For millions of people, it is an irreplaceable part of the morning routine. For millions more, it is a hard-won source of livelihood. For some it is just a drink, for some a needed energy drink; but for others, it is a passion, a never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee.
Coffee is second only to oil as the most highly traded commodity in the world; the average American consumes 9.25 pounds of coffee per year. So, it is no wonder that an entire industry has grown up to serve the beverage. And it is further no surprise that the quality of coffee offered by this industry is wildly variable; from the mass-produced corporate coffees of many large chains down to small, local roasters, the wide range of suppliers makes it very challenging to find a satisfying, quality cup of coffee.
The most common venue for the purchase of a cup of coffee is, naturally, the coffee house. Therefore, finding a good coffeehouse is the first step to great coffee.
The coffeehouse is more than just a store for coffee, however. It is a place to gather with friends, to read and think and talk. For centuries the coffeehouse has been the center of cultural evolution, the place where revolutions are planned and constitutions dreamed.
With this in mind, I set out with some friends to find several of the best coffeehouses in the Kansas City and Olathe area. There were several factors I was looking for in each coffeehouse, namely a comfortable environment, friendliness of employees, and, most importantly, the quality of the coffee itself. Here are my four favorites, in no particular order:
1. Homer’s Coffee House – 80th and Metcalf
Homer’s Coffee House was founded by Jim Mathis in 2001 with the intent of bringing a first-class music venue and coffee shop to the downtown Overland Park community. In the time since, that goal has been realized, with Homer’s providing free live concerts every Friday and Saturday, along with locally-roasted coffee by E.F. Hobbs, a Shawnee-based coffee roaster.
On any given night, you can expect to find a good crowd at Homer’s. College bible studies, groups of teens just hanging out, business meetings, and more frequent the shop. With its comfortable lighting, wide-open space, and plenty of windows, Homer’s provides a cozy, yet airy, place to be, with plenty of sofas and tables to gather around. If you sit at the bar, you can expect plenty of pleasant conversation with Homer’s knowledgeable and friendly baristas, and even the occasional free sample.
The coffee itself is excellent, from the brewed coffees (the house blend is always good, and the single origin offerings are not to be missed.) to the espresso drinks. The espresso shots are delicious, with a rich, chocolaty body and citrus highlights with a hint of fruit. Homer’s also provides various seasonal offerings, such as pumpkin spice lattés and shakes.
A variety of food items are also offered, such as scones, cookies, cheesecake, pie, and quiche. Soup is also offered during the fall and winter. Homer’s is open from 6:30am-10pm Monday through Saturday, and is located on the corner of 80th and Metcalf in Overland Park.
2. RevoCup – College and Quivira
Mere blocks from Johnson County Community College, RevoCup is a small, cozy coffeehouse serving freshly-roasted Ethiopian coffee, crafted with passion and diligence. All of the shop’s coffee is roasted in-store by RevoCup’s owner and founder, Habte.
Habte moved to the United States in mid 1980’s from his native Ethiopia, and quickly realized that a good cup of coffee was nowhere to be found. So, he realized he would have to make it for himself. He imported beans from his home in Ethiopia, and began roasting them for family and friends.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and plays a pivotal role in their culture and traditions. Families roast coffee together in a daily ritual, and as Habte said, “I was born into a passion for coffee. Coffee is the greatest pleasure in life, and we want to offer it to the public in its authentic form.”
I tried both the house espresso and a cup of Kenya AA while I was at RevoCup. The narrow, deep store, colored in chocolate browns with dark wood furnishings and overstuffed chairs, provided a very close, comfortable environment in which to enjoy my coffee. The shop’s narrow configuration leads your eye to the back, where a gorgeous, black Diedrich fluid-bed roaster holds center stage. The romantic appeal of being able to see your coffee roasted while you are drinking the finished product is undeniable.
The baristas at RevoCup where extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and described to me the various characteristics of the espresso they were serving that day, an Ethiopian blend with blueberry high notes, full body, and a pleasant acidity mixing with a deep, earthy finish that left nothing to be desired.
RevoCup is short for Revolutionary Cup, a name with two meanings. The store’s philosophy is revolutionary, flying the face of the mass-market, corporate coffee establishment, content to serve poorly-roasted, characterless coffee, replacing it with a finely-crafted, handmade cup that not only tastes wonderful but gives back as well. That is the second meaning; the cup is also truly revolutionary, in the circular sense. Habte orders green beans from Ethiopian farmers, roasts them in his own store, sells the coffee, and then gives back: a percentage of every sale is sent back to coffee farmers Ethiopia.
