Dining and Drink

31 Coffee Shops We Love

From funky to earthy, our coffeehouse culture...

Sometimes the only thing that can take the chill out of your bones (or your heart) is a steaming cup of coffee. Be it French press, a frothy cappuccino, a milky latte or some other concoction altogether, the right brew can cure a host of ills. Fortunately, Madison is a veritable mecca for the caffeinated crowd. From funky to earthy to hippie to hip, our coffeehouse culture is as rich and satisfying as the joe being slung. So take yours to sit and soak up the atmosphere along with the last drops of your drink and the final bites of biscotti.

Ancora Coffee Roasters
112 King St., 255-0285; 3318 University Ave., 233-5287
With locations spread all over town from east to far west to Stoughton, Ancora delivers a dependable coffeehouse experience with a little less of a corporate vibe than some of the larger chains exude. The King Street location is a satellite office for downtown professionals who shuffle in from the cold in shirt collars and slacks, while University Avenue draws more of a mixed clientele. It’s not as quiet as some of the more student-focused outposts, but no need to worry. If you want to set up shop somewhere with your laptop, you can settle in and tap away.

Barriques
1825 Monroe St., 284-9463; 127 W. Washington Ave., 268-6264; 961 S. Park St., 819-6787; 8410 Old Sauk Rd., Middleton, 828-9502; 1901 Cayuga St., Middleton, 824-9463; 5957 McKee Rd., Fitchburg, 277-9463
You’d like to cap the night off with a glass of wine. Your mate wants a cappuccino nightcap. Dilemma? Not at Barriques, the standard-bearer of the coffee shop/wine bar blend that has settled in nicely around town—with six location across Madison and in Middleton and Fitchburg. It’s a popular and tasty spot for lunch, too, with hearty sandwiches and steamy soups that are the perfect antidote to Wisconsin weather much of the year. 

Beans 'n Cream Coffeehouse
345 Cannery Square, Sun Prairie, 837-7737
“Good things happen over coffee” is the tagline of this cheerful café tucked into Sun Prairie’s historic downtown. And it appears to be true: Friends chat in cozy chairs by the fireplace, while others find corners to read or hunker down with laptops. Brewed coffee, lattes, teas and more are made from Ancora Coffee Roasters and Rishi Tea products, plus many breakfast items (served all day long), sandwiches and salads feature locally sourced ingredients from JenEhr Farms, Homestead Cheese and Madison Sourdough. And don’t miss the counter of Sassy Cow ice cream!

Bradbury's Coffee
127 N. Hamilton St., 204-0474
Long before there were cronuts, there were crepes, and Bradbury’s brought the concept to downtown Madison. Yes, you can find crepes elsewhere, but Bradbury’s built itself around the thinner cousin to the pancake that likes to accessorize. You’ll find familiar combinations such as raspberry and dark chocolate, as well as trendier ones featuring salted caramel, sea salt or fig. Bradbury’s has other traditional coffee shop treats, they source locally (including the small-batch coffee) and they promote a European vibe with their large communal table in the center of their sunny corner real estate.

Cafe Zoma
2326 Atwood Ave., 243-1300
The cinnamon rolls are monstrous, the peanut butter cookies are dotted with Reese’s Pieces. Zoma is not renowned for its heartier food the way some of its coffee shop siblings are, but the location right on the bike path next to community gardens is hard to beat, and the rotating art for sale gives you something new to look at every time.

Cargo Coffee
1309 S. Park St., 268-0597; 750 E. Washington Ave., 709-1309
Drive-thru window? Score. Build-your-own sandwiches and wraps? Double score. They roast their own coffee? You get the picture. Cargo Coffee does it right, and now with a second location open in the Constellation building on East Wash, there’s twice as much to love about this local gem. Service is friendly and quick, and plenty of table space makes it an ideal spot to read or get some work done.

Chocolaterian Cafe
2004 Atwood Ave., 249-1156
The dark wood, dark chocolate and dark coffee are a perfect combination. Chocolaterian offers up the sweets front and center but the coffee is mighty fine, too. That way you don’t have to indulge, but you can if you want to. For something that meets in the middle, try the Parisian hot chocolate, which is thicker and richer than the traditional American variety (the menu says “it’s like drinking a truffle”). The menu also includes panini, quiche and soup, if you’re not making a meal of your dessert.

