customers that are much more “successful” in life than I am, I would go there as often as I could. However, the pretentiousness of the area did not make its way into the doors of the cafe. The baristas were wonderful. I got a delicious macchiato and sat in a wonderfully comfortable chair. I could have stayed all day, in fact, guzzling more and more of their coffees. I was offered a sampling of an iced tea that was cold brewed and delicious. The bar area brought up feelings of intense jealousy.
Overall, the weekend was one of the most enjoyable and educating experiences in coffee I have had. I returned to Tallahassee with fresh ideas, compromises and excitement for the future of coffee in Tallahassee and wherever else I may wind up. And I also made new friends with similar passions that I hope to continue to get to know.
Thanks to everyone in Atlanta for the coffee and the hospitality. I will be back. And Land of a Thousand Hills, you’ll be my first stop next time!