I love coffee. And I don’t mean sugar-laden, heart-attack-in-a-cup frappuccinos.
When I say I love coffee, I mean I love single origin coffee that actually tastes like something besides burnt beans (sorry Starbucks). Because I love experimenting with coffee brewing techniques at home, and have a good idea of how to brew a good cup, it takes a really excellent coffee to get me excited about visiting a coffee shop.
There is good reason for this. When I first moved to Pittsburgh I was pretty underwhelmed with the coffee scene. Luckily things have greatly improved over the past few years and they continue to get better all the time. Thanks to this new scene of coffee shops in the city, I am on a quest to find the very best.
So which coffee shops are worth your time in Pittsburgh? Our ever-expanding guide gets to the bottom of that question.
21st Street Coffee and Tea
21st Street Coffee and Tea in the Strip District was the first third wave coffee shop I ever visited. I remember just stumbling in one day and becoming immediately entranced by the baristas brewing coffee one cup at a time by pouring hot water over the grounds in cone-shaped devices on top of glass decanters. At that time I knew nothing about pourover brewing but I’m pretty sure I can credit this coffee shop with sparking my obsession with coffee brewing techniques.
On this first visit I was a bit befuddled by the baristas’ insistence on trying the coffee without cream or sugar as I had always put cream in my coffee, but when I followed their directions and tasted their black pourover, I was amazed: the coffee actually tasted like something!
It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t burnt tasting. It tasted and smelled like blueberries. This cup of coffee was really a revelation, and this coffee shop still remains one of my favorites. Although they don’t roast their own coffee, they use Intelligentsia coffees and the baristas are always knowledgeable about the different offerings.
21st Street Coffee and Tea has two locations – one in the Strip District at 2002 Smallman Street and one at 225 Fifth Avenue downtown.
Adda Coffee & Tea House
Adda Coffee & Tea House in Shadyside is a relatively new addition to the Pittsburgh coffee scene, but it’s one that knows its stuff. Serving coffee roasted by Verve (Santa Cruz, CA) and boasting a glorious Japanese-style cold brew dripper right on the bar, this place is legit. The cold brew was some of the smoothest we’ve tasted in Pittsburgh, and the single origin espresso (Ethiopian on our visit) was bright but balanced. Adda also serves Rishi teas and even has food. The rotating food menu features both sweet and savory dishes and highlights a different region around the world (on our visit the focus was on Maine).
Adda Coffee & Tea House is located at 200 South Highland Avenue in Shadyside.
Commonplace Coffee was high on my must-try list as they roast their own beans and their coffee offerings include pourover options as well as single origin espresso.
Our first visit to Commonplace Coffee was at their Squirrel Hill location which was incredibly busy with students studying for finals. We tried a Colombian pourover and the barista seemed quite hurried in her pourover technique. I understand that they were busy, and I probably shouldn’t have been that jerk that ordered a pourover when there was a long line. At any rate, the pourover was a bit too tea-like for my tastes and didn’t have as much body as I would have expected.
We had the chance to try Commonplace Coffee again a few weeks later when we were wandering around the Mexican War Streets yard sale and stumbled upon their pop-up coffee shop outside of their future location at 1501 Buena Vista Street. The Tanzanian pourover was incredible and prepared with great technique, but even more impressive was the cold brew. I think their cold brew was the first I’d ever had that was drinkable on its own, and downright delicious, without the addition of cream and sugar. The balance of acidity and body was great and it was very refreshing on a hot day.
Commonplace Coffee has several locations in Pittsburgh. The Squirrel Hill branch featured in this article is at 5827 Forbes Avenue.
Lili Coffee Shop
Lili Cafe is a funky neighborhood cafe in the Polish Hill neighborhood. We stopped in for a brief pick-me-up on a Saturday afternoon and quickly realized this place is more than just a spot to get caffeine: they’ve got a nice food menu complete with vegan and vegetarian options and a Sunday brunch special. We will definitely have to make it back to indulge in the food.
As it was hot and steamy outside, we went with iced coffee drinks. We ordered an iced Dark Alley (coffee with a shot of espresso), which kept us wired the rest of the day. We also ordered the Mind Cure, one of their signature drinks, which was Frizz coffee soda, cream, and espresso. The Frizz coffee soda was surprisingly refreshing- bubbly and not too sweet. The drink as a whole had a nice balance of creaminess, sweetness, and acidity.
Lili Coffee Shop is located at 3138 Dobson Street in Polish Hill.
La Prima Espresso Co.
