Caffeine Dreams

The Coffee is Great (and So is the Scene) at These Nine Fine Spots

In no particular order, here are the best places to get a jolt of joe—plus, three coffee carts we love.

By Megan McDonald February 28, 2018 Published in the March 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Customers bring work to Perq.

Perq Coffee Bar

Erin and Keith Zolner brought to town such coffee concoctions as flat whites, Gibraltars and Kalitas when they opened their Southside Village shop in 2011. From the beginning, they made it their mission to educate locals about the art and science of coffee. They’re sticklers for detail: beans are Fair Trade and single-origin; milk comes from Myakka’s Dakin Dairy Farm; the bright-green Slayer espresso machine is Instagramable; and drinks are made and measured to exacting specifications. But don’t be intimidated: The staff loves to chat about coffee and will walk you through the ordering process. You can savor your drink on one of the sleek black leather couches or at an industrial-chic wood table. And don’t miss their occasional “socials,” when they stay open late and host food trucks and live music.

Green Bean Coffee House Café 

Quirky little Bayou Oaks’ Green Bean Coffee House Café prides itself on its lived-in vibe (oversized leather couches, colorful décor, mismatched mugs and a casual backyard patio). It’s the ideal spot for a long catch-up session with a friend. Green Bean serves the usual caffeine-laced suspects—coffee (iced and hot), lattes (regular and flavored, made with regular milk or almond) and frappes—as well as a selection of breakfast burritos, bagels, salads and sandwiches, using organic, local ingredients when possible. Place your order with one of the super-friendly baristas, settle into that comfy couch and plan to stay for a while. Green Bean is definitely a student hangout—you’ll see lots of young folks stumbling in for a cuppa after pulling an all-nighter, or gathering for group projects—but the baristas make sure you feel like anyone and everyone is welcome.

A barista and some offerings from Buddy Brew.

Buddy Brew Coffee

An offshoot of a Tampa operation, Buddy Brew is owned by Dave and Susan Ward. The pair picked the perfect downtown location when they opened here a few years ago—beneath the Palm Avenue parking garage and next door to Louies Modern. It’s always buzzing with customers, from condo residents and office workers to employees at nearby arts organizations. They’re sprawled on sidewalk seating and lining up for strong coffee (order it black to savor the fruity acidity), creamy lattes and sweet treats like affogatos and cold-brew floats. Drinks are whipped up with Dakin Dairy milk (almond milk is available, too), and syrups—like vanilla, caramel and mocha—are made in-house. Last fall, Buddy Brew recently held its first Sarasota event, a Halloween-themed latte art throwdown; stay tuned for more. 

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Cortadito at Lelu.

Lelu Coffee Lounge

First walk Siesta Key Beach, dipping your toes into the water and watching pelicans swoop into the Gulf. Then head across the street to Lelu, housed in a bright-blue cottage with cheery yellow awnings. Inside, you’ll find beach-themed décor, including hanging surfboards, comfy chairs and couches and rustic wood accents. Owner Jennifer Smith brews a menu of espresso and coffee that includes lattes, cold brew, café con leche, frappes and Smith’s own coconut-flavored coffee; bags of coffee and bottles of cold brew are available for purchase. Our pick: the cortadito, a Cuban-inspired drink that’s made with an espresso shot, sweetened with demerara sugar and topped with steamed milk. You can order a good breakfast or lunch from the extensive menu, too.

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Pastry Art

Downtown’s Pastry Art buzzes from open until close, thanks to its strong coffee (an iced coffee had us vibrating at our desks all afternoon), central location and ample outdoor seating that’s perfect for people watching—especially during the Saturday farmers market. On its menu are iced and hot coffee; hot, iced and frozen espresso drinks; specialty sippers like dirty chai (chai tea with a shot of espresso); and the popular iced Americanos. This spot has the widest selection of pastries of any local coffee shop, all made in house and worth the indulgence. The gargantuan chocolate chip-studded espresso muffin packs a punch and is the perfect partner for that iced coffee.

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An iced coffee from Kahwa.


Another popular Tampa Bay chain, Kahwa is located in a little space next to Urbanite Theatre in downtown Sarasota; its name is a spin on the Arabic word for coffee (“qawha”). It specializes in one-of-a-kind blends of single-origin beans from countries around the world, and the menu offers the usual line-up, including cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, Americanos and more. There’s also a flavored drink of the month, and each one can be made with cow or almond milk. The space has an industrial-chic vibe—concrete floors with minimal decorations—and shaded outdoor seating. The rapidly expanding chain (it’s about to open its 12th location) has a Lakewood Ranch outpost, too, located at 8317 Market St.

The Clever Cup

Nestled in a little storefront in Gulf Gate, The Clever Cup exudes a cheery, warm vibe, with a scattering of tables and chairs up front, a vintage couch in the back and interesting art on the walls (paintings made with espresso, anyone?). Coffee is brewed with beans from Venice’s excellent Black Gold Coffee Roasters; the line-up includes Americanos, lattes, café con leche, café au lait and more, and the baristas will whip up whatever you request. Good seasonal flavored milk drinks, too, like the cinnamon-and-rice-infused horchata latte we enjoyed over the holidays. It all comes in giant mugs—they don’t skimp on the good stuff. Pie Fridays, which occur on the first Friday of the month, offer live music, pie and coffee—a clever combination, indeed.

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Browsing the book shelves at The Reserve.

The Reserve

This coffee shop/bookstore/market is housed in buildings once owned by Charles Ringling. Owners Jessica Simmons and Kim Cressell have converted them into airy, light-filled, multi-use spaces where you can grab a great cuppa, along with house-made pastries, sandwiches and more. (On a recent morning, the smell of croissants baking in the oven wafted through the air. “We’re doing an experiment with croissant sandwiches,” the barista explained.) The Reserve crafts its drinks with Buddy Brew coffee and espresso, and the menu features cold brew, lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and more—using regular or alternative milks—plus kombucha on draft, wine and local craft beer. Pro tip: Grab your coffee and pastry and head to one of the outdoor tables when the weather is nice.

Black Gold Coffee Roasters 

Coffeemaniac Gary Lauters travels the world selecting beans. He roasts them in his Venice warehouse/shop on a machine from San Francisco, which is on display along with big bags of beans. He also works with local businesses from bakeries to breweries to craft coffee-flavored products. Lauters has concocted a menu that includes coffee, red eyes (espresso and coffee), lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, blended drinks and cold brew that’s been dubbed “liquid crack”: not only is it strong, but when combined with vanilla and cream, sweet and delicious. There are even seasonal “cracks”—the Irish Crack is made with Irish cream and hazelnut; the Island Crack, coconut and cream; and the Winter Crack, peppermint and cream. Nice pastries, breakfast items, sandwiches and salads available, too.

On the Road

Grab a great cuppa at these traveling coffee bars.

OUT AND ABOUT COFFEE sets up on Main Street weekly and at the Phillippi and Central Sarasota farmers markets in season.

CAFE brûlée carts its coffee and crème brûlée concept all over Sarasota, especially South County.

JavaDawg is unmissable in its big red double-decker bus at the downtown Sarasota farmers market on Saturday mornings (and other events around town). 

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