South First Street rivals South Congress Avenue in several ways, including its comparable wealth of quality coffee shops.
Seventh Flag Coffee Co. 1506 South First St. seventhflagcoffee.com. Open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Parking in back. Strong Wi-Fi. Teas and chai. No decaf. Music sometimes loud. Despite traffic outside, picnic area fairly quiet.
I adore this place. This, despite the fact they don’t carry decaf coffee of any kind. The owner took an old wood residence and transformed the inside with almost Scandinavian precision and lightness, then added a variety of tables and counters accompanied by amazingly comfortable molded wooden stools. One low couch sits in a niche and shaded picnic tables tempt the mostly young crowd on fine days. Perhaps to maintain quality or efficiency, the menu is quite limited. An increasing number of themed non-food-and-drink items are for sale. Three toasts have proven quite popular, and there are also a few nutrition bars, water and juices on offer. The always alert baristas — who looked like they were hired from the same talent agency — moved over recently to City of Saints coffee beans for espresso-based drinks, as well as cold and hot brews. Sometimes the musical volume is too loud for us oldsters, but they’ll turn it down if you ask. What do I order without the decaf option? Coconut green iced tea in the summer, green tea in winter, unless I’m going crazy on the caffeine. Above a mantle hangs a black flag adorned with seven white stars. It reads: “Our country of friends.” Indeed. Both my husband and I feel supremely at home here.
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Once Over Coffee Bar. 2009 S. First St. 512-326-9575. onceovercoffeebar.com. Open 7:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Onsite parking in front. Good Wi-Fi, no password. Decaf, teas and chai. Muted music. Serenely quiet on back creekside deck.
One of the first places in town to offer French press coffee, Once Over now uses a shiny Curtis Gold Cup machine, which a helpful barista described as “robo pour over,” to go along with espresso drinks. Recessed in a nondescript strip center, this always packed place offers a few tables out front under a big tree surrounded by untended planters, as well as a divine creekside deck out back. Now that nearby Bouldin Creek Cafe is more of a restaurant and less of a coffee shop, the mix-and-match Once Over provides the most reliable link to the neighborhood’s funky coffee house past. It’s very laid back. There’s a 10 percent discount if you use cash and another $.25 if you bring your own cup. You don’t pay at point of contact, but rather after being served. The excellent drinks aren’t extravagant or whimsical. The baristas pours four types of red wine and four types of white wine, along with Austin Beer Works varieties. The usual snacks and pastries call out to an easy mix of people working on projects together or alone. The baristas usually engage with folks sitting at the long, bar-like counter. As you could guess from the rest of this description, a good number of guests are loyal regulars, who engage in fluent banter with the staff.
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Summer Moon Coffee. 3115 S. First St. 512-804-1665. woodfiredcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-12 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri. Some onsite parking, also street parking nearby. Solid Wi-Fi with password posted on chalkboard near entrance. Decaf (Americano), teas, chai. Moderately loud music. Not too noisy on small deck out front.
This place is very popular with students. And the brand has expanded to other neighborhoods since this original shop opened in a tiny strip center on South First not far from St. Edward’s University. A good deal of emphasis is placed on the fire-roasted coffee beans — “100 percent organic, 100 percent Arabica” — and products that come with variations on the shop’s name, including Moon Milk (secret recipe). The five kinds of breakfast tacos usually sell out by 10 a.m., a Sunday barista told me, after which one can choose from three types of sandwiches or wraps, along with pastries and snacks. A few comfy chairs and meeting tables complement a fascinating staple-shaped laptop counter. I like that this place maintains a sense of humor, which is adopted without coyness by the young baristas. The stone and wood decor lend Summer Moon a sense of place, and although I can’t tell you why the fire roasting makes a difference, the coffee here is definitely superior.
Fair Bean Coffee. 2210 S. First St. 512-444-2326. fairbeancoffee.com. Open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Plenty of shared onsite parking. Wi-Fi, no password. Decaf (drip or Americano), teas, chai. Light, multi-lingual music. Only a few narrow tables outside.
When this large-ish cafe opened eight years ago on South First, fair-trade coffee was not yet ubiquitous in Austin. Fair Bean imports its precious products from all over. One recent day, bulk beans from Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Bolivia and Sumatra rimmed a bay-like side counter. Another thing sets this place apart: Substantial food made on site: empanadas, cream rolls, subs, really hearty tortillas Española, in addition to more familiar coffee-shop fare: Pastries, bagels, smoothies, etc. The coffee beans are also roasted on site. As is now the custom, Fair Bean offers multiple platforms for consumption: laptop counters, small meeting tables, some outside seating. Certain offerings stand out for the mixed-age crowd that surges in and out: French press (for two), freshly made gluten-free pecan bars, “grab and go drip coffee, cash only, $2 tax included.” The coffee, carefully prepared by what feels like a staff made up by family members, is rich and mellow. I have to admit that I hadn’t given this spot — as much about gratifying food as it is about drinks and snacks — enough attention. That will change.
Starbucks. 516 W. Oltorf St. 512-534-6654. starbucks.com. Open until 11 p.m. Not too much parking, plus a drive-through ramp. Instantaneous Wi-Fi. Decaf (pour-over or Americano), teas, chai. Low music. Partially shaded outdoor seating set back from busy intersection.
Face it, this part of South Austin deserved a big, new, drive-through Starbucks. Sometimes, that’s exactly the option you need. The new one at Oltorf and South First streets takes the place of a defunct chicken joint. If you are driving there, enter via westbound Oltorf or northbound South First. Don’t try left turns across traffic into the undersized parking lot. Do try the smooth-as-latte drive-through. The interior is vast, enclosing with windows on three sides at least two dozens metal seats and two types of stools, some counter seating, also some lounge seating. The pristine wood, concrete and masonry finishes dampen the feeling of chain sameness. Partially shaded seating invites one outside, but only on the sunny west and south sides. Of course, there’s a dazzling array of espresso and cold brew selections, as well as bagged coffee beans, water, chips, juices, pastries, teas. A sign you’ll probably see more often: “Now serving almond milk”! The college-age baristas handle the traffic handily, happily. Despite all the hard surfaces, the place doesn’t sound loud and there are plenty of spots to close those laptops to chat. Of course, Starbucks is a globally recognized way of life, not just a coffee shop, which you can take or leave at will.
10,000 Coffee Shops. In 2007, we proposed a series titled “10,000 Coffee Shops.” We found only 100 around Austin, but it felt like 10,000. Our point back then: That in the 1980s, there had only been three such spots here! We’re sure to count more than 200 during a new run in 2016-2017.