Colectivo Coffee
25 S. Pinckney St., 255-0407; 2530 Monroe St., 630-8930
In just one year, this Madison offshoot of the popular Milwaukee coffeehouse has quickly become the meet-up spot on the Square for professionals and students alike. Previously known as Alterra, Colectivo borrows its name and its lively aesthetic from the colorful buses used for public transportation in Latin America. The busy shop boasts a full menu of sandwiches made from locally sourced ingredients and a case full of treats baked in Milwaukee. It can be tough to find a place to sit and enjoy a cup of the delicious fair-trade joe. In warmer weather, the front windows open to a patio of vibrant chairs. For refuge from the chatter, head to the back—it’s filled with leather couches and cozy armchairs worn in just right.

Crema Café
4124 Monona Dr., Monona, 224-1150
Crema Café does not have customers. It has apostles. The loyal clientele raves over the organic ingredients and the inventive menu, but mostly fans respond to the authenticity of the small east-side eatery in the Lake Edge Shopping Center on Monona Drive. The locally owned, locally sourced café could cop a healthier-than-thou attitude, but owner and chef Steven Buchholz is earnest, not pretentious. Somehow he cooks up community along with his potato hash and egg scrambles. Crema manages to find that rare sweet spot by being welcoming to the crowds and the choir.

EVP Coffee
1250 E. Washington Ave., 294-6868; 555 S. Midvale Blvd, 441-1103; 3809 Mineral Point Rd., 263-9690; 741 University Row, 709-1126; 2500 Overlook Terrace, 259-1901 x12387
The first outpost opened in Madison in 1997, but the five EVPs—for Etes-vous prets?, or Are you ready? in French—now scattered throughout the Madison area feel entirely modern. Coffee is air-roasted, a rare technique that uses hot air instead of a heated surface to evenly roast the beans, resulting in rich-tasting coffee with a clean finish. You’d think that the special roasting process might result in a price hike, but au contraire: It’s cheap! Like under-two-bucks cheap for a twelve-ounce mug. And why stop at coffee? The Fitchburg location has a lunch menu with sandwiches, and all other EVPs serve a soup of the day with a slice of Madison Sourdough baguette. And then there’s the requisite bakery case with treats like almond croissants, cranberry-walnut muffins and vegan cookies.

Fair Trade Coffeehouse
418 State St., 268-0477
The atmosphere at Fair Trade is delightfully academic. On any given day or night, you’re likely to find students, from undergrads to PhDs, working away while sipping—or slamming—a cup of coffee or tea. Tables are close, but instead of feeling cramped, the vibe is convivial. Simple panini sandwiches make for good brain food, as do the seasonal soups. The bakery case is stocked with a mix of house-made goods and sweets sourced from local bakeries. Find a similar atmosphere and menu at Fair Trade’s sister café, Michelangelo’s, three blocks up at 114 State Street.

Firefly Coffeehouse
114 N. Main St., Oregon, 835-6238
When folks talk of Oregon’s downtown emerging as a charming destination, they’re in some way referring to Firefly, the community gathering spot right on Main Street. The café, named after a northern Wisconsin campground, opened in 2001 and has already expanded in size. In addition to drinks powered by Kickapoo Coffee from Viroqua, a variety of sandwiches pack the breakfast and lunch menus. And a delicious array of baked goods—muffins, scones, pastries, granola bars, cookies and more—are made from scratch each morning. Works by local artists line the walls, and there’s always a new community event being brewed up here.

The Froth House
11 N. Allen St., 231-0100
Known for live music and open mic nights, you can always expect to see art blossoming here. On a recent visit, a group of friends sat together playing guitar while others discussed thesis writing over a game of Chutes and Ladders. With deep red art-adorned walls and a quirky wooden piano, it is a relaxed community space that fosters creativity. And the coffee and teas (served in mismatched mugs) are delicious, too. The café also dishes up a mean sandwich, as well as tasty vegetarian and vegan items, made from scratch in-house. Tucked among houses in the Regent Street neighborhood, the Froth House is, put simply, homey. Editor's Note: The Froth House has closed since this article was published.

Ground Zero Coffee
744 Williamson St., 294-8668
There’s something cerebral about this Willy Street staple. Maybe it’s the maps lining the walls or the globes lining the windows. Maybe it’s all the study groups poring over outlines or the hipster bloggers click-clacking away at their keyboards. No matter. The roast-their-own-coffee Ground Zero has been serving up baked treats, sandwiches and drip and espresso drinks from its airy digs in the historic Madison Candy Company building since 1998. And it gets extra credit for the vast (by isthmus standards) adjacent parking lot.

