The Best Coffee Shops in Charleston, SC

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    katepbryan
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    The Best Coffee Shops in Charleston, SC
    Published: October 12, 2023

    Here in Charleston, South Carolina, there is an abundance of coffee shops, from the omnipresent chains to small spots offering a distinct experience.

    For this piece, Extra Chill decided to delve into the world of lattes, pour-overs, pastries and soft jazz to find out what makes the best place to get a cup of coffee, and why.

    I tapped a few local caffeine aficionados to fill us in on their favorite spots, and I also did a little research of my own, ordering the same drink at each spot: a latte. I wanted something simple enough that the quality of the coffee would be evident, but that would still allow the baristas to show off their skills. (My usual go-to is a black drip coffee but I didn’t think that would give the employees enough room to shine.) 

    Here are our favorite places to drink coffee in Charleston, SC. You can use the Table of Contents below to navigate if you’d like. 

    Sightsee Shop

    Photo: @sightseeshop on IG

    Located on Line Street in downtown Charleston, this tiny shop-meets-storefront is a concept that centers around community. In addition to brewing coffee, Sightsee regularly collaborates with artists, businesses, and organizations around town. They also host Bandwagen Sessions: concerts and interviews with local musicians out of a tiny 1974 Volkswagen bus.

    “In my opinion, Sightsee has the best coffee in town and I’ve always been extremely satisfied with each purchase,” said local Mel Perez, a retail specialist at Monarch Wine Merchants who can be found rollerblading about town.

    “Allyson, Joel and the rest of the Sightsee staff are so kind and welcoming and they definitely set a positive tone for the day. Especially since they’re more than likely the first people I see before venturing off to the real world,” she said.

    Avery Andrews, a sommelier at Graft Wine Shop on King Street, also finds that Sightsee meets his qualifications, which, he says, are fairly simple: “Just have good coffee,” he said. 

    “I feel that sometimes that part of it is overlooked. A lot of coffee shops look cool but their drinks are just not good.”

    His go-to order at Sightsee? “Their espresso tonic drink. Not sure when I started drinking that particular espresso drink, but I know I have no intentions of stopping,” he said.

    Metto Coffee & Tea

    Latte at Metto. Photo by Kate Bryan.

    A Mt. Pleasant establishment since 2006, this coffee shop on Coleman Boulevard boasts a stacked menu of classic coffee house favorites and specialty drinks. It has an outdoor patio and, for the ultimate convenience, a drive-thru window.

    “A good coffee experience outside the home is one that tastes much better than any coffee I could make myself (not a lofty requirement),” said Kalyn Oyer, features editor at The Post and Courier (and fellow live music aficionado).

    Though she frequents many of the spots around town for her in-person interviews, she has a go-to drink at Metto: “Their spicy ginger latte. It’s divine!” 

    As someone who lives on James Island, I don’t venture over to Mt. Pleasant very often, but I decided to make the trek to Metto in the name of research and was pleasantly surprised. They may have served up the best latte of all of the places I tried, striking just the right balance of ingredients rather than leaving you feeling like you were sipping on a warm bowl of milk (which was, unfortunately, my experience at some of the places I visited). 

    Highfalutin Coffee Roasters

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    With locations in James Island and West Ashley, Highfalutin is a convenient coffee spot for those on either side of the Ashley River. Both storefronts have outdoor seating, allowing customers to enjoy their beverage of choice in the sunshine.

    Charleston-based rapper and poet Kaizër, who visits coffee shops to unwind, named Highfalutin’s West-Ashley location as his favorite spot when he’s looking for quality customer service, as well as  “a good selection of coffees to choose from, and a quality brew.”

    “It’s such a nice, low-key spot but every time I’ve gone it’s been a pleasure, and I always do a caramel macchiato. It never does me wrong,” he said. 

    While the patio was too crowded for me to enjoy some fresh air when I visited the West Ashley Highfalutin location, I was delighted by the vegan chocolate chip pumpkin muffin that I paired with my drink.

    The Harbinger Cafe and Bakery

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    This upper-King Street spot (sister shop of The Harken Cafe on Queen Street) is known for their welcomingly home-like atmosphere and homemade food. The shop serves a rotating selection of salads and sandwiches and a pastry case full of fresh-baked cakes and bars.

    Bippy Pierce, event specialist for hemp company Carolina Dream, also prefers to schedule her meetings at coffee shops. She heads to The Harbinger for the quality of their speciality drinks. “My go-to order is a matcha latte and on the side a double shot of espresso,” she said. 

    To Pierce, the tiny details also matter: “I love a good mug. The handle should fit all of my fingers, and the mug itself should have a pleasing texture.” 

    “[The Harbinger] make[s] all of their syrups and flavors in house. Some of their lattes come with cookies. I got a pumpkin spice latte (it’s the season for it). It comes with a pumpkin shaped cookie! Which isn’t even my favorite part,” she said. “Their take on a pumpkin spice latte doesn’t taste like a candle, they actually have bits of ginger and cinnamon you see that is left over in the bottom of the mug.”

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    The Harbinger as a “Third Place”

    Paul Chelmis, a creative freelancer (and member of band Human Resources), got philosophical when tasked with explaining why the coffee shop experience matters.

    “There’s this concept of the ‘Third Place,’” he said. “When you break down our social habitats, you have two main ones – your own home, which is the first place, and then there’s your place of work, the second place. So it’s been shown that a third place of habitat is important for a fulfilling lifestyle and strong mental health,” he said. “An external establishment where you can frequent and feel a sense of community.”

