When you ask the average full-size human what makes Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, you’ll get responses about bridges, chipped ham, the point, parking chairs, Mount Warshington, why it’s too cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the Steelers, and always, always Primanti Brothers…but never about the burgh being a coffee mecca. Well, folks, a town that allows people to wear football jerseys as acceptable business attire, has roughly 70 Independent coffee shops in the surrounding area, making it quite the experience for anyone who wants to venture out for a caffeine-fueled cafe tour.
More than that, Pittsburgh has deep roots in the coffee business, and at one point was a major player in the java trade. In fact, the same city that doesn’t understand merge lanes after hundreds of years, was once the setting for a major development that changed coffee distribution forever.
Pittsburgh’s Place in Coffee History
First, allow me give you some context. While there are varying accounts on the origins, the modern version of roasted coffee didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1700s and first became popular after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. It was seen as the “patriotic duty” for Americans to make the switch from Tea to Coffee to further distance themselves from the British and high taxation taking place at the time. During the Civil War, the consumption of Coffee increased again as soldiers would use the drink for a boost of energy. One famous coffee drinker at the time was Teddy Roosevelt, who was actually said to have coined the Maxwell House slogan “Good to the Last Drop.”
By the time the 1800s came around, coffee had started to become a commodity and innovators everywhere were looking for new ways to profit from the savory beverage.
Until this point in history, coffee-making had been a fairly complicated process. Essentially, you had to roast uncooked coffee beans before you ground and brewed it. They were typically kept in barrels and would often spoil. And roasting itself was a difficult process – if the coffee beans get burned, the whole product is ruined.
Enter our Pittsburghers- John and Charles Arbuckle. John Arbuckle, who made the most resounding impact of the two brothers, was an immigrant from Scotland in Allegheny City – or what is now the North Side. He is known to have attended grade school with Henry Phipps and may have known Andrew Carnegie as well – given his close relationship with Phipps and that he was only a few years older than Arbuckle.
In 1873, Pittsburgh’s John Arbuckle discovered a way to preserve already-roasted coffee beans. He found that, if the beans were coated in a mixture of mostly egg-whites and sugar, it would preserve the coffee’s aroma and taste while also creating a smooth and sweet flavor.
With this newly discovered method, they began selling pre-roasted coffee in paper bags by the pound. The Arbuckle’s were also extremely clever with marketing. For example, they put a stick of peppermint candy into every container of coffee sold- starting a tradition where whomever volunteered to grind the beans would be given candy. As the coffee gained popularity, they added redeemable trading cards to every product as well. These items were fun incentives for customers to remain loyal to the Arbuckle brand, Ariosa- and it worked wonders.
Sadly, Charles Arbuckle died at a fairly young age, but John continued the business which became very successful. Arbuckles’ Ariosa Coffee became a staple in coffee shops across the country. The brand was particularly popular in Wild West Saloons- with cowboys. Eventually, John moved his business to New York City where the ever-innovative businessman even challenged the sugar trust of the 19th century by importing sugar so that he could resell it at a lower price.
Of course other major companies eventually began to follow suit. John Folger, for example, began to sell coffee to gold miners in California and this lead to the emergence of other major coffee names like Maxwell House and Hills Brothers.
In 1912, John Arbuckle passed away in Brooklyn and was brought back to Pittsburgh to be buried in Allegheny Cemetery. After his death, the coffee company was sold and combined with Maxwell House, which is now part of General Foods. There are also two smaller companies- one in Tuscan, Arizona and one nearby in Verona, PA – that both use Arbuckle’s name and traditions.
A Guide to Coffee in Pittsburgh Today
As Arbuckle’s story shows us, the city of Pittsburgh is no stranger to innovations in the world of coffee. Fast forward to present day and you’ll see that Pittsburgh is, once again, part of the coffee conversation as the city has a rich tapestry of independently owned coffee shops. The revitalization of the coffee industry, which has taken place within the last couple of decades, has caused a shift toward small, independent coffee houses that focus on atmosphere, consumer experience, bean quality and consistency.
