Ah, Charleston – the city where history whispers around every corner, and the coffee is as rich as the stories that fill its cobblestone streets. Here, the charm of the old meets the buzz of the new, and what better way to soak in this vibrant city than to explore its local coffee shops? As a Charlestonian who's sampled nearly every frothy cup the city has to offer, I'm here to spill the beans on the top five coffee spots that truly capture the essence of our beloved Chucktown. These cafés are more than just pit stops for a morning jolt; they're the cozy nooks where you'll find the heart and soul of our community, one sip at a time. Whether you're a local or just passing through, get ready to embrace Charleston's finest java joints – handpicked by yours truly. So, grab your cup, and let's embark on a caffeinated journey through the very best brews Charleston has to offer!
1. Harken Cafe & Bakery
With exposed brick and wood beams, this country-chic vibe delivers on the Instagrammability at every turn. The coffee and delectable bakery items draw you in and the interior vibe keeps you coming back. All items are made from scratch using locally sourced Low Country ingredients with a healthy and contemporary slant to Southern traditionals. In addition to savory and sweet bakery treats, they serve breakfast and lunch items, bakery style. The cafe is small and is always bustling. Expect to see a line out the door and know it moves fast—and it is worth it. All items are available until they run out each day.
My favorite go-tos are the 7 Layer Cake and Flat White (except in the fall, then it is the Caramel Pumpkin Latte, like no other).
(Note: they do not allow laptops nor have wifi; located on Queen Street, indoor and outdoor seating).
2. Clerks Coffee Company
Clerks is an extension of Hotel Emeline with a large, open coffee cafe with a slightly retro, modern vibe. Located in the middle of it all, at the corner of Market and Church Streets, it is a full on tourist area, but do not let this deter you. Its connection to Hotel Emeline and Frannie & The Fox (the hotel's signature restaurant) lends an extensive menu offering with breakfast sandwiches, frittatas, breakfast casserole, plus parfait, overnight oats and chia pudding. And, it does not stop there. They also serve a lunch, pastries, plus beer, wine, and cocktails. With plenty of outlets and comfy seating you could spend a day here.
My favorite is to take my coffee and venture through the Hotel’s first floor starting with a sit, sip and read in their living area, and then a visit to Keep Shop.
3. La Patisserie
A French inspired coffee cafe and bakery located on King Street and associated with Hotel Bennet. Expect a fresh, bright and open air interior with marble table tops, buzzing with tourists coming and going. The true star here is the selection of French pastries by renowned French Pastry Chef, Rémy Fünfrock. Along with a full coffee bar and pastries, there are savories including fresh Tartines, Croissant sandwiches, Quiche, Croque Monsieur and more.
My favorite, so far, is the Royal. With each visit, I try a new one (in addition to the Royal, of course)—and all have been delectable!
4. Mercato at Sorelle
A newcomer in early 2023 to the Charleston scene and an instant favorite for tourists and locals alike. Set in a gorgeous historic interior on Broad Street, it is bedecked with marble and modern Italian accents. The coffee is fantastic and the lunch and pastry options are spot on. It features an open deli section where sandwiches are sliced and prepared fresh. The only downside, if there is one, is it is quite popular and busy with limited seating. This is not the place to bring a laptop and spend hours—linger with coffee and delectables, yes, by all means.
My favorites are the Stromboli and the Prosciutto Sandwich plus the cannoli and a Flat White. Oh my.
5. The Black Door Cafe
Another hotel associated coffee cafe. It is located on the ground of The Mills House Hotel at the corner of Queen and Meeting Streets. I love these hotel cafes as you are welcome to take your coffee and sit a spell in the gorgeous hotel lounges as well. Black Door is akin to a grab and go cafe meets coffee shop. Sandwiches, parfaits, salads and cold drinks are available from the cooler, while fresh pastries from Saffron Bakery, a full coffee selection and gelato are offered at the counter. Plenty of room here to spread out with a laptop if you’d like.
My favorite is the cinnamon roll.
6. A BONUS, Harken has an equally delectable sister coffee & bake shop on the north end of Downtown Charleston on upper King Street, Harbinger Cafe & Bakery, that definitely deserves a spot on the "5 Best Coffee Shops in Charleston" list. I like to think of them as sisters, but not twins. They offer differing menus, although similar. Harbinger seems to have a larger selection of baked goods and has more seating space. My favorite is still Harken as it carries my preferences of goods and I lean toward their interior as well. Both are well worth a visit.
The 5 Best Coffee Shops in Downtown Charleston
And, a bonus: Harbinger Cafe & Bakery
Discover Your Next Favorite Sip in the Heart of Charleston
Wrapping up our caffeinated journey through the cobblestone streets and past the palmetto trees, we hope you've felt that buzz of excitement to explore the best coffee shops in Charleston. Each spot, from the sunlit corners of Harken Cafe & Bakery to the splendid bonhomie of Harbinger Cafe & Bakery, promises a unique experience that captures the spirited essence of Charleston. So, whether it's a grab-and-go morning from The Black Door Cafe or a relaxed afternoon with a pastry in hand at La Patisserie, let the charm of these local gems lead you to your next cherished coffee haunt in the heart of the Lowcountry.
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