What is it about the perfect cup of coffee that gets us out of our homes and into our favorite local coffee shop?
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A truly great coffee shop has to feel special: some are like a cozy home away from home; others ideally sparse, like a clean blank slate in which you can revitalize. A place to recharge with a good book and a steaming drink or to chat up a friend over that perfect pastry you're definitely going to stop eating after one more bite. The best spots have a bit of magic to them: ambiance with no pretense, friendly baristas, and of course, delicious coffee. Choosing your perfect shop takes time and patience, but once you've found it, you're set for life.
Luckily, The Daily Meal has done some of the legwork for you with our latest list of the top spots for coffee in America in 2014. Working off of last year's America's Best Coffee Shops of 2013, we scoured the nation from Portland to Florida looking for truly remarkable spots to pop into for a little cup of heaven. We measured the spots based on a wide range of criteria. First off, of course, we evaluated the coffee. The shops on this list use high-quality beans and have close relationships with their roasters — or are the roasters themselves. Next, we evaluated the culture of the shop. What's the point of going out for coffee if the space is dreadful? The shops on our list have created great coffee cultures, and even if they have multiple locations, each one feels like a unique, tight-knit community space.
We also took the baristas into consideration. Preparing and serving complicated coffee concoctions is an art form, and on our list, we've included some of the best-trained, most knowledgeable baristas around. Don't worry, we didn't forget the food! Although we didn't weight the food as heavily as the coffee, we certainly paid attention to it.
You'll find coffee shops serving up James Beard Award-winning snacks along with some of the prettiest pastries around. A great coffee shop always leaves its customers eager for a return visit, and our list includes some exciting up-and-comers as well as established trend-makers too good for coffee lovers to miss.
To help us determine which shops around the country really stand out as spectacular, we asked a panel of experts to help us cull through all of the excellent submissions. Sarah Allen, editor and co-founder of Barista Magazine, weighs in on the process:
"I love and also hate nominating my favorite cafés in the United States — there are so many amazing ones to choose from, way more than ever fit onto one list. But really, this is a pretty great problem to have. The level of quality in both product and service in coffeehouses in the U.S. has put our country at the forefront of the specialty-coffee community worldwide."
Several of our panelists wished to remain anonymous, but The Daily Meal is pleased to acknowledge the invaluable help received from the following authorities in the field:
Read on for the panel's top 20 coffee shops from coast to coast.