Considering my javaholic tendencies and how long I’ve been following Caffeine Crawl’s activities, it’s a little absurd that it’s taken me this long to actually go on a crawl. I met founder Jason Burton when I worked at the Roasterie a few years ago, and I’ve been meaning to check it out ever since.
What is a caffeine crawl, you ask? Think pub crawl, but local coffee shops rather than bars (and less drunkenness). The first coffee-related “crawl,” Caffeine Crawl started in Kansas City in 2011 and now hosts events in cities across the country. It’s a guided tour of four to six local, independent shops and focuses on coffee, tea, and chocolate (allll the caffeine, in other words). At each stop, someone from the coffee shop—often the owner(s)—chats about the café and provides samples of signature drinks and bites.
Our route got me up and out earlier than usual on a Saturday morning (the world does exist before 9 a.m. on a weekend!) and took us around Kansas City’s downtown and historic northeast. It’s not as if I need any encouragement to drink more coffee, and I already have long lists of both favorite local coffee spots and new ones to check out, but the crawl is a great way to discover new places and explore different neighborhoods of a city. Plus, it kind of feels like you get to go behind the scenes to talk to the owners and delve into what makes each shop unique, much more so than if you just stopped in to order a drink. And as much as I love coffee, my order is usually pretty boring—drip coffee or an Americano—so it was fun to try the more adventurous drinks I probably wouldn’t have ordered on my own.
With all that said, the crawl itself is definitely worth checking out (they usually do two per year in KC, in spring and in fall, plus a host of other cities). But the real focus is the coffee shops themselves, so let’s get to that. This was essentially like a supercharged—or highly caffeinated, if you will—version of one of my usual coffee shop explorations.
4327 Troost Avenue
Though Troost Avenue has historically been emblematic of the racial and economic divide in KC (thanks, redlining), it’s going through somewhat of a revitalization and reclaiming, and Equal Minded Café is right at the heart of that. There’s a clear focus on community at the space, on creating a gathering place and hub, plus an aim to provide resources and opportunities to KC youth.
The space itself is homey and down to earth, with big windows, plenty of tables, a couch, and even a piano. There are shelves of books and games available for visitors, and a large back room that hosts a potpourri of events—open mic nights, local music, panel discussions, art events, pop-up marketplaces, and more. It’s the perfect space to meet up with friends or cozy up for work or studying.
While you’re soaking up the community spirit, you can sip on organic java, tea, or a smoothie. If you’re hungry, the menu has a variety of options ranging from paninis and wraps to quesadillas and avocado toast (including a few vegan/vegetarian options).
We tested out Equal Minded’s famous bourbon chai latte while on our tour—touted as KC’s best chai. I’m not entirely sure where that accolade comes from, and I’m admittedly not a chai expert, but I can’t say I disagree. Chai lattes aren’t my usual drink of choice—why order anything besides coffee?—but this one was delicious. Just the right mix of sweetness and spice, a little exotic, and rather addictive. I might just change up my usual order the next time I visit.
4101 Troost Avenue
Who says Kansas City isn’t tropical? Anchor Island Coffee can’t bring us the ocean, sadly, but they have the tropical plants, nautical style, and chill mood to at least let us imagine we’re at the beach. The owners are from the West Coast and Guatemala, respectively, and wanted to bring a bit of tropical spirit to poor landlocked KC. Spoiler alert: it worked. The whole place is a little island escape in the middle of KC, with cool blue tones, beachy décor, and under-the-sea murals. The best part (in my opinion) is the charming upstairs area—grab a table or flop down on a couch and pretend you’re in a cozy beach house loft.
It’s a great place to come hungry as well—the menu has a plethora of options cooked in house, from breakfast burritos and grilled cheese to French toast, pancakes, quesadillas, tamales, and scrambled egg or açai bowls. Finding a coffee shop that serves more than pastries (as much as we all love pastries) is often a challenge, so it’s great to see a place with a tasty, diverse home-cooked menu.
We had a great taster of a few of Anchor Island’s signature drinks on our visit. In addition to a Messenger-roasted brew, we got to test the Dirty Sunrise—a refreshing iced concoction of espresso, orange juice, grenadine, and chocolate milk—and the horchata latte—a sweet, cinnamony rice milk drink. Neither of these are drinks I would probably choose on my own, so it was fun to try something new (definitely recommend the horchata in particular).
It’s not exactly oceanside, but Anchor Island is still a great place to soak up a warm, cheerful vibe and, of course, enjoy very tasty java and nibbles (and hey, you don’t have to deal with sand in uncomfortable places).