We’ve developed a comprehensive list of independent coffee shops in Pittsburgh. No matter where you choose for your java experience, you’ll be delighted at the effort and impact that small business makes on the community at large.
1) Espresso A Mano – Lawrenceville and Southside
Located on Butler Street, with a new location on East Carson Street, they’re the leader in espresso happiness. A modern atmosphere caters to the busy professional and caffeine enthusiast alike.
2) Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange – Strip District
Guests of Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange can pick out coffee and tea blends to create custom drinks, or take home their favorites in bulk to enjoy the gift that keeps on giving.
3) California Coffee Bar – Brighton Heights
With a bright and airy atmosphere, California Coffee Bar is infusing commerce into the Brighton Heights area. They have a variety drinks that range from coffee to protein shakes and raw juices.
4) Big Dog – Southside
From an open wood-burning fireplace to the colorful art, Big Dogs shop offers somewhat of an escape from the Southside madness. In addition to a full coffee menu, they also have an oatmeal bar.
5) La Prima – Strip District, Nova Place, and CMU Campus
Specializing in quality espresso machines, La Prima has become a cornerstone for the community. While they sell commercial equipment from two of Italy’s premiere espresso machine manufacturers, they’ve also made a name for themselves as a leader in the Pittsburgh coffee experience.
6) Constellation Coffee – Lawrenceville
Constellation, which was founded in 2013, offers a simplistic and clean atmosphere with a focus on providing the best java experience possible. Sourcing their beans from Ceremony coffee, a specialty provider with arabica beans from 4 continents, quality and consciousness go hand-in-hand.
7) Delanie’s – Southside
Delanie’s dials into the hustle and bustle of the city, and combines it with cool undertones that merge modern with classic styling. The first floor, which doubles as a platform for artists to sell their work, lends more towards people on the go, and the second floor is geared towards meetings, and people who need to make an extension of their home office for more than 25 minutes.
8) Coffee Buddha – North Hills
Coffee Buddha is technically more of a house than a traditional coffee shop, but its uniqueness gives it a very transcendental vibe. Much like the name, the staff and ownership follow the same laid back credo. Guests can find a nook to read, or bring their dog in for a session of “can I pet your dog” from everyone on the planet. Roughly 15 minutes from downtown, it’s worth a visit.
9) Tazza D’oro – Highland Park and Millvale
With a translation of “cup of gold”, it’s no surprise that Tazza D’oro focuses on using quality local ingredients. Their space is very intimate and friendly, and they offer a wide variety of unique drink options.
10) The Commonplace Coffeehouse – Smallman Galley, Mexican War Streets, Garfield and Squirrel Hill
A combination of a roaster and coffeehouse, you can come here to get a cup of espresso or a bag of quality coffee beans.
11) Biddle’s Escape – Regent Square
Biddle’s Escape brings the tropics to Pittsburgh with a unique and relaxing atmosphere. Along with full menu of coffee and tea, they act as an art gallery, performance hall and literary workshop for all different forms of local artists.
12) Zeke’s – East Liberty
Zeke’s partners with other locally owned establishments in Pittsburgh, and has become a melting pot for creatives and a fan favorite for the community. Its convenience to the bustling Bakery Square and new residential developments, makes it one of the hottest places in the US to grab a brew. One their staple drinks is Mexican Hot Chocolate.
13) Carnegie Coffee Company – Carnegie
As a former post office turned coffee shop, this little gem is filled with detailed architecture and a penchant for fine espresso, as they are one of the only shops in Pittsburgh who carry Lavazza coffee, an imported blend from Italy. With a sprawling location, guests can rent the space for anything from a bridal shower to a birthday party.
14) Black Forge Coffee – Allentown
Metal heads and non-mental heads alike can enjoy everything from black coffee brew to full-scale rock concerts. They support local art by selling paintings and jewelry directly to customers. The co-founder is also an accomplished jewelry designer.
