Coffee shops aren’t just about coffee. And let’s face it — they haven’t been for a long time. They’re places to hold a business meeting, write a short story, socialize.

But now that we’re deep into the so-called “third wave” of coffee, when artisanal beverages are the norm, local cafes are upping the ante.

In the past year, a fresh crop of coffee spots has opened in the Twin Cities, bringing new life to our Starbucks and Caribou-studded streets and skyways.

Sure, the quality of the liquid caffeine is of the utmost importance at many of the hottest new cafes. But the look and feel of a place, not to mention a full-fledged food (and sometimes even cocktail) program, is proving to be as big a draw as the sourcing of the beans and the strength of the buzz.

Here are seven Twin Cities coffee shops (and one bonus) that are as eye-catching as they are caffeinated.

Fairgrounds Craft Coffee & Tea

Since it opened last summer, Fairgrounds Craft Coffee & Tea has given new meaning to the word “barista.”

The space: twinkling signs, relics from carnivals, old photos from Minnesota State Fairs and rope-swing seats bring a touch of whimsy to the high-ceilinged space.

The coffee: Coffee-tenders at this North Loop cafe pour cold brew (plus sparkling tea and kombucha) from a line of taps on the bar, just as they might at a brewpub. If you want it hot, get a made-to-order coffee from the cafe’s “brew bar,” a row of pour-over devices. The Chicago-based company imports coffee from roasters in the Windy City, Nashville and Milwaukee, plus Minneapolis’ own Spyhouse. Ask for a sample before committing to a whole cup of something new, or mix it up with a flight. “It’s all about discovery,” said general manager Katie Maschoff.

The food: In keeping with the fairgrounds theme, you’ll find corn dogs and funnel cake fries to go along with more usual coffee shop options like egg sandwiches.

120 3rd Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-9165,


Hodges Bend

A Tulsa, Okla.-based team moved 700 miles north a year ago to open a Minnesota branch of their coffee and cocktails spot.

The space: vintage refinement in the form of yellow tufted booths, dark-wood library shelves and ornate ceilings.

The coffee: Topeca beans (from a family farm in El Salvador and roasted in Tulsa) take many forms at Hodges Bend. Taste them in your traditional morning espresso, drip or pour-over. Or in a cocktail, where coffee is treated as an offbeat mixer, like in the Stonebreaker Heights Sour (cold brew, rum, macadamia and lime). “We try to provide a little something for everybody,” said head bartender Blaine Young II.

The food: Latin America, Morocco, Spain and the U.S. South are all represented on the eclectic brunch, lunch and dinner menus.

2700 W. University Av., St. Paul, 612-353-1403,



A glass-blowing artist turned his studio into a coffeehouse that’s all about light.

The space: Founder Jackson Schwartz wanted to put a 15-seat espresso bar into a building he acquired for his glass-blowing business. In the midst of construction, he changed his mind, turning what was supposed to be the showroom into a 3,000-square-foot cafe that opened a year ago. “For a coffee shop, it’s a monster,” Schwartz said. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and Schwartz’s own light fixtures keep the otherwise minimalist space bright. A roving sauna is parked outside for the rest of March.

The coffee: A classic espresso menu features rotating roasters on a monthly basis, while the drip coffee changes daily.

The food: Seven-day-a-week brunch gives entrepreneurs and other workers with nontraditional schedules a chance to laze or meet over a midmorning avocado toast. The nearby Minneapolis Farmers Market serves as menu inspiration for Pizzeria Lola alum Travis Huss.

145 N. Holden St., Mpls.,



A burgeoning local chain launches a flagship bakery as it prepares to expand beyond Minneapolis.

The space: Penny’s inviting second location, in a former auto garage in the Linden Hills neighborhood, has been open a year and a half. Now, a new cutout in the back wall provides a windowed peek into a bakery where executive chef Shawn McKenzie is cranking out pastries for this Penny’s and the company’s downtown Minneapolis spot. Another location is due to open this spring in Wayzata.

The coffee: It’s a dark roast, from Australian roaster Vittoria. But Penny’s plans to eventually serve its own branded light and dark roasts.

