When it comes to coffeeshops, quaint and a bit quirky is my sweet spot. Hip, sleek and modern is all very nice, but give me a funky hole-in-the-wall any day. Though it’s gaining a name as one of the mainstay local coffee sources in KC — hardly a hole-in-the-wall — Quay Coffee somehow manages to be both hip and homey. Named for the River Quay, the former name of the River Market, Quay (pronounced “key”) is a cozy, brick-walled spot in the heart of the eclectic River Market district. (If you’re strolling through the Nelson-Atkins Museum and in need of a caffeine fix, they also opened a location in the museum, but I highly recommend visiting the original.) Small but with plenty of seating, the place is always bustling with people working or chatting over a cuppa. In short, it’s a friendly, festive spot. It seems like sometimes it’s difficult to find beautiful latte art and a smile (thus the snobby barista trope), but Quay truly manages to do both. They definitely know their coffee, but I’ve never been greeted by anything less than genuine cheer and friendly banter.
But of course, the main draw: the coffee is good. Very good. Quay puts fastidious attention into choosing top-notch direct trade roasters, and the coffee never disappoints. With housemade syrups in scrumptious flavors like Old Overholt Caramel and Spice Brown Sugar, inventive seasonal drinks, and fresh local baked goods, the menu is classic but never boring.
River Market in of itself is worth exploring, and my go-to is fueling myself with a good caffeine dose from Quay as I do my wandering. Then again, it’s worth making a trip there just for the coffee and warm atmosphere. Bring a book, some work, or a friend and settle in with a delicious latte — you won’t want to leave.
Can someone please tell me where the summer went? Scratch that, where the year went? Seriously, I swear it was just January and I was cheering when the temp hit double digits (now I’m just praying it doesn’t hit triple digits). I don’t know about you, but I’m now counting down the days until fall. Crisp air, colorful leaves, Halloween ghoulies? Bring it on. That said, summer is a time of exploration. Granted, any time is an opportunity for exploration in my opinion, but there’s something particularly carefree and wanderlust-filled about summer. I’ve been neglecting my Kansas City coffee expedition a bit, and I needed an excuse again to wander and think/write/drink coffee 24/7 — or at least justify the amount of my budget spent on coffee by saying it’s blog research. So I decided to make up for lost (java) time. This weekend, that meant a little jaunt over to Liberty, Missouri, to check out Hammerhand Coffee. To be fair, at only 25 minutes from downtown KC, Liberty hardly qualifies as a road trip, but I’m fairly clueless when it comes to north of the city, so it felt like an expedition. Particularly when you factor in that I spent the first hour there hunting down a police station, who called a tow company, who battled my stubborn car locks, because I locked my keys, purse, and phone in my car … but that’s another story.
Ok, on to the important stuff. In case you’re (shockingly) unfamiliar with the small towns of Missouri, Liberty is a historic frontier town just northeast of Kansas City, founded in 1822, and now home to William Jewell College. Think stately brick campus, rambling old Victorian homes, and an abundance of kitschy yet charming shops.
Hammerhand is right in the historic town square, across from the Art Deco county courthouse and surrounded by quaint circa-late-1800s storefronts. Considering all this, it’s surprisingly hip and modern, the type of cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn hipsterland. Housed in a narrow turn-of-the-century brick building, the grand wooden staircase, stained glass window accents, and iron fire escape give it an old-world vibe. Yet the decor is crisp, modern, and colorful — mid-century style furniture, bright white walls, succulents, faux vintage lightbulbs, turquoise touches. In a whimsical nod, there’s even a Chemex with a live beta fish swimming around. It feels like a cross between a homey neighborhood joint and a student study crashpad, with both lively chattering groups and tables covered in notebooks and laptops. Liberty doesn’t feel like a college town, but almost everyone there looked to be under 25, so I would guess the students, as usual, gravitate toward the caffeine sources.
In the art of full disclosure, the coffee had a slightly odd taste. Not bad, just different. I realized, though, that I haven’t actually had regular milk for quite some time (they ran out of almond), so that might have just been me. That being said, my latte was rich and smooth, and they nailed the latte art (yes, it matters!). The rest of the menu features the standard drip, cappuccinos, cold brew, etc., plus seasonal drinks, housemade syrups, and a selection of pastries. About your usual coffeehouse fare, though it all looked scrumptious. They supposedly also carry a rotating selection of beer and wine, though I didn’t see any sign of that (to be fair, it was also a Sunday afternoon).
Overall, the chances of most people just passing through Liberty, MO, is about zip, and most large cities probably have dozens of Hammerhand-esque java joints. That said, it has a certain flair, with its 19th-century-frontier/hipster mélange, and the coffee is pretty damn good. If you happen to be in the KC area, it’s definitely worth a stop.
If you’re not one of us succulent-crazed millennials — first of all, what are you doing with your life? — you might not quite get the draw of a coffeeshop/plant center combo. But once you step inside Café Equinox, I promise you won’t question the genius of the concept. What could be a better pick-me-up than coffee and a little refreshing greenery? Or as their catchy tagline puts it, “caffeine and chlorophyll” (it’s tastier than it sounds). After Thou Mayest in Crossroads closed this year, owner Bo Nelson and his two brothers opened a new outpost, Café Equinox, inside their family’s nursery, Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee. Trust me, it takes more than a little convincing to get me to venture into the ‘burbs, even for coffee, but this trip was well worth it. Named for the best months to work in a greenhouse — between the fall and spring equinoxes — Café Equinox is a revitalizing spot for leaves and lattes alike.
Step inside the front entrance of Family Tree Nursery, and you’ll find yourself in a bright lounge area — welcome to Café Equinox. With a modern yet cozy vibe, the little café hosts a scattering of high-top tables, cushy couches, and even a hanging basket chair for your sipping/lounging pleasure. Or if you’re feeling a need for nature, you can get a little fresh air in the charming patio area, complete with the rusted green locker set from Thou Mayest (or is it only me who has a fondness for that grunge-chic bit of décor?). The space is quiet enough for working or an intimate meeting, but the bustle of the nursery in the background adds a lively hum.
But we’re here for more than cozy — what about that caffeination? Unsurprisingly, Café Equinox’s coffee, made from Thou Mayest’s carefully curated beans, is top-notch. For the bean aficionado, there are a variety of nuanced filter coffee options, plus the classic espresso beverages and teas. If you’re feeling adventurous, the seasonal specials offer a twist (or two). Current specials include the Coconut Lavender Latte, Elderberry Espresso Ginger Tonic, and Caffeine and Chlorophyll (matcha, mint, orange, and yes, chlorophyll). And to keep your java company, try a scrumptious pastry from local Heirloom Bakery & Hearth or Mud Pie Vegan Bakery — everything from scones to homemade pop-tarts. Every Saturday, they even break out the handmade cinnamon rolls. Mouth watering yet?
Once you’re properly caffeinated, venture into the leafy oasis of the greenhouse to peruse vibrant blooms, fragrant herbs, cute pots and planters, and succulents galore. Even if you’re not in the market for a new houseplant or garden tenant (though you will be after stepping in here), it’s worth a wander just for the fun of it. In addition to the vivid greenhouse, Family Tree also boasts over five acres of verdant nursery to explore, plus any plant paraphernalia you could imagine. Or you could just curl up on the couch with your latte. We won’t judge.