If you're a coffee lover, the first Google search on the docket when visiting a new city is, “Best coffee shop in _______.” I trust online review forums for the most part, but what I really love is a good blog post detailing the various options and telling me why I absolutely have to go to this place they've described. Why do I find a blog post the superior method? Mainly because a good comparison blog post is probably written by a local which means they've probably been to said coffee shop more than once and therefore have a better perspective than the traveler who dropped in once when the shop's only decent barista was on duty and gave it a five-star rating...or else had the opposite experience of encountering the only dreadful employee.
I also like knowing more about the shop itself than the business's website will tell me. It's fun knowing beforehand what sort of vibe this coffee shop runs on, what neighborhood it is in, what's nearby, etc. In a like spirit that I present to you my pick of the Four Best Coffee Shops in Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads, or “The Tidewater Area” as we locals call it, is a region comprised of the coastal south-eastern corner of Virginia and contains the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton. Give or take Suffolk and the Isle of Wight which sometimes slip in under the radar.
It's a region well known for its military bases and ports, colonial and maritime history, beaches and nature trails, colleges and international culture and – in my opinion – a healthy and growing music and arts scene. Therefore, it's fitting that we've begun to collect coffee shops to caffeinate our special brand of SoVa creativity. But not all coffee shops are created equal so if you're headed down 64 and craving a good shot, I'm your girl.
The must-try coffee shop of Hampton Roads award goes to....
#1: Cure Coffeehouse & Brasserie Norfolk, VA
Anyone who has seen my Instagram knows 50% of my coffee budget lands in Cure's coffers...and I live a full hour away. The charm of this newly-expanded coffee shop and cafe is due, in part, to its location in Norfolk's Freemason District on the charming, cobbled Botetourte Street. Parking is plentiful in the surrounding neighborhood though Cure lacks a parking lot of its own. I often park far down Botetourt for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the walk back to Cure on the quiet street lined with vintage mansions. The menu is full-blooded with not only amazing coffee and coffee drinks ( I recommend the churro latte, the lavender mocha, or an iced pour-over) but plenty of sandwich and salad options alongside a range of wines and other spirits. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, the menu creative and ever-changing. Besides being disappointed in the macaroni, I have yet to not enjoy anything I've ordered. Considering how often I go, that's high praise. If you have time for only one coffee shop in Hampton Roads, choose Cure.
#2: Three Ships Coffee, Virginia Beach, VA
Have you ever wished for a breezy, spacious, not over-crowded coffee shop that just happens to serve the best brew in town? Three Ships, located on 19th street just blocks from the tourist strip, fulfills that place in my heart. It also happens to possess the friendliest staff and a peculiar knack for not judging your un-hipsterism while being quite hip itself. The business began as a coffee roasting venture and Three Ships still serves (and roasts) its own beans which you can buy by the enormous bagful. Unlike the other places mentioned in this article, Three Ships serves very little besides coffee. The menu is pared down, highly curated, and always excellent. None of their drinks except the Pungo and Horchata lattes are even flavored. The beauty is in the coffee and espresso itself or, should coffee not be your thing, in the seasonally-changing tea bar options. But if you think this small-menu is a handicap to a business in such a touristy, sugar-driven part of town, think again:
Three Ships is an oasis for the true coffee lover and serves its purpose as a craft brewer of coffee that other options in the immediate area (Badass Coffee, Java Surf, etc.) have not mastered. Three Ships is the true-hearted coffeehouse Hampton Roads had been missing. I'm glad it's here and I look forward seeing its fame spread throughout the region.
#3: Cafe Stella Norfolk, VA
Stella is a coffee-shop with an attitude problem. And it's one of the reasons I enjoy it. Located on the edge of Norfolk's Ghent district, Stella is equal parts artsy, warm, loud, and overwhelming. I always get the feeling of being an outsider when I go which is probably because Stella is another “neighborhood” establishment with a long list of regulars whose ranks I have yet to enter. Everyone seems to know everyone else (except me) which is encouraged by the amount of community-style sitting space. Still, with a full menu of delicious food options, great coffee, and a host of other drinks, Cafe Stella makes it on the list of my favorite coffee shops. Like that slightly-weird but somehow attractive kid in your circle of friends, you're not out till you've tried to be in, even if being “in” wasn't your goal to begin with.
Of all the shops on this list, Stella wins points for sitting space, boasting a front and back room and outdoor patio, plus two bay window tables I've never been lucky enough to nab. An added feature that makes Stella that much cooler is the binder collection of people-watching sketches by a local artist who apparently lives in a corner of Cafe Stella and takes likenesses like some sort of artistically-talented Professor Higgins. Parking is easy, shared by a favorite local pizza parlor, and the free pitchers of water standing on a revamped bureau negate the necessity of asking the barista for ice-water. And who doesn't love that convenience?
#4: Roast Rider, Virginia Beach, VA
Do you love an establishment where the atmosphere is so trendy and sleek you feel like you could get rich by osmosis? Roast Riders is your spirit animal. If you've got an Instagram aesthetic that favors white backgrounds, sharp contrasts, and modernist décor, you'll fall in love with this Hilltop treasure. I swear the elite clientele think I'm something that washed up on the beach last night, but the pretension and over-bred snobbery of the atmosphere can't disguise the fact that Roast Riders is a delicious addition to the Hampton Roads coffee scene. All their syrups are house-made, the baristas are friendly and informative, and the Most Attractive of VB's Most Attractive frequent the premises. It's a short ten-minute drive from the oceanfront or a fifteen-minute hop down 264 East (sans traffic) from downtown Norfolk - well worth the drive. Stop by the MacDonald's Garden Center for a succulent so your room at home can boast a Fortune Four Hundred vibe, or buy a pair of Birkenstocks from the ancient store in the shopping center which is now somehow cool again. And on your way out of the feeder-road web (bonus points if you avoid Whole Foods and Trader Joe's), stop at Bilodi's for Virginia Beach's best Mediterranean meal! All joking aside, Roast Riders serves quality coffee with unique, in-house twists. I recommend the chai latte and a quick browse of the Instagram wall.
So there you have it: a local's opinion of the four best coffee shops in Hampton Roads in terms of quality, accessibility, atmosphere, and overall experience. I hope this list is helpful for those of you SoVa-bound! Locals: join the discussion – I'd love the hear your opinions on the best coffee joints in Hampton Roads. Do you agree? Disagree? Comment below so we can talk!
BONUS ROUND: Are you making your way to Hampton Roads via Interstate 95? If so, take a look at:
#5: Demolition Coffee Petersburg, VA
If this shop was actually located in Hampton Roads (and it's not), it would wedge itself directly between Cure Coffeehouse and Three Ships Coffee to soundly finish out my triumvirate of Favorite Coffee Shops. Hands down, Demolition is an under-known treasure of an otherwise coffee-less region of that part of my home-state. South of Richmond, Demolition's the only decent coffee you'll get till you cross the North Carolina line. Beyond that, it's amazing in its own right. Great coffee, amazing food, quirky atmosphere. Order the grilled blueberry muffin and a cafe latte – your 95 road-trips will never look the same. Also, I get bathroom envy every time I enter Demolition. Seriously – barring Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Florida, Demoliton's bathroom is the coolest I've seen.
P.S Don't get freaked out by the statue of the old man outside the door. He isn't alive. You're safe here.