Coffee has been starting our engines and keeping us awake — and at least sometimes delighting our palates — for a very long time. The coffee plant is said to come originally from Ethiopia, where it was cultivated and turned into a beverage as early as the ninth century A.D. The first coffee houses in America appeared in Boston before 1700.
Fast forward roughly 250 years to the bohemian coffee house era of the 1950s and ‘60s, when beatniks and wannabes hung out for hours in dimly lit rooms, gabbing, drinking espresso, and listening to jazz and folk music. Fast forward again to 1971, when three coffee-loving academics opened a coffee store across from the city’s Pike Place Market, naming it Starbucks after a character in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
In 1987, a one-time Starbucks employee, Howard Schultz, bought the company and repositioned Starbucks stores as Italian-inspired “third place” environments — alternatives to both work and home, where people could relax, converse, and connect over beverages and light food. The rest is highly caffeinated history. Starbucks grew fast, going public in 1992. It is by far the largest coffee chain in the world today, with more than 27,000 outlets around the globe. Thousands of independent coffee shops have followed its lead around the world, and today’s coffee drinkers have countless choices when they want a cup of joe.
In search of America’s best independent coffee shops, 24/7 Wall St. averaged user ratings from Yelp and Google for coffee houses in the country’s thousand most populous cities. We filtered out bakeries, cafés, and other places focused on food even if their coffee is good. We also eliminated drive-thrus and coffee carts.