Richmond is one of those old east coast cities steeped in history and full of colonial memories, but brimming with modern charm. With the downtown area’s skyscrapers bumping up against old brick buildings and stone-paved roads, and farm-to-table eateries setting up shop in reclaimed factories, Richmond constantly reminds us of the past and the present all at once. This old confederate capital has become a progressive place for art and food lovers to gather in recent years and has a bustling and growing cafe scene catering to the hip and curious who are drifting to this capital city. The coffee community in The River City stands out in its camaraderie and supportiveness, often coming together for latte art throwdowns, cuppings, and classes. This kindly dynamic has led to a vibrant coffee culture and promises good things to come.
A charming coffee counter with perfect pastries, Chairlift shares its space with their parent restaurant, Brenner Pass. Coffee offerings from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co and Passenger Coffee take the spotlight. Plenty of natural light and an abundance of well-groomed houseplants pair well with Chairlift’s beautifully presented espresso. As well, the breakfast sandwiches are a hearty and thoughtful combination of flavors—just messy enough to encourage you to sit in and enjoy the ambiance. And if that doesn’t bring you in, the top-notch wine, beer, and cheese menu might.
Lamplighter Coffee Roasters
With three locations around Richmond, Lamplighter Coffee Roasters has established itself as an area favorite. Their Summit Avenue location is a comfortable combination of old and new. This roastery cafe is housed in an old factory building, sharing the neighborhood with breweries, distilleries, and vintage markets. The sleek and polished coffee counter stands out next to the old brick walls and huge antique windows. A selection of pour-overs and espressos are complemented by a solid collection of vinyl to jam out to. Lamplighter is well known as a safe space for people of all walks of life and welcomes its friends and neighbors to attend in-house cuppings every Monday.
Plant shop, coffeehouse, soda fountain, and lunch counter, Pomona Plants is a unique combination offering a unique experience. Here you can grab a quick batch brew from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co for your morning commute or sit and enjoy a pour-over from Recluse Roasting Project. The arrangement of beautiful plants is inviting, making it hard to leave this space without a new piece of foliage for your home—seeing bags of coffee for sale next to gardening trowels is a trip. Their homemade sparkling tonics will elevate your senses almost as much as the atmosphere.
Sugar & Twine
Cary Street is a cute and entertaining collection of restaurants, bookstores, boutiques, and bric-a-brac shops. It’s a great spot to window shop, take a stroll, and to spend an aimless afternoon. Here, nestled between a classic video game store and a deli, is Sugar & Twine, a community cafe buzzing with conversation and clacking laptops. Blanchard’s Coffee Roasters is the house coffee here, but others are rotated in for variety. Excelling at baked goods, this is the spot to grab not just a flaky croissant, but some solid vegan or gluten-free treats as well.
Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co
Blanchard’s has a strong presence in the greater Richmond area. With so many cafes and restaurants featuring their roasts, and so many boutiques and markets selling their beans, Blanchard’s would seem to be the glue that holds the Richmond coffee scene together. Baristas and roasters all gather in this space to talk shop, attend classes, and cup. Their weekly public cupping, Fridays at 10:30 AM, is a haven not just for professionals, but for all coffee enthusiasts—it’s refreshing to see veteran Q-graders slurp alongside local retirees. The Blanchard’s roasting facility isn’t a cafe, does house a retail counter for bagged-to-order beans and a quick cup of batch-brewed coffee.
Early Bird Biscuit Co.
Drinking coffee in Richmond is nice, but one must eat. Early Bird Biscuit Co. bakes up Southern favorites every morning in an atmosphere that is both nostalgic and welcoming. The carefully curated decor is stuck out of time, but comes off as chic. These flaky treats can be topped with pimiento cheese, country ham, gravy, and more. They are best enjoyed with an expertly pulled shot of espresso. Serious bakers, serious baristas, and serious customer service all make a worthwhile experience. Coffee offerings are from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.
Ironclad Coffee Roasters
Housed in a historic brick building that boasts Richmond’s first flushing toilet (!), Ironclad Coffee Roasters is a beautifully designed meeting of vintage and modern. This two-floor cafe has comfortable seating for working or lounging, and even offers shoe-shining services if your kicks are looking a bit grimy. Taking center stage is a square work-counter laden with some of the areas coolest coffee tech: A Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle espresso machine is used to pull shots, and the futuristic Ground Control brewer handles the batch brew. This bright coffeehouse is welcoming, a little quirky, and a lot of fun.
The Lab by Alchemy Coffee
Richmond’s resident multi-roaster cafe, Alchemy Coffee serves up the good stuff from a rotating cast of talented roasters, ensuring that their regulars will never grow bored. The company’s tagline, “Coffee is Chemistry,” can be seen in motion as furrow-browed baristas pull shots into beakers. The nearby colleges supply a steady supply of customers and keep the vibe young and cool. The decor is an eclectic mix of coffee paraphernalia, roaster signage, and local art. This cafe is located in The Depot, a repurposed trolley station now home to VCU art programs.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.