RevoCup, located in the northwest corner of College and Quivira, is open daily until 7pm.
3. The Roasterie – 62nd and Brookside
The Roasterie is a very stylish coffeeshop. They have just finished remodeling, and the first thing I notice whenever I walk in is that I instantly feel cooler just for being there. The décor is both trendy and retro, featuring modern stylings and structure in a well-lit space scattered with tables and chairs. An outdoor patio is great for the summer months, and large, opening windows allow the inside to stay comfortable and inviting year-round.
The first thing I noticed about the Roasterie was the presence of two gorgeous La Marzocco espresso machines, one of the finest names in the market, and a Clover coffee machine, a now-defunct brand of specialty coffee brewer. The Roasterie is one of the only coffeeshops in the region to have access to this machine.
Prices are a bit steep, but well-worth it; finely crafted, direct-trade coffees don’t come cheap, and the results are evident in the cup. The Roasterie roasts all of their coffee at their plant a few blocks away, currently turning out nearly a million pounds a year. The company started in ‘Bean Baron’ Danny O’Neill’s basement in 1993, roasting small-scale batches for friends and family.
The Roasterie hires friendly, well-trained and knowledgeable baristas with all the passion for good coffee you would expect from the company’s reputation. Drinks are always served quickly, and all specialty beverages feature latté art, the hallmark of a good latté. The espresso is rich and dark, with oaky, earthy flavors and a vibrant acidity.
The Roasterie Café, at 6223 Brookside Blvd in Kansas City, Mo., is open seven days a week, Monday-Thursday and Sunday until 10pm and Friday and Saturday until 11pm.
4. YJ’s Snack Bar – 18th and Baltimore
While it may be the last place you would ever think of walking into, YJ’s Snack Bar is one of Kansas City’s hidden gems, winner of multiple Best Dive awards from The Pitch, and was even a featured restaurant on the Food Network show “Guy’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” A tiny, easily-missed building on a small street houses this eclectic eatery, which looks as if it were decorated collectively by every man, woman, and child in a three block radius. It’s also popular; a crowd hanging out the door, and occasionally setting up tables even in the street, is not uncommon.
This off-the-wall décor does nothing to detract from the quality of the food and especially the coffee. Different food is served every night, based on a menu rotating by what was available for purchase that day. Many nights are ethnically-themed, such as Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican; every Friday night is barbeque chicken wings.
But, the reason many come to YJ’s Snack Bar is not the food, delicious as it is, but for the coffee, widely regarded as some of the best in the downtown Kansas City area.
The coffee is presented in a manner consistent with the store’s overall appearance, out of a batter espresso machine and in a plain paper cup; however, outer beauty means nothing as I learned upon my first taste of my espresso. A subtle cup, sweet and earthy with full body and good acidity, without a lot of particular flavor delicacies but a very full, satisfying ‘espresso taste.’ I also had a latté, which was well-made, with the milk properly steamed and the espresso and steamed milk well-folded to make a rich, thick, layer of foam and a deliciously sweet taste.
The environment of YJ’s, eccentric as it may be, is nonetheless an enjoyable place to visit with friends. The smells and sounds provide an enticing backdrop while the wildly varied photos, sculptures, clippings, and furniture provide an endless number of conversation starters.
YJ’s Snack Bar, at 128 W. 18th St in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, is open late daily.
Kansas City is a great city for coffee lovers, and fantastic coffee shops abound. Many besides the four reviewed above are also worth a visit; all provide great atmosphere for relaxing, visiting with friends, and enjoying a great cup of coffee. A few others worth mentioning are:
Javanaut Coffee House
1615 W 39th St
Kansas City, MO
Open until 8 pm daily, and until 10 pm on Saturday.
Located in an old house, Javanaut provides delicious espresso, friendly service, and a friendly, low-key environment to enjoy it in.
1713 Summit Street
Kansas City, MO
7am-5pm daily, until 2pm on Monday and 8pm on Friday.
A classy, quiet crêperie, Chez Elle serves up a first-rate espresso from skilled and friendly baristas. The pastries and sandwiches are not to be missed.
4106 Broadway Street
Kansas City, MO
Open 7am-9pm dailyBroadway is a favorite for many locals; fresh-roasted coffee from their own plant blocks away, fresh pastries, and a casual atmosphere with great prices bring the natives back again and again.