With dozens of colleges and universities, and more than a million workers in the Twin Cities metro area, caffeine is an important driver of the local economy. After all, a caffeinated population is a productive one. And while anyone can hop over to one of myriad Caribou Coffee and Starbucks locations, there's nothing quite like cozying up in a mom-and-pop coffee shop. Whether you're looking for a place to work, study, or relax with a good cup of joe, here are the best local cafes in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Peace Coffee's parent organization, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, launched the socially responsible coffee company back in 1996 before "fair trade" was even a thing in the United States. The organic beans roasted in their Minneapolis roastery are bought directly from farmers at a fair price, so you know what you're getting is responsibly sourced. You can pick up its coffee at any number of coffee shops and natural food markets throughout the country, but the best way to enjoy it is at the company's flagship location on Minnehaha Avenue.
The shop's bright colors and uber-chill atmosphere is a nice bonus to the feel-good business model and flavorful brews. In addition to a selection of coffees, patrons can grab tea, cocoa, and seasonal goodies from area bakeries and shops.
Classes on the art of brewing the perfect cup of java are offered throughout the year at its various locations. You can also tour the company's roastery in Midtown on select dates throughout the year. See the website for details.
This 48th Street hot spot is one of the best baby-friendly coffee shops in the Minneapolis metro area. A large play space hosts plenty of toys to keep kids of all ages occupied while adults relax with a cup of coffee. In addition to house-roasted brews, Sovereign Grounds also offers an assortment of small sweet and savory bites, including fresh baked goods all day long. If you aren't into coffee, this site has tea blends, too, including a unique and flavorful red tea latte.
Pro tip: Only two parking spaces are available in front of the shop, so plan to find a spot along one of the nearby side streets.
For those looking for a quiet place to study with plenty of space to hunker down, you can't go wrong with Canteen 3255. The big windows let in a lot of natural light, and the ample tables and low-key vibe make it a nice place to caffeinate and focus. Located within walking distance to Lake Calhoun Park, it's especially great for those living or working in the Uptown or Lyndale areas.
Swing by on the weekends for the shop's Toast Bar Happy Hour. From 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the shop sets up a veritable toast buffet, complete with artisan bread from nearby bakeries and a wide range of sweet and savory toppings like house-made jams and nut butters, locally-sourced honey, avocados, and feta cheese.
As its name would suggest, Vicinity is all about the local love. Syrups and sauces for their specialty drinks are made in-house from locally-sourced ingredients, and their coffee is locally roasted in small batches. The menu features baked goodies from the Minneapolis-based French bakery Patisserie 46 and gluten-free options from Sift. Even their chai tea is made in-house.
Both the Nicollet Avenue and Uptown locations have a great selection of traditional and specialty drinks, as well as tasty bites. But the Uptown location, in particular, is worth a visit. The site offers high-speed wifi and plenty of electrical outlets, making it a great spot for off-site meetings or marathon study sessions.
The Longfellow neighborhood coffee shop has an open door policy when it comes to kids, pets, and laptops — making it a great spot for parents looking to shake up their workspace a little or squeeze in a caffeinated play date. Like Sovereign Grounds, the shop has a children's area with plenty of toys and books for little ones.
In addition to standard coffee brews, the Riverview Cafe has an assortment of specialty concoctions, including an Almond Joy latte that is as delightful as it sounds. The food menu values quality over quantity with a limited selection of tasty bites both big and small, including freshly made sandwiches that can be warmed up on a panini press. Kid-friendly snacks like grapes and juice are always available.
Pro tip: This spot is cozy and best for those who don't mind children running about.
Ginkgo's has multiple locations throughout St. Paul, but the one to visit is its Snelling Avenue site just a few blocks from Hamline University. The shop features a small play area in the back, and periodically hosts concerts and children's events throughout the month — some of which (but not all!) have a cover charge. If you're in the mood for shopping, a small store full of knick-knacks and greeting cards is right beside the register.
Menu items include a mix of organic and fair trade coffee to choose from, as well as sandwiches, soups, and other entrees that are often made with locally-sourced ingredients — including gluten-free options.
If you like your java with a side of rent-by-the-hour unicorn stables and profanity-laden cross-stitch, Five Watt Coffee is a dream come true. This shop has two locations in Minneapolis — both offering a selection of traditional and non-traditional specialty coffee drinks, including several specialty offerings that push the boundaries between coffee and cocktails. The E. Hennepin location, housed inside the Miller Textile building, is spacious and comfortable, and the Kingfield site has a large garage door that lets in fresh air and springtime breezes when the weather is nice. The food menu also varies by location, with the E. Hennepin shop boasting an impressive made-to-order menu, and the Kingfield site hosting a toast bar every Sunday.
Another Longfellow neighborhood favorite, Fireroast is a combination coffee shop and wine bar with a great patio and decidedly adult vibe. Teas are loose leaf, and all of the coffee is organic, Fair Trade Certified, and comes from local Minneapolis-based roaster Up Coffee Roasters. In addition to house-made scones and muffins, the shop has a food menu that caters to a more sophisticated palate with fancy cheese plates and pesto-slathered flat breads. The cafe also doubles as an art gallery, where many local artists display their photographs, artwork, and crafts for sale with a new artist featured each month.
As a nonprofit coffeehouse, Bordertown Coffee serves up hot coffee along with some warm fuzzies. All the coffee served here is ethically sourced and grown on small farms across the globe where workers are treated well and paid a fair wage. The shop itself is located within a once-abandoned fraternity house in Dinkytown that took thousands of volunteers and over a year to repair. Its proximity to the University of Minnesota, cool backstory, and cozy environment make it a favorite among students, in particular.
Groups of four or more who want to host a private meeting or just need to spread out can reserve the Library Room for free in the mornings and afternoons (not during lunch hours). You don't technically have to purchase anything to book the space — though with drool-worthy pastries and coffee just steps away, why wouldn't you want to? — but be aware no outside food or drink is allowed.
Pro-tip: The coffee shop is closed on Saturdays and holidays.
This Burnsville-area coffee shop, located south of Minneapolis, boasts a wide range of drip and espresso coffee drinks, teas, and smoothies, as well as plenty of meal options for breakfast and lunch.
The real draw, however, is the waffle menu — though it might actually be a little unfair to call it a "menu." With over 100 different varieties, the listing is more akin to an epic ode to the waffle iron. Both sweet and savory options are offered, as well as vegan and gluten-free. While you can always opt for a classic fruit-on-top confection, be sure to try one of the impressively creative concoctions like the unicorn (pink with sprinkles), jerk chicken, and the sweet-and-salty "when pigs fly" waffle (bacon, brown sugar cinnamon, and cream cheese frosting).
Robyn Correll edited and contributed to this article.