    For him, The Harbinger is a frequent third-place setting. “It feels small and personal, has a variety of seating types to accommodate my current mood and nature of the hang, some tasty treats, and is blocks from the crib. It’s far from reasonably priced, but nowhere on the peninsula is,” he said. 

    He’s also a fan of their fare. “I’ll fire in there to smash a $4 coconut water and, if I’m early enough, one of their amazingly rich biscuits, which I slowly pick at during conversations until I realize I’ve eaten it all and feel a bit sick. Sometimes I think about those biscuits when I’m on stage,” said Chelmis. 

    “The icing on Harbinger’s gluten-free cake though, is the staff. There’s something about the warm, flickering smile spread onto each lovely barista, baker, and server that says ‘Welcome. I’d like to kill you when I finish this shift.’ That juxtaposition of emotions inspires me to no end,” he said.

    I have a sweet tooth and a soft spot for fall, and The Harbinger caters lovingly to these two traits. After hearing of their aforementioned take on the pumpkin spice latte, I tried it myself.

    For maximum autumnal joy, I paired it with their spice cake and was pleasantly fueled by sugar for the rest of my day. I also love that they have plenty of gluten-free and vegan options, something that is surprisingly hard to come by at many shops.

    Mercantile and Mash

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    Multifaceted East Bay Street establishment Mercantile and Mash offers a cafe space that serves up coffee, baked goods, and gourmet food, with plenty of seating and access to wifi.

    For Avery Andrews, who studies at a coffee shop four or five days a week, it meets his focus needs, which require “a good space with lots of room, and quiet enough to keep concentration, but not too quiet to where it is awkward,” and “enough people that I don’t feel like a burden to the employees, but not too many to where it is cramped.”

    “It has plenty of room so I don’t feel bad taking up space for a few hours if need be, it is quiet enough and I am free from distraction,” said Andrews. 

    I drank coffee at Mercantile and Mash while finishing up this story and also found it to be a very solid spot for both coffee and concentration.

    Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    Kudu on Vanderhorst Street has plenty of seating and is a study spot for many a college student, meaning busting out a laptop and notebook is not unexpected or frowned upon (although, they don’t have wifi).

    There’s also a spacious courtyard with a babbling fountain where you can enjoy some sunshine while you fire off emails.

    “I love Kudu for the courtyard and overall vibes,” said Oyer.

    I hadn’t stopped into Kudu for many years before writing this story, but I’m glad that we’ve become reacquainted. The outdoor courtyard is so pleasant, and the overall atmosphere so spacious and unassuming, that it might be my new go-to writing spot.

    Babas

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    Babas is a European-style all-day café that has been a local favorite since the moment they opened their first location on Cannon Street. In addition to the original, they’ve also set up shop on Meeting Street. Both locations serve cafe snacks and small bites with high-quality local ingredients, from bakery items like cream puffs and banana bread to caviar sandwiches, fancy deviled eggs and artfully simple salads. 

    Perez, overall, turns to coffee shops for a sense of community, appreciating the atmosphere at the Meeting Street Babas location. “It’s nice to feel at home somewhere that isn’t home. You can work, you can take a break, either way it’s a place right in between that you can sink into comfortably,” she said.

    “It’s kind of like going to Trader Joes- you don’t exactly ‘need’ the groceries you’re going in to get, but you do crave the warmth and familiarity of the friendly faces and routine.”

    “I swear I’ve never had a better piece of banana bread in my life,” she continued. “My go-to coffee order flip flops between cold brew and drip coffee, nothing added to either. If I’m having a “treat yourself” day, I’ll get an oat milk cortado,” she said. “Another reason why I love Babas, they won’t judge me if I get a cortado and an orange spritz.”

    For Andrews, when he’s not studying, he also heads to Babas. “Anytime I go to either of their locations it feels lively. I see plenty of people I know and when I don’t I see a lot of the Charleston characters that are about town,” he said. 

    I have to jump on the bandwagon here. Though it isn’t cheap, the coffee and food at both Babas locations has never let me down. The simplicity of many of the options, like the ham and butter baguette or the pound cake, allows the quality of the ingredients to take center stage.

    Brown’s Court Bakery

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    Brown’s Court Bakery on St. Phillip’s street serves up fresh, homemade baked goods alongside their coffee. It also has extra seating upstairs that feels cozy and tucked-away, as well as a sun-dappled porch.

    The spot earned a mention from Oyer, who named it among her favorites for “the upstairs space and delicious pastries to pair with a coffee.”

    I agree that Brown’s Court feels like a good place to set up shop if you want to have a secret meeting of the minds and keep it under wraps. (The opposite of the Babas effect, perhaps?)

    Idle Hands Coffee House

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    This new spot, Idle Hands, on Warren Street in downtown Charleston is an offshoot of Indian restaurant Coterie, taking over the verdant, plant-covered courtyard. The lush setting is certainly one of the most aesthetically-pleasing outdoor spots to while away a morning or settle in with a book in the afternoon.

    Muddy Waters Coffee Bar

    Photo by Kate Bryan.

    Maybe I’m biased because I can roll out of bed and be there in a three minute walk, but Muddy Waters on James Island is a gem. There’s a limited amount of seating, but it’s a spot that makes you feel like you are a part of the community without too many trendy frills that feel social media-driven. I’ve never had a bad cup, and it’s always served with a kind word. 


    This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the best coffee spots in Charleston – we barely moved off of the peninsula. This is simply a rundown on some of the most-frequented spots by some of the most coffee-loving freelancers, musicians, writers, and wine nerds in our network. 

    As always, if you have details on a new or overlooked place we should check out, feel free to send us a message.

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