How do you know this place is legitimate? Flocks of grey-haired Italian gentlemen are always hanging out here, conversing in Italian and sipping their macchiati and espressi. There are no seats except for a few small tables on the sidewalk- a few high top tables can also be found inside for standing up while you down your espresso.
Having been to Italy and tried my share of espresso there, I can definitely say this is the most Italian cafe that I’ve seen so far in Pittsburgh- both in terms of the menu offered and the style of their espresso. La Prima roasts and blends their own beans which contributes to the high quality shots pulled here, no doubt. Shots are smooth with just a touch of acidity- in my opinion, great shots for drinking straight up or with just a touch of steamed milk as a macchiato.
La Prima Espresso Co. is located at 205 21st Street in the Strip District and is open seven days a week.
Our first impression of Orbis Caffee, location in Mt. Lebanon, was that it looks like a European cafe with hardwood floors and ornate ceiling tiles. We went on a Sunday and everyone was enjoying their Sunday brunch from this cafe’s impressive rotating menu. Alas, we ate just before arriving, so we stuck with the coffee.
We ordered what is becoming our favorite espresso drink, a cortado, and a pourover coffee. The cortado was balanced and smooth with a really nice microfoam. There were several options for the pourover coffee; we went with the Papua New Guinea from Washington, PA-based roaster 19 Coffee. We don’t normally drink Indonesian coffees as we find their funkiness a bit too much sometimes, but this one was very drinkable. It was earthy like we expected but this was balanced with some fruitiness and floral notes.
One of the things we like most about Orbis Caffe is that they offer coffees from three different roasters: 19 Coffee (Washington, PA), Ceremony Roasters (Annapolis), and Intelligentsia (Chicago). It’s great to see the mix of local roasters and nationally known roasters to provide a little bit of something for everyone.
Orbis Caffe is located at 675 Washington Road in Mount Lebanon and is open seven days a week.
Biddle’s Escape is a quirky and fun coffee shop nestled in the Regent Square neighborhood, making it a great stop before or after a hike in Frick Park. The outdoor seating area is dog-friendly, and the inside has an eclectic atmosphere with an abundance of African masks adorning the walls. A huge selection of looseleaf teas and herbs lines the back wall, and a few pinball machines are even lurking in the corner. Although you’ll probably remember the ambiance here more than the coffee, they offer a good cold brew, all your standard espresso-based drinks, drip and French press coffee, and a huge selection of teas.
Biddle’s Escape is located at 401 Biddle Avenue in Regent Square.
Espresso a Mano
Espresso a Mano in Lawrenceville is always bustling, no matter the time of day, with hipsters staring like zombies at their Mac screens for hours upon hours. On our first visit we tried an espresso and a cortado. The espresso on its own was pretty acidic and thin-bodied. The cortado was excellent with an amazingly smooth, perfectly creamy microfoam (and pretty latte art).
On my second visit I was wanting a little less caffeine since it was my second cup of the day. I asked the barista if he could just do one shot instead of their standard two in my small latte. He replied that no, they only pull double ristretto shots. I appreciate coffee shops wanting to control the quality of their products, but I think this has to be balanced with customers’ needs and wants as not everyone can handle that much caffeine.
Getting past this, Espresso a Mano makes an impressive latte worth checking out.
Espresso a Mano is located at 3623 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.
Delanie’s Coffee is an impressive space with high ceilings, shiny hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, a loft area, and local artists’ works adorning the walls. In addition to the usual offerings of espresso drinks, drip coffee, pourovers, and French press, Delanie’s has their own juicer churning out fresh fruit and vegetable juices. There’s also a fairly extensive cafe menu including all kinds of baked goods, sandwiches, and smoothies.
During our recent visit we tried a cortado and a macchiato. The barista asked if I really wanted a latte instead of a macchiato. As a former barista myself, I appreciate that most people don’t really know what a macchiato is, but that question alone lets you know what kind of customers frequent this place (i.e. the kind that frequent Starbucks and don’t really know what a macchiato is).
The drinks were fine except I ordered a decaf and it was not decaf, and we got the feeling our order was misheard not once, but twice during our visit. Overall, I definitely don’t see this place as a destination for great coffee, but maybe more of a cafe for hanging out or meeting up with people. We’re always up for a return visit to confirm!
Delanie’s Coffee is located at 1737 East Carson Street in South Side.
Set amidst the lush, mansion-filled neighborhood of Highland Park, Tazza d’Oro bustles on the weekends but still manages to maintain a peaceful vibe. The atmosphere is distinctly different from that at Espresso a Mano- think families and couples with dogs rather than 30 college students behind Macs.
