Caffeinated Nation: The Best U.S. Cities to Get your Coffee Fix

By

Andy Chang

on June 12, 2024

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What happens when you dump all your tea in a harbor? You become a country of coffee drinkers. America laps the stuff up, consuming more than 146 billion cups annually. 

That comes out to about 9 pounds of ground beans per person (which, by the way, is more than 2 billion pounds, enough to fill the Empire State Building twice). More than half of Americans start each day with a ritual roast. 

It may have started with a boycott of tea. But the American coffee addiction went into hyperdrive when sellers in the mid-19th century began offering pre-roasted beans to cowboys and gold miners. Manual laborers have long appreciated a coffee to perk them up. And maybe it’s that American habit of hard work that keeps the caffeine flowing. Even today, the average worker puts in the equivalent of 10 weeks more than some of their European counterparts over the course of a year. 

To keep it up, they’re going to need their coffee fix. Where can they find the perfect brew? We were determined to find out. Here are the best places for coffeephiles to live in the U.S. Check out our Coffee Club page to compare and read reviews of our favorite coffee clubs.

Big Takeaways

  • #1 Santa Cruz is the best coffee city in America. With the most independent shops per capita and the highest score for coffee fanatic factors.
  • #2 Olympia has more coffee shops per capita than any other city, with nearly 28 shops per 10K residents.
  • Rounding out the top 10 best cities are: #3 Portland, ME; #4 Boulder, CO; #5 San Francisco, CA; #6 Seattle, WA; #7 Providence, RI; #8 Washington, DC; #9 Greenville, SC; and #10 Portland, OR. 
  • $4.46 is the average cost for a cappuccino across all cities analyzed. This ranges from $2.25 in Laredo, TX to a reported $7.67 in Topeka, KS. To find the most affordability, we compared cappuccino cost to local hourly wages and found that high-cost cities, like San Francisco with their $5.18 cappuccinos, are unexpectedly affordable.

How we did it

We looked at 267 American cities with more than 50K residents, analyzing 5 categories: Cappuccino Affordability, Walkability, Coffee Shops, Independent Coffee Shops, and a “Coffee Fanatic Factors” category that included roasterie density and appearance on multiple national lists naming the best coffee shops and roasteries.

Our goal was to find the top overall scores for bean lovers looking to indulge.

The result? New Englanders and West Coast residents take their coffee seriously. There are 4 California cities in the Top 25, and 9 West Coast coffee hubs. New Englanders take 5 more spots.

The Top 10

1. Santa Cruz, CA

With the highest coffee roaster and independent coffee shop scores, this California coastal town best known for surf and skate culture is also a coffee lover’s pipe dream. Cat & Cloud and Verve Coffee Roasters both top awards lists for the country’s best coffee. Verve lets you take home blends featuring Swiss water, with hazelnut, honeydew, and apricot accents, so get ready to snuggle up with a mug when the fog rolls in. With more than three independent shops per 10K residents, there are plenty of other choices, too. 

2. Olympia, WA

Grunge culture has always percolated in Olympia, giving the drizzly capital city both the 90’s punk Riot Grrrl movement and plenty of cafes where budding musicians can scribble lyrics on their napkins. Coffee snobbery was sure to follow. It has a dizzyingly high coffee shop density, and Olympia ranks 3rd in the coffee fanatics factors, mostly thanks to the high density of local coffee roasteries. While its walkability score only tops out at #133, it won’t matter because there’s probably an award-winning shop right around the corner.

3. Portland, ME

A foodie paradise known for duck fat sandwiches and historic charm, this ivy-draped city is a great spot to find baristas trying to outdo one another in pursuit of the best cup of coffee around. Find a couple of them at Tandem Coffee Roasters, Little Woodfords, or Coffee ME Up, all of which win mentions for the best coffee roasters around. The Forest City comes in 6th for coffee fanatic factors, racking up more awards than other cities for their efforts. It’s also #3 for independent shop density, with just under 2 watering holes for every 10K caffeine lovers. 

4. Boulder, CO

Making our list at #6 for coffee shop density and #4 for independent shop density, Boulder has plenty of shops to keep both visiting skiers and University of Colorado students hyped. Hit up Ozo Coffee Company for roasts that top national lists, and if you’re looking to add Colorado breweries to your coffee-tasting list, try their collaboration with Boulder Beer on their Irish blessing oak-aged coffee stout. You can also pick up some instant coffee packets, because you’re not doing Boulder right if you’re not taking some boutique brew out on the trail.