1200 McGee Street
I’m always on the lookout for cool coffee spots in downtown KC, and Waterbird was a pleasant discovery (not that I discovered it, but still). Situated right between the River Market and Power & Light districts, it’s pretty much smack in the middle of KC and is convenient to get to from lots of areas. It’s also just a cool place regardless of location.
Located in an old brick building, Waterbird is an open space with plenty of light and seating. The vibe is urban and hip but also a bit quirky, with touches of Native American design. In fact, according to the owners, Brian and Jamakee, the waterbird is a symbol of rainy season regrowth in Arapaho culture—which is a rather beautiful nod to nature and perseverance, in my opinion.
The café uses beans from Repetition Coffee, a woman-owned Lawrence roaster, and offers a rotating roster of inventive (and delicious, obviously) signature drinks. There aren’t really options for a full meal, but they do have pastries from local Scratch bakery, which is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.
We tested brews from Ethiopia and Colombia—both tasty, but I have to admit my palate isn’t quite refined enough to notice flavor notes much—as well as an iced brown sugar cinnamon latte, which was unsurprisingly by far my favorite. They also offer a butterscotch latte that I’m dying to try. I’ll just have to go back—not a tough ask at all.
546 Olive Street
As a history nerd, I find the Pendleton Heights neighborhood fascinating. One of the older areas of KC, it’s a mix of gorgeous Victorian houses and slightly run-down old buildings. Right in the middle of all this is Core Coffee, which somehow fits right in despite being pretty hip and new. With exposed brick walls, lots of plants, and quirky tchotchkes all over, it has an airy, boho vibe. The stacks of books and games and displays of local art also give it a warm, neighborhood-y feel, though, and it feels like the type of place that has a lot of local regulars.
In addition to the usual pastry and java offerings, Core also offers tasty menu options, including breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, BLTs, and avocado toast. It would make a great casual lunch spot or cozy workspace.
Our treat at Core was another inventive original creation—which, again, I probably wouldn’t have thought to order on my own. A tasty concoction of cold brew, Mexican cola, and vanilla bean ice cream, it was a bit like a highly buzzed float. It was rather chilly when we were there, but this would be a perfect drink for these sweltering July days, guaranteed to keep you cool (and highly caffeinated). We also got to nibble some addictive homemade lemon cookies—not sure if they’re a regular offering, but I think it’s safe to say you’ll be well supplied with sweets on a visit here.
2200 Lexington Avenue
I have to admit that I had never even heard of several places we visited (javaholic fail). PH, however, has been on my list for a long time. It’s also in Pendleton Heights, very close to Cliff Drive (side note: great place for a fall foliage walk). In fact, PH has dubbed itself “the gathering place of Pendleton Heights”—and it’s a fitting moniker. In addition to creating a very friendly, local feel, the coffee shop also hosts a whole bevy of diverse events—local musician concerts, barista classes, pop-up bars, a Jazz Age–themed night, a Harry Potter theater experience…you name it.
The space itself is equally suited to catching up with friends or having quiet work/study time. The old building is open and filled with light, and the pressed tin ceiling, mismatched vintage chandeliers, brick walls, and local art displays give it a storied yet quirky character. There’s even a kids’ play area and a giant chess set.
Though die-hard javaholics and non–coffee drinkers alike will undoubtedly find something tasty to sip here, PH is serious about their beans. They source their coffee from Repetition Coffee and Liberty-based Hammerhand, and all of the rotating selection of beans notes origins, flavor notes, and recommendations for doctoring (cream, sugar, etc.). PH has a whole four-tier system to organize their beans, with categories such as “unicorns” and “common grounds.” I have to admit most of it goes over my head (my palate isn’t refined enough to identify more then fruity vs. non-fruity blends), but it shows that they know their beans. If you’re into specific roasts and flavor notes or exploring coffee from around the world, it’s a great guide, and frankly it’s just rather charming (see photo of Lisa Frank–esque art complete with winged pink unicorn).
Along those lines, we got a little global coffee tour with a tasting of four bean options led by Holly (who runs the Geek Out with Holly barista classes). We went to Ethiopia with a roast described as “a chocolate-covered berry bomb” and El Salvador via a decaf with “dark caramel and berry jam vibes.” There was even a rare Yemen roast with Saut Farmers’ “juicy raisin soaked in spiced caramel” beans. I’m not sure I could identify those intricate flavor notes on my own, but the descriptions are certainly mouthwatering, and it was a lot of fun to learn about the beans and where they came from. I’ll definitely be making a return trip to PH, either for a creative event or some chill reading time—though I’ll probably be boring and get my usual Americano.