Indie Coffee
1225 Regent St., 259-9621
This laid-back cool coffeehouse rests on Regent, with fogged windows framed in black, like the glasses of your artsy, intellectual friend. Just like that friend, Indie will draw you into the latest political film or a hip live band, which they serve up alongside bold coffee and a vast selection of teas. Stop in for the renowned waffles, endlessly customizable with baked-in ingredients and toppings (try the cranberry walnut). Bring your artsy friend and stay late for a casual jam and a microbrew.

Java Cat
3918 Monona Dr., 223-5553
What it lacks in more traditional coffeehouse charm, Java Cat makes up in donuts. The display case has other baked goods, but the honest-to-goodness donuts are a breath of fresh air in an era of fancier pastries. The east-side café has evolved over time, extending its hours and adding lunch fare with daily soup specials. The drive-through is a rarity for an independent coffeehouse, and Java Cat owes the luxury to the building’s previous life as a dry cleaner. But that was years ago, and the violet-accented interior is now a comfy café with live music on weekends.

Johnson Public House
908 E. Johnson St., 347-0483
Johnson Public House is more than just a coffee shop. As its name suggests, the shop |is a public space for neighbors to gather—whether it’s for conversation at one of the communal tables, one of the mouth-watering, locally sourced sandwiches or the monthly story slam competition à la public radio program “The Moth.” But if we’re being honest, you can’t talk about JPH without talking about its coffee. It’s some of the best in town, made to order in one of a variety of brewing techniques. Not a coffee geek? No worries. The staff is friendly and always willing to help navigate their rotating selection of coffee and espresso flavors.

Lakeside Street Coffee House
402 W. Lakeside St., 441-7599
Poised on the edge of Lake Monona, Lakeside Street Coffeehouse is worth the visit for the view alone. But food and drink offerings make it even more deserving. Organic coffee is from True Coffee Roasters and sandwiches—like the garlic roast beef—feature fresh ingredients from area farms. Baked good offerings include the extolled scones from Lazy Jane’s, and local beer and wine varieties are available by the glass or bottle. Lakeside Street boasts cultural offerings too. Local art adorns the walls and live entertainment has become a regular fixture.

Lazy Jane's Café
1358 Williamson St., 257-5263
You’re lucky if you find a parking spot in the tight and usually full lot adjacent to the near-east-side café known citywide for its scones. Inside, the vibe is decidedly thrift store, a timelessly quintessential Madison scene. Yes, there’s a full menu of foods and drinks, but the high-minded hipsters who rub elbows with earthy mommas and adventurous suburbanites crave those round lemony pastries with the thin icing drizzled over the top.

Mermaid Café
1929 Winnebago St., 249-9719
This is another fine spot on the east-side caffeine corridor that runs from Monona Drive down Atwood along Winnebago winding up on Willy. (You could work yourself up a nice heart attack if there were a morning mocha crawl running the full length.) As much a light-lunch spot as it is a coffee shop, Mermaid is a cozy little café on Winnebago with chalkboard menus featuring a small array of breakfast and lunch options and a fiercely loyal following. Editor's Note: Mermaid Café has closed since this article was published.

Mother Fool's Coffeehouse
1101 Williamson St., 259-1301
It doesn’t get any hippier than this. With a full array of vegan baked delights and occasional sides of performance art, Mother Fool’s is for those who cling to the Madison of yesteryear. They are not so much throwbacks as holdouts. A little anti-establishmentarianism has always been on the menu here. 

Prairie Café & Bakery
6720 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton, 827-2437
Stop into this Middleton Hills café on any given morning and you’re guaranteed to find a full house. Yet the café doesn’t feel crowded. There’s plenty of space to meet for breakfast, crank out some work or simply enjoy the morning paper. Everything—a full breakfast and lunch menu and dozens of fresh baked goods—is made in-house. If you’re unsure of what to order, a scone or one of the daily breakfast specials is always a hit, as is the serve-yourself coffee station featuring five Colectivo brews and free refills.