Although Tazza d’Oro doesn’t roast their own beans, they exclusively use Counter Culture beans from Durham, North Carolina. They offer several single origin coffees as pourovers as well as single origin espresso and espresso blends. Another cool fact about this shop is that all their baristas receive training and certification from Counter Culture. Basically, you can be sure that the people behind the counter know their stuff!
When we visited we tried a single origin espresso and a cortado, both of which were well-executed and delicious. Single origin espresso is an interesting beast and something that we’re definitely excited to drink more of now that we know there are several shops in the city that offer it. If you’re intrigued but not sold on the idea, check out Tazza d’Oro on Mondays when they offer free shots of a featured single origin espresso for dine in orders.
Tazza d’Oro is located at 1125 North Highland Avenue in Highland Park
4121 Main is an interesting hybrid business that does floral arrangements for weddings and events, and is also part coffee shop. The space is quite artsy and full of floral arrangements- a beautiful place to grab a cup of coffee.
The espresso machine is even a work of art, designed by Kees van der Westen and built in Holland. Their coffee comes from Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland and the menu is full of interesting seasonal lattes using housemade syrups and accompaniments, as well as traditional espresso drinks and pourovers. We opted for a seasonal maple lavender latte and a cortado, both of which were smooth and balanced. The maple lavender latte was surprisingly delicious- the delicate lavender flavor didn’t get lost in the espresso but complemented it perfectly.
4121 Main is located at 4121 Main Street in Bloomfield / Lawrenceville.
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Carnegie Coffee Company
Carnegie Coffee Company has a fantastic ambience as it’s located in the old post office building in Carnegie. High ceilings, hardwood floors, lots of natural light, and a bunch of different cozy seating areas make this a great place for hanging out or working. Carnegie Coffee Company serves food like pastries, sandwiches, panini, salads, and soups from Mediterra Bakehouse and Sausalido Bistro. The coffee they serve is from Illy, an Italian coffee roaster, which is predictable and decent coffee. The drink menu includes drip coffee and standard hot and iced espresso based drinks. We noticed the coffee wasn’t ground to order but had been sitting in the grinder (this may not bother anyone else but me), but our double espresso was smooth and balanced.
Carnegie Coffee Company is located at 132 E Main Street in Carnegie, PA just south of Pittsburgh.
Caffe D’Amore is a cozy little neighborhood coffee shop in Lawrenceville. We recently popped in after dinner at Pusadee’s Garden- normally they’re not open that late in the evenings, but there was a special poetry reading going on. The menu consists of your standard espresso bar drinks, a selection of teas, cold brew, and pour overs. While our cortado and latte were nice, we were also intrigued by the selection of items for sale in the cafe. There’s handmade mug coozies from local artists, mason jars of housemade shrubs, and a selection of goodies from local bakery Om Nom Bake Studio. Caffe D’Amore has partnerships with lots of local farms, restaurants, and dairy farms, which adds to the community vibe.
Caffe d’Amore is located at 5400 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.
Located on Penn Avenue on the border between Lawrenceville and Bloomfield, this artsy coffee shop serves coffees from Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee Roasters. On a recent Sunday morning visit, the place was packed with groups of tattoo-laden twenty-somethings. I definitely felt out of place without tattoos covering the entire surface area of my body.
We tried a cortado which had average latte art but a great smooth, creamy texture and balanced flavor. We also tried a straight up espresso, which was very bright in flavor with tart acidity and medium body. If we make it back we’ll be sure to check out their much beloved cold brew options and/or a Chemex brew.
Constellation Coffee is located at 4059 Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville/Bloomfield.
Zeke’s Coffee Shop
Zeke’s is a cute coffee shop in East Liberty with a funky vibe. They roast their own beans and the menu includes espresso- based drinks as well as pourovers, Chemex, and French press. There’s lots of baked goods, too, including muffins, scones, cookies, and quiches. On our visit we tried a cortado and a pourover. The espresso in the cortado tasted like a very dark roast which isn’t really our favorite, but the pourover was delicious. They used an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe for the pourover, which was very juicy and fruity tasting. Zeke’s also has a drive through if you need caffeination in a hurry.
Zeke’s Coffee is located at 6015 Penn Avenue in East Liberty.
Black Forge Coffee
Although the coffee at Black Forge Coffee House is quite good, there are lots of other draws to this gritty spot in Allentown. With the slogan “darkness brewing eternal,” this dark cafe comes with on-site tarot readings and concerts multiple nights of the week, you can probably determine whether or not this is your kind of place fairly quickly. They serve up Zeke’s coffee and have a really interesting menu with unique syrups and flavors (like a hickory smoke latte). On our visit we tried a macchiatto which was smooth and balanced, and an iced latte with honey and vanilla which was just sweet enough making it well worth a visit even if the cafe is not your style.
