Written and compiled by Abbie Gonçalves, Danielle Charbonneau and Jim Mathie
Denver: the land of hippies, hipsters, stoners and ski bums; a second home to Jack Kerouac and his band of beatniks; a breeding ground for passionate environmentalists, organic vegans and aspiring yogis. Denver, my home town, is also a place for incredible local coffee shops with a rich selection of international, fair-trade coffees. At most coffee shops in Denver, the coffee is rich, dark, smoky and freshly-roasted, the couches are comfortable, there’s board games, local art on the walls, live music and poetry slams at night—coffee shops are a place to lounge, work, interact and take part in a sense of community.
So when I moved to Pompano Beach and found that Dunkin Donuts was the go-to spot on every other corner for coffee (Fact: Florida has over 700 Dunkin Donuts), I guess I could say I felt pretty slighted. In Denver, the only people who go to Dunkin Donuts are troublemakers looking for a grimy bathroom in which to get high. (Ok, so maybe not the only people, but truthfully Dunkin Donuts is about the last place people go for coffee).
Call me a snob. Fine. But after about a month in Pompano Beach, I would have killed for a good, strong cup of coffee. I figured that surely there must be some hidden gems out there somewhere, so I set out to find them. I am happy to announce that I did indeed find several, and that local coffee shops seem to be on the overall rise. New cafés and specialty roasters seem to be cropping up all around Broward County.
The television show “Shameless” jokes that the first sign of gentrification is good coffee. So perhaps there’s a larger trend at play, or maybe people are just wising up to the joys of coffee connoisseurship. Either way, I’m thankful for a quality cup. Here are some of my personal finds, as well as a few picked out by Pompano! magazine’s coffee-loving staff. Each place has it’s own vibe, culture and perks. We present: the Java Gems of Broward.
— Danielle Charbonneau
2430 N.E. 13 Ave., Wilton Manors
The Alchemist coffee shop is a secret gem nestled in the corner of The Yard, a creative collective area in the heart of Wilton Manors that features multiple local restaurants, a dance studio, a boutique on wheels (housed in a charming old school Airstream) and a local artisan market, which hosts live music and creative events. The Yard feels like its own little hippie village, colorful and hidden from the outside world. One might never find The Yard if they didn’t know its location, tucked away behind buildings and shopping centers off NE 26 St. The Yard’s eclectic and collaborative vibe is strongly felt, and the Alchemist café serves as the collective’s social cornerstone.
The Alchemist’s outside courtyard is a garden oasis with lush bushes, flowers, potted plants, statues and quaint wooden tables — a serene place to sip freshly roasted coffee, which is roasted on site, outside, in cast-iron pots. The toasty smell of the beans wafts in the air. The chalkboard menu includes unique and handcrafted coffee drinks not easily found elsewhere. For example, the Alchemist’s “Bulletproof:” a creamy and decadent, syphoned coffee topped with melted coconut oil and grass-fed ghee (clarified butter). The Alchemist also serves bistro food including fresh mixed-green salads, open-faced sandwiches called “slicers” and gluten-free pastries.
Sleek & Trendy
SwitchBox Coffee Roasters
3446 N.E. 12 Ave., Oakland Park
Monday through Friday, 6:30am-6pm
Saturday & Sunday, 7am-6pm
SwitchBox Coffee Roasters is a hip, industrial shop and specialty roaster located in the emerging culinary arts district of Oakland Park. Reclaimed wood, abstract art, stainless steel details and old-school copper bulbs create a sleek and modern vibe. A bar wraps around the roaster, where guests sit, watch and converse with staff as they home-roast beans from Columbia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil.
There is a vibrant energy inside as the sound of milk steaming and beans roasting echoes. Comfortable couches, coffee tables and an abundance of outlets makes SwitchBox an excellent place to settle in and get some work done. A community bookshelf offers guests the opportunity to peruse some new reads and an outdoor patio beckons people outdoors on a nice day.
Switchbox is owned by Brian and Mimi Protsman, who opened the shop less than a year ago but have a long history roasting coffee. The couple started home-roasting their own beans around 11 years ago at a time when Brian was roasting for Luna Roasters Gourmet Coffee & Tea based in Denver, CO. Last October, Mimi and Brian moved back to South Florida with the intention of starting their own coffee shop.
Brian holds a high standard for coffee and works solely with trusted importers and farmers.
“We buy the best coffee we can afford. Understanding the origin and bringing out the best in the beans in our roasting process is our goal,” said Brian.