5. San Francisco, CA

With a sky-high cost of living, you might be surprised that San Francisco is home to the cheapest cappuccino in the top ten. But when the average worker earns $41.63 per hour, the price of even an exorbitant morning brew seems small. The City by the Bay was a port that saw all of the West Coast’s coffee beans arrive from Java and Hawaii, and grew brands like Folger’s and local legend Peet’s. With the country’s #2 independent coffee shop density, they continue to lead the way in thriving boutique roasteries. Bonus: walking to one is easier than anywhere else in the country.

6. Seattle, WA

We’re not sure if there’s anywhere else in the country where tourists line up to order a latte and take their picture under a coffee brand logo. Seattle’s the epicenter of coffee, if only because it spawned a shop so successful that there are jokes about gazing into a Starbucks from the Starbucks across the street. Looking for something different? Head to Slate Coffee or Espresso Vivance, both on national lists for the country’s best roasteries. Seattle ranks #3 for walkability and #5 for independent shop density, so you should be able to take a tour and find your own up-and-coming gem in the Emerald City.

7. Providence, RI

Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University students can breathe a sigh of relief: Providence enjoys the cheapest cappuccino in the top ten (though for overall affordability, Providence actually falls in the middle of the pack). Bolt and New Harvest Coffee and Spirits both win national mention for their brews, and its #3 coffee shop density means there are plenty of tables at finals for students to spend the afternoon cramming for finals with a great Americano. Just Hartford, CT, and Olympia, WA, have more coffee shops relative to their populations. 

8. Washington, DC

It might be all those late-night votes and filibusters, but the nation’s capital likes its coffee. The District comes in #4 for walkability, #2 among the top ten (#18 overall) for cappuccino affordability, and #6 in the density of independent shops, just behind Seattle. Hit up Compass Coffee, Lost Sock Roasters, Sami’s Coffee Kiosk, or DUA DC Coffee for some of the most acclaimed brews, like DUA DC’s single-origin Indonesian coffees, packaged with information on what farm they come from.

9. Greenville, SC

This quaint shopping haven is known for the flakiest biscuits south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But it’s also an emerging coffee capital, ranking #8 on coffee fanatic factors, racking up mentions for unique shops like Methodical Coffee, which makes its own syrups. Greenville’s #4 in coffee shop density and its coffee roaster score makes it one of just 4 cities in America with more than one coffee roasterie for every 10K residents. One day, maybe they’ll out-roast #1 Coeur d’Alene, which leads the country with 1.55 roasteries for every 10K in population. But even if they don’t, Greenville’s coffeeholics still have it pretty good.

10. Portland, OR

A famous bumper sticker asks Portlanders to keep it weird, but in the Pacific Northwest, they also like to keep their coffee game sharp. Though there are surprisingly few places to grab a morning mocha (Portland ranks #36 in coffee shop density and #15 for independent shops), Rose City boasts 51 roasteries and ranks 4th overall in coffee fanatic factors, with mentions on national lists for roasteries from Stumptown to Good Coffee, Ovation, La Perlita, Tōv, Heart Coffee Roasters, and Jet Set Coffee.

Counter Culture

The best coffee? It’s hotly debated among aficionados, who are fiercely loyal to the spots they’ve discovered. It might be in the roast, the tinge of lavender, or the elaborate cat art in foam on top. 

But the best coffee city? That’s a little easier. These ten towns have thriving communities buzzing around the counters in many shops, where baristas are dedicated to mastering their craft. They have local roasteries fine-tuning the art of the perfect bean. And they have walkable, thriving independent coffee shops where residents can grab a cup. 

You don’t need to be a coffee snob to appreciate the fruits of their labor. But if you know your iced coffee from your cold brew, keep these cities on your radar, and your new morning cappuccino might taste sweeter than ever.

Methodology

Starting with a list of the metropolitan areas from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we focused on the major city in each metropolitan area resulting in a list of 396 cities. 

We filtered this list further to cities with a least 50K population and those which had data available for cappuccino cost. The final analysis compares these 267 cities. 

We looked at five major coffee categories: Affordability, Walkability, Coffee Shops, Independent Coffee Shops, and Coffee Fanatic Factors to find the top overall scores for bean lovers looking to indulge.

About the Author

Founder of Favy

Andy Chang

Founder of Favy

Andy Chang is the founder of Favy, a review site dedicated to helping consumers find the best products.

Andy Chang is the founder of Favy, a review site dedicated to helping consumers find the best products.