15) Caffé D’amore – Lawrenceville
With a commitment to quality ingredients, this location partners with micro-roasters who use high-grade, direct-to-trade beans.
16) Gasoline Street Coffee – Downtown
Donning its name from yester-years when fuel trucks would fill their tanks in the alley, Gasoline Street Coffee is fueled by a commitment to serve the community of coffee lovers, art enthusiasts, and musicians. The space hosts art shows, and performances on a monthly basis.
17) Artisan Café – Garfield
This shop is unique in that it’s a combination coffee shop and tattoo parlor. On the first Friday of every month they host the Unblurred gallery crawl featuring a unique show with the spotlight on a local artist.
18) Mechanic Coffee – Verona
With an emphasis on quality, mechanic coffee’s roots come from servicing a wide variety of coffee machinery in the Pittsburgh area. Guests can enjoy everything from espresso to buying or testing new equipment. Whether you’re looking for a cup of joe, or to start a new java venture, Mechanic Coffee offers a wide variety of experiences.
19) 21st Street Coffee and Tea – Downtown
Loyal to Intelligencia coffee since they first opened, this shop emphasizes serving coffee simpler. The location is spacious and well-lit, it’s a great place to escape the bustle of the city.
20) Adda Coffee & Tea House – Shadyside
Guests can enjoy anything from an espresso to an organic tea in this friendly and warm atmosphere. Various food options are also available.
21) Lili Coffee Shop – Polish Hill
This location has become a cornerstone of Polish hill with a quaintly classic atmosphere, and wide variety of vegan options. And there’s a record store and comic book shop in the same building. Doesn’t get better than that. Their sister shop, Liliput cafe, is in the Pittsburgh Filmmakers building providing quality brews and various food options to students.
22) Steel Valley Roasters – Homestead
23) Convive Coffee Roastery – North Hills
24) Anchor & Anvil – Coraopolis/Ben Avon
25) Kaffeehaus – East Allegheny
26) Arriviste – Shadyside
27) Ineffable Ca phe – Lawrenceville
28) Redhawk – Oakland
29) Fort Pitt Coffee- Market Street
30) Beehive Coffee Shop – South Side
31) Arnold’s Tea Café – North Side
32) Der Fer Coffee & Tea – Strip District
33) Orbis Café – Mt. Lebanon
34) B52 Cafe – Lawrenceville
35) Cyclops Cafe -Bellevue
36) 61B Cafe – Regent Square
37) Chateau Cafe – North Shore
38) Rock’n Joe Cafe – Downtown
39) Nicholas Coffee – Downtown
40) Friendship Perk & Brew – Shadyside
41) 4121 Main – Bloomfield
42) Curbside Coffee – Blawnox
43) Geppetto Cafe – Lawrenceville
44) Kickback Cafe – Lawrenceville
45) 61C Cafe – Squirrel Hill
46) Pear and The Pickle – Troy Hill
47) Colony Cafe – Strip District
48) Coffee Etc – Castle Shannon
49) Griff’s Grounds – Penn Hills
50) Blue Canary Coffeehouse – Mt. Lebanon
51) Uptown Coffee – Mt. Lebanon
52) Dancing Bean – Whitehall
53) Cafe IO – South Hills
54) 802 Bean Company – Brookline
55) Staghorn Cafe – Greenfield
56) Everyday Cafe – Homewood
57) Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea – Strip District
58) Art Space and Coffee House – Point Breeze
59) Aspinwall Beans’n’ Cream – Aspinwall
60) Blue Elephant Cafe and Coffee – Fox Chapel (RIDC Park)
61) Cup-Ka-Joe – Southside
62) Cafe Cravings Gourmet Coffee Shop – Mount Washington
63) Muddy Cup Coffee House – Bellevue
64) Renewal Cafe – McKees Rocks
65) Island Bean – Allison Park
66) Bean Thru – Bellevue
67) Kafa Buna – New Kensington
68) Cabrileo’s – New Kensington
69) Generoasta Coffee – Warrendale
70) City Cafe – Edgewood