The Cozy Living Room
1631 S. Cypress Road, Pompano Beach
From the outside Chez Café looks like a classic diner with a drive-thru window, 50s overhang, and hand-painted signs. Inside, however, it is about as homey and comfortable as a family living room. Plush couches with pillows, warm lighting, small tables with lamps, a flat screen television and folksy art give the place a welcoming feel that makes one want to settle in to read the morning newspaper, devour a homemade omelette and sip on a refreshing glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice.
“It was always my dream to have my own small café and have it be like a family,” said Gentiana, who is the type of owner to remember her guests names and faces. Chez Café is a place where visitors become regulars, then friends.
While Chez Café had been in operation for years when Gentiana acquired it, she combined her hospitable charm, Albanian upbringing and European roots to make the space and menu her own. Gentiana home-bakes her own goodies (including Scottish shortbread with pralines, decadent brownies with caramel and guava pastries) and sells Colonia coffee beans (both Italian and French roasts). Chez Café offers both a breakfast and lunch menu. The sandwiches are impressive, including the hot-pressed panini with turkey, bacon and caramelized onion jam, or the turkey apple sandwich with homemade raspberry sauce. For something lighter, Chez Café offers all-natural smoothies made with soy or almond milk and fresh fruit.
Strong & Home-Roasted
Calusa Coffee Roasters
161 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Calusa Coffee is named after the Calusa tribe, the original inhabitants of Florida. As a born-and-raised Floridian, Calusa owner Steve Hodel wanted something “Floridacentric.”
“Plus the name flowed well,” he said.
When he started Calusa about three years ago, it was the only place in the Pompano and Oakland Park areas locally roasting its own beans. Hodel got his inspiration after touring a myriad of coffee facilities in Costa Rica where he and his brother operated a travel business for 23 years. When Hodel decided to settle back in Florida with his wife, Hodel decided to switch ventures and roast coffee.
The building where Calusa resides has been in Hodel’s family for over two decades. Hodel’s father originally bought the property (previously a private home) for its parking space, which was adjacent to his chiropractic business. Hodel and his brother later turned the home into a local office for their travel business; then three years ago, Hodel transformed it into Calusa Coffee Roasters.
Initially Calusa was purely a roaster, but as people fell in love with Hodel’s quality beans and rich, smoky flavors, they began requesting cups of hot coffee when they picked up their packages.
“My wife said, you’re crazy to turn those people away,” Hodel said. So at his wife’s suggestion, Hodel bought an espresso machine and began serving coffee.
Now Calusa sees a slew of guests popping in for a quality cup of strong Joe. Hodel says most people just come and go, but Calusa does have some seating inside where Hodel is happy to camp out with guests and trade stories.
Hodel roasts on Sundays and Wednesdays, switching up his beans and roasts every week, sometimes featuring single-origin beans, other times blends. Calusa has also partnered with a number of local businesses, including Holy Mackeral Brewing company who uses Calusa coffee in one of their craft beers.
Pure and Simple
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall — Living Green is about as gourmet of a market a real foodie can find. The colorful market is vibrant, with a rainbow or organic fresh produce, a deli counter that makes 100 percent of their dishes homemade daily from fresh ingredients, a hot bar with items like vegan lasagna and stir fry, a soup bar with six piping hot recipes, an olive bar, Greek-imported cakes and macaroons, kombucha on tap and jarred Amish goods.
As if the market itself were not enough, Living Green has a phenomenal coffee bar, serving Puro fairtrade coffee. Living Green is the only business importing Puro coffee in North America. Puro sources its beans from co-operatives who bring together hundreds of small farmers. The rich espresso creates the perfect crema, brewed in a Fiorenzto espresso machine. Living Green’s owner and founder is a self-proclaimed coffee lover who has said that the the caliber of a business can be “measured by the espresso they serve.” Hightop tables are available to hang, sip, chat and devour.
Whole Foods Market
2411 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach
Monday-Saturday 7am-10pm, Sunday 8am-10pm
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know about Whole Foods in Pompano Beach. But what a lot of folks don’t know is that they roast their coffee right in the store. There are about a dozen or so varieties to choose from. The raw beans are stored right behind the counter and you can watch them being roasted in a clear, tall roaster—taking on a deep rich color. The organic French roast is a deeper color and quite shiny due to being roasted at a higher temperature, which really brings out the natural oils of the bean. The coffee bar is right at the front of the store and serves regular, old American style brew or classic espresso drinks such as cappuccino and lattes.