Redamté
449 State St., 819-8650
This State Street café turns daily coffee habits into something worthwhile. The volunteer-run coffee shop serves a variety of locally sourced products, including espresso from Just Coffee Cooperative. Menu items are rotated seasonally with many organic, vegetarian and vegan options. Redamtè also makes a difference on a larger scale. When you purchase a meal on Monday, another meal is donated to children in Haiti; on Thirsty Thursday, a gallon of water is donated for each coffee sold. In 2013 alone, Redamtè donated 857 meals and 3,538 gallons of water to Haiti. Cheers to that. Editor's Note: Redamté has closed since this article was published.

Schoolgrounds Café
4691 County Hwy. N, Cottage Grove, 228-9488
This Cottage Grove coffee spot on Highway N just off I-94 is a little out of the way, but it’s worth a detour. It’s housed in—you guessed it—a converted old schoolhouse and it doubles as an art gallery (the Gaston School Gallery). Seasonal children’s (and sometimes some adults’) drawings often line the wall to remind you that Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day is on the way. But let’s get to the point: The coffee is rich, the brownies are dense and the service is as friendly as it comes. The pace isn’t exactly slow, but it’s not fast, either. Here, you get to take your time—no bell is going to ring to send you on your way.

Steep & Brew
544 State St., 256-2902
While at first glance, this State Street café appears quite small, upon entering, three spacious levels of seating are revealed. Steep & Brew has been a State Street fixture for more than thirty years, and was also the first U.S. coffee retailer to be fair trade certified. While the shop is often filled with students, it also serves as a great detour for coffee and bakery while out shopping. Baristas here are knowledgeable of their coffees and over three dozen leaf teas, and are happy to help make a selection.

True Coffee Roasters
6250 Nesbitt Rd., Fitchburg, 663-9390; 2300 Highway 51, Stoughton, 873-1600
True Coffee chose its name to reflect its commitment to the people involved in bringing coffee from “seed to cup.” The Fitchburg roastery, which opened in 2010, specializes in small batches of high-quality coffee hailing from Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Ethiopia and beyond. A master artisan roaster offers roughly fifteen varieties every day in the on-site café, as well as a second coffee shop in Stoughton. In the Fitchburg shop, sunshine streams in and settles tables and stuffed chairs. An area with toys makes the place welcoming to all, while a menu of breakfast and creative lunch options gives more reasons to linger.

Tuvalu Coffeehouse
300 S. Main St., Verona, 845-6800
Imagine what a coffee shop in the heart of “Hometown USA” should be, and you’ll likely envision what’s carried out at Tuvalu. This family-owned café and art gallery is relaxed and friendly, with a focus on fair trade, environmental awareness and healthy living. Just Coffee and Rishi Tea provide the basis for drinks, while 4&20 Bakery helps make breakfast and lunch items so tasty. Got kids in tow? They’ll love the corner packed with toys and books, and you’ll appreciate a few minutes to savor a latte. Stop by on the weekends, when live music, local beer and wine become part of the scene.

Victor Allen's Coffee
2623 Monroe St. #100, 231-0622; 707 S. Mills St., 280-8801; 5501 Odana Rd., 274-6166; 410 D’Onofrio Dr., 833-8501
Long before coffee shops became ubiquitous gathering spots and alternative workspaces, prior to skinny vanilla lattes and double shots of espresso securing places in society’s vernacular, Victor Allen’s was slinging coffee in Madison. The roaster was founded back in 1979 and eventually branched into selling beans in groceries and other cafés, then moved its headquarters to the Fox Cities. But Victor Allen’s lives on in Madison, in three comfortable cafés, as well as an outpost at St. Mary’s Hospital. Editor's Note: All Victor Allen's Coffee locations have closed since this article was published.

The Victory
2701 Atwood Ave., 240-0366
For those used to the mainstream (and somewhat mild) sensibilities of Starbucks and the like might find The Victory’s brews and infusions intense and the strict no cellphone attitude a bit extreme. Purists and Luddites, though, will rejoice in the principled east-side (where else?) cash-only coffee and beverage bar that lets you pay on the honor system if you’re new to the whole paper money thing.

Yola's Café
494 Commerce Dr., 827-5800 M
If you’re over on Madison’s west side, make it a point to visit Yola’s. Whether it’s for a cup of coffee, one of the homemade sandwiches (try the California turkey wrap) or the signature Belgian waffles, this cheery café doesn’t disappoint. Coffee is top-notch, as is the tea selection and bakery case. There’s plenty of room for the kids to play, and toys to play with, plus ample table space that makes for a great setup for group meetings.

 

Corinne Burgermeister, Grace Edquist, Emily Rappleye and Katie Vaughn contributed to this report.


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