Black Forge Coffee is located at 1206 Arlington Avenue in Allentown.
Coffee Tree Roasters
With half a dozen locations around the city, Coffee Tree Roasters is one of the more established and prominent coffee shops in Pittsburgh. Each shop has a little bit of a different atmosphere and its own features. We recently checked out the Mt. Lebanon location, which had a huge selection of coffee gear and accessories for sale (great for coffee geeks like me) but is pretty small on the inside. Their menu is typical with hot and iced espresso drinks, cold brew coffee, and drip coffee. Coffee Tree Roasters does roast all their own beans, and my favorite thing about them is that you can buy beans by weight. They typically have dozens of varieties for sale, and they have the roast date on the bins so you can make sure the coffee you’re getting is fresh. We tried a double espresso which had a low acidity and good body, and an iced caramel latte which was sweet but not overly so. We also picked up some Yirgacheffe beans for a good price.
Coffee Tree Roasters has several locations around the city. We visited their Mount Lebanon location for this review at 299 Beverly Road.
California Coffee Bar
California Coffee Bar in Brighton Heights is a new addition to the coffee scene in Pittsburgh as of early 2017. The space feels open with high ceilings, and the menu includes a bit more than your standard coffee shop menu. Besides espresso drinks, pourovers, and French press, they also have a selection of teas, nitro coffee and nitro tea, juice shots, raw juices, and protein shakes. We tried a nitro coffee which was pretty good and the Vitality juice with carrots, beets, ginger, apple, and lemon, which was really pulpy but had a good flavor. The food menu here is pretty impressive, including a full oatmeal and yogurt bowl bar at breakfast and soups, salads, and sandwiches at lunch.
California Coffee Bar is located at 3619 California Ave in Brighton Heights.
Big Dog Coffee
Big Dog Coffee is located on a quiet side street in South Side, a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Carson St. It’s a peaceful, cozy place perfect for working or relaxing. As you might guess from the name, the shop is dog friendly. They serve Intelligentsia coffees and have lots of snacks like gelato, pastries, and even an oatmeal bar.
I ordered a French pressed Ethiopian coffee while I was there. It was alright, but a bit mild and thin bodied compared to how I normally like French pressed coffees. I’d love to go back on a Saturday with our dog, try a latte, and hang out for a while.
Big Dog Coffee is located at 2717 Sarah Street in the South Side.
Allegheny Tea & Coffee Exchange
Allegheny Tea & Coffee Exchange in the Strip District is unique in that they roast their own coffees- a large roaster sits inside the shop which is pretty cool to check out. Dozens of barrels are lined up inside the store containing nearly any kind of single origin or flavored coffee you could want. They also have a large selection of teas and tea and coffee accessories.
On my recent visit I tried some samples of their nitro coffee which is a cold coffee served on draft like beer (but without alcohol). If you like flavored coffees, they have lots of nitro options for you. I stuck with a regular latte which was average with a few flaws. The espresso wasn’t ground right when I ordered my drink (ground espresso needs to be used in a matter of seconds), and the milk was foamy and more like a cappuccino. If I went back it would be to buy some whole bean coffee rather than to drink coffee there as the selection was quite impressive.
Allegheny Tea and Coffee Exchange is located at 2005 Penn Avenue in the Strip District.
Coffee Buddha is a cute coffee shop spread throughout the entirety of a two-story house on Perry Highway. The menu includes standard espresso based drinks as well as a few less common ones like a Cubano and a Bombon. There’s also a few fancy pourover options like Hario V60 and Chemex. On our visit we tried a Cubano which is espresso pulled through raw sugar, which was sweet but balanced. We also ordered a cortado which was good but the milk was steamed a bit too hot so it lost some of its sweetness. One of the main draws of Coffee Buddha is their monthly food truck roundups where half a dozen or more food trucks gather in the parking lot. We checked out the March roundup and it was a great event with a good selection of Pittsburgh food trucks like Driftwood Oven, Mission Mahi, and The Coop, just to name a few.
Coffee Buddha is located at 964 Perry Highway in the North Hills.
More Coming Soon!
We’re continually visiting new coffee shops and will be updating this guide as we discover new ones worth your time in the city!
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Do you have a favorite coffee shop in Pittsburgh that is not featured in this guide? Comment below to let us know about it!