Beach-Themed & Charming
313 SE 15th Terrace b, Deerfield Beach
Open everyday 6 am to 10 pm
Coffee Cove is a boutique coffee house locally owned and operated. Inspired by its location near the Intracoastal Waterway in the Cove Shopping Center in Deerfield Beach, the little cozy shop dares to change the feeling of the traditional coffee houses, with its bright light colors, baby-blue walls and beach-inspired theme. Coffee Cover serves farm-to-table cuisine and hand-crafted beverages.
Gooey & Sweet
The Sticky Bun
1619 SE 3rd Court, Deerfield Beach (in the Cove Shopping Center)
Tuesday through Saturday 7 AM to 4 PM
Sunday 8 AM to 2 PM
Sticky Bun owners Pauline and Mike Hrabovsky have both been Deerfield Beach natives for over 25 years. They both formerly worked at JB’s on the Beach before opening the Sticky Bun, a charming little shop in the Cove Shopping Center. The Sticky Bun is most well-known for their homemade bacon and ooey-gooey sticky buns, but a good cup of coffee goes well with both. The Sticky Bun serves Red Diamond, 100 percent Arabica coffee from Birmingham, AL, which has been roasting coffee since 1906. Cappuccinos, lattes and espresso is also available.
Artist & Outcast Haven
Located in the 3000 Plaza off Federal Highway, just south of E. Oakland Park Blvd.
3020 FL-5 #5a, Fort Lauderdale
Open Mon.-Thur. Noon-11:30pm; Fri. & Sat. Noon – 1am; Sun. 4pm-11:30pm
Undergrounds Coffeehaus is a hangout haven for young thespians, artists, book lovers, musicians and outcasts. On any given night a slew of high-school-aged kids and young adults sporting tattoos, piercings, vintage fashion and gutter punk throwbacks can be found huddled on the outdoor patio (which feels strangely reminiscent of a New Orleans balcony) chain smoking cigarettes or vaping. Inside, well-loved couches, armchairs, coffee tables, side lamps and and cocktail tables are spread around. Red walls and dim lighting create a lounge-esqe environment. Bookshelves full of used books are scattered throughout; a flatscreen with hundreds of DVDs underneath is in the front entry way; and chess boards, cards and crayons are strewn about for entertainment.
By far the most unique part of Undergrounds however is their extensive menu of “Gourmet Tater Tots.” Undergrounds has over 40 flavors of tater tots including Curry, Chipotle, Jerk, Cajun and Cheesy Bacon. Other youthful throwback foods are available including microwavable pretzels, mini pizzas and pound cake. The coffee drinks are unique too — like the “White Russian” (white chocolate latte), “Grasshopper” (mint-chocolate latte) or “Peanut Butter Cup Cappuccino.” Undergrounds describes it’s style as “like going to Grandma’s minus the mothballs.”
Down the hall from the main lounge space is a small, cozy performance venue where eclectic events are held including slam poetry, swing dance classes, Rock n’ Roll yoga, Crochet & Cookies night, a writer’s workshop, open-mic and actor’s workshop.
Undergrounds adamantly supports the local art scene and is always interested in promoting new artists. Each new artist brought on board gets their own “Open Haus” and two weeks of exposure in the Undergrounds Art Gallery. Book donations are also always welcome.
The Expert Roasters
“Until recently it was hard to find good coffee in this town,” said Brandon and Nicole Wells, founders of Wells Coffee Company. “Lots of great people, but a ton of bad coffee.”
That is, until recently, when the couple converted their passion for delicious coffee into a professional pursuit. After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, in which they raised more than $18,000, the Wells’ put their stake in the ground as the first specialty coffee roasting company in Boca Raton, FL. Setting up production as a small shop roaster in a newly established café called The Seed in East Boca, they began sharing their specialty beans with the community.
Recently, they were recognized by the culinary industry as the 2016 Rising Star South Florida Roaster of the Year. Nicole Wells became a certified Q-grader, a professional accreditation in the specialty coffee industry designed to empower professionals to accurately score coffee quality. The Wells’ will tell you: the work that goes into a perfectly detailed cup of coffee is a journey.
“Everything starts with the farmer, but once the beans get to us, it’s a process to determine exactly how to approach the coffee,” Nicole said.
Region, bean density, moisture content and processing all influence the way a particular coffee will be roasted.
“We’ve learned,” says Brandon, “that roasting is a combination of art and science.”
Today, the Wells’, along with their awesome team, are days away from opening their first headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, where they look forward to hosting remarkable people around the coffees they love.