Pittsburgh's coffee culture: Distinct personalities and ever better java


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Pittsburgh is becoming more of a coffee town, with a half-dozen coffee shops opening since last summer. They're satiating cravings for seasonal coffees, super-fresh roasts and rich espresso through single-origin coffees, small-batch lots and the litany of characteristics that deliver a wider range of flavors.

Coffee is not just an everyday necessity for Pittsburgh's caffeine addicts. The velvety mouthfeel of a latte or the plum notes of a Peruvian coffee blend can ward off the chill of winter.

Here's what some coffee shops in the area are pouring this season:

Among the best-sellers at this venue for purists, 21st Street Coffee and Tea is serving two stand-out coffees, a deep Rwandan and a mellow Peruvian, both single-origin beans from Chicago-based Intelligentsia. The favorite drink from the bar is the Cortado ($3.50), half steamed milk, half espresso. (2002 Smallman St., Strip District, 412-281-0809; also at 225 Fifth Ave., Downtown. 21streetcoffee.com)

Bluebird Kitchen opened its second location Downtown this past week in the First Niagara Building ground level (former Westinghouse Building), where employees and residents near Point State Park can now get their coffee fix. Owner Liz Moore uses beans from North Carolina-based Counter Culture for drip coffee; espresso and bar drinks are forthcoming. (New location is 11 Stanwix St.; the original is off Market Square at 221 Forbes Ave. 412-642-4414. bluebirdkitchen.com)

Sarah Walsh splits her time between Commonplace Coffee Co. and Caffe D'Amore, the business she started with catering and eventually opened as a stall in the Pittsburgh Public Market, where you'll find her Wednesdays through Sundays.

Ms. Walsh says it's not just the coffee that makes her bar drinks so delicious, it's the milk from Brunton Dairy in Aliquippa and Pasture Maid Creamery in New Castle. They're a factor in her more popular drinks, such as the maple latte ($3.50-$4) and the caramel latte, made with caramel from Legume Bistro in Oakland. (Pittsburgh Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave., Strip District, 412-952-1828. facebook.com/caffedamorepgh)

Former Tazza D'Oro barista Amy Weiland opened Constellation Coffee on Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville in October, where she serves coffee from Ceremony Coffee Roasters of Annapolis, Md. The beans are blended for balance and complexity, such as those she's brewing now from Ethiopia, Kenya and Guatemala. Next week, Ms. Weiland will carry a single-origin Indonesian espresso and eventually coffee from beans aged in bourbon and cabernet franc barrels.

The shop has a diner vibe and carries requisite diner goodies, such as pies from Pittsburgh Pie Guy, cookies and single-origin chocolates from Madagascar, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. (4059 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville, constellationcoffeepgh.com)

Owner Matt Gebis reopened Espresso a Mano last week after replacing the coffee bar with a custom-made copper-top bar that offers more room for baristas and opens up the space for customers. Starting this week, Mr. Gebis will offer a Kenyan blend from Commonplace Coffee Co., a savory coffee roasted just for the shop, with notes of fig and licorice. "I want to get into roasting," said Mr. Gebis. "The guys at Commonplace are helping me learn." The Kenyan brew aligns with seasonal winter flavors, which are often rich, creamy and chocolaty.

Mr. Gebis opened the shop in July 2009. It now offers everyday and esoteric brews, blends and single-origins from Counter Culture, Forty Weight Coffee Roasters in Ithaca, N.Y., and Ritual Roasters in San Francisco in addition to Commonplace.

While free wireless and several sets of daily newspapers make this a reading and working spot, it's also hospitable for conversation and light repast, with hand pies and sandwiches from Kate Romane, chef at E2 in Highland Park. (3623 Butler St., Lawrenceville, 412-918-1864. espressoamano.com)

A Pittsburgh native who returned home from San Francisco, Jeremy Raymer became an "instant convert" of Blue Bottle Coffee. The company based in Oakland, Calif., sells beans roasted fewer than 48 hours earlier.

When Mr. Raymer decided he wanted to sell the brand in Pittsburgh, he contacted Blue Bottle and was trained at its Brooklyn roastery, where he learned how water temperature, weight and extraction time affect coffee flavors. "It's really interesting that you can get such a full gamut of flavors," he said.

Mr. Raymer can be found via @jeremyscart on the University of Pittsburgh Oakland campus in balmier weather. On Saturdays, he sells coffee for $3.50 a cup from a cart at 20th Street and Penn Avenue in the Strip and offers drip coffee at Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, 4414 Butler St., Lawrenceville, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.

Commonplace Coffee Co. is among the city's most popular coffees, which at the moment includes a medium-bodied coffee from Rwanda and the Building New Hope El Porvenir, a worker-owner coffee cooperative in Nicaragua. The warehouse in Larimer will roast to order. (5827 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-0404; and 5467 Penn Ave., 412-661-3000. commonplacecoffee.com)

Tazza D'Oro emphasizes Counter Culture's seasonal coffees, such as a rich blend from Rwanda and a single-farmer lot from Peru. The most popular bar drink at this Highland Park coffeehouse is a toss-up between the cappuccino and a mocha. (115 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park, 412-362-3676. tazzadoro.net)

Carnegie Coffee Company opened in a former post office in June. The shop satiates an Illy fix. Illy from Italy is so named for Francesco Illy, who invented the modern espresso machine in the 1930s.

The shop also sells pastries and lunch items from Allegro Hearth Bakery, Mediterra Bakehouse and Sausalido Bistro. (132 East Main St., Carnegie. 412-518-6524. facebook.com/CarnegieCoffeeCompany)

The Coffee Buddha is the coffee shop where things are happening. Check the Twitter feed @thecoffeebuddha for poetry and open mic nights and truck roundups featuring tacos from PGH Taco Truck and burgers from The Steer and Wheel. (964 Perry Highway, Ross, 412-837-2595. thecoffeebuddha.com)


Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.

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