The food: The crêpes that Penny’s has been known for since it opened are still on the menu. But the addition of McKenzie, who comes from the Isaac Becker and Daniel del Prado restaurant worlds, brings a full-fledged food expansion. McKenzie has launched a bread program influenced by her travels in Israel; look for Middle East-inflected flavors, challah and pistachio croissants, savory baked goods and sandwiches, and “some things you haven’t traditionally seen in Minneapolis,” said Penny’s CEO, Foley Schmidt. “She’s definitely used her imagination.”

3509 W. 44th St., Mpls., 612-840-6100,


Gray Fox Coffee & Wine

Since last August, the team behind this downtown cafe is bringing skyway coffee to a whole new level. As in, the ground floor.

The space: Taking up half of the newly renovated, white-walled atrium of the former TCF Tower, dark rugs and black velvet sofas create a surprisingly intimate feel under a soaring glass ceiling. A bar in a corner nook, with walls covered in Japanese preserved wood, is a prime spot for things to get “romantic and scandalous,” said co-owner Danielle Bjorling.

The coffee: The idea of opening a craft coffee shop in the downtown Minneapolis skyways was to offer office workers drinks that were “fast yet artistic,” Bjorling said. They solved the speed issue (when it comes to laborious latté art, anyway) by introducing the Ripple Maker, a machine that can print any image into a latté’s foam using espresso. The Instagram-ready toppers complement creative lattés that incorporate bitters, smoked salt and other ingredients.

The food: Brightly colored smoothie bowls, breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts from Cardigan are offered all day long. At happy hour, there are cheese plates and pizza (wine, too).

801 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-886-3770,


Dogwood Coffee Co.

The local roaster turned its roasting space into a multipurpose flagship cafe where you can get a peek of the action.

The space: For its fourth Twin Cities coffeehouse, Dogwood turned inward. The building that housed its Northeast roastery became the home of a new coffee counter and industrial hangout spot that opened last month. Dogwood moved its existing roasting operation down the hall into a former photo studio, with glass garage doors that blast the space with light. Windows into the roastery and a wall of mirrors reflect a colorful mural by Minneapolis artist Ashley Mary.

The coffee: It’s all roasted on-site in their new gas-drum roaster. Beans come mainly from Colombia, Ethiopia and Costa Rica, and 30 percent of the offerings are called “finds”: small-batch samples from standout harvests that don’t come around too often. “Coffee is an agricultural product, like wine,” said co-owner Dan Anderson, and Dogwood brews up only the best vintages.

The food: Just like its other locations, Dogwood serves Rustica pastries. But here, they’ve added grab-and-go sandwiches with fillings from Lowry Hill Meats and Herbivorous Butcher.

1209 NE. Tyler St., Mpls., 612-202-8986,


Five Watt Coffee

A big name on the Minneapolis craft coffee scene branched out to St. Paul when the new Keg and Case Market food hall opened last summer.

The space: Though there are tables to settle into, try sidling up to the bar instead. Small-footprint espresso machines are built into the counter, keeping the barista in full view of patrons. Refurbished Soviet-era lights encased in ceramic bowls hang from above, and everything gets a touch of mint green and pastel yellow. “A lot of coffee shops are all white or all black, and Five Watt likes to be a little different,” said co-owner Lee Carter.

The coffee: Five Watt roasts its own for use in cocktail-like concoctions, some of which are inspired by other vendors in the market. The Saints, a latté with vanilla, Jamaican bitters and raspberry bitters, comes with a piece of raspberry-white chocolate halva from vendor-neighbor House of Halva.

The food: Rose Street Patisserie, another fellow vendor, provides the pastries. And with all the food available in the market, “we don’t know that we’d be filling a void” by adding anything more, Carter said.

928 W. 7th St., St. Paul,



Spyhouse Coffee Roasters

Downtown Minneapolis workers will finally be able to get Spyhouse coffee during the workday. The local roaster is opening its sixth location later this month inside the grand lobby of the Emery Hotel (aka the renovated and rebranded Hotel Minneapolis).

The space: Travelers and locals are expected to mix at a long communal table. “It’s going to be funky, cool, awesome,” said Emery food and beverage director James Carpenter.

The coffee: Expect the classic coffee and espresso menus found at other Spyhouse shops, with the notable additions of a blend made just for the Emery, seasonal and specialty drinks, and affogato — housemade gelato topped with hot espresso.

The food: Like Spyhouse’s other locations, croissants, cookies and other pastries (including mincemeat pie) will come from Black Walnut Bakery.

216 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-340-2000,