Alaska Visitors Guide

Coffee culture, Anchorage style

Even the hardiest Alaskans need a coping mechanism or two to help us through the long winter: sun lamps, blackout curtains, aromatherapy. You name it, we’ve probably tried it. And, sure, long walks and Vitamin D are great, but have you tried coffee? One thing many Alaskans rely on is year-round coffee therapy.

A hot, frothy cappuccino, sipped in a cozy café, can be the perfect cure for the low-winter-sun blues. Or, skip the trudge through a snowy parking lot and pick up a hot brew from one of Anchorage’s many drive-thru coffee carts. Sip smugly in your warm car.

Caffeinated pick-me-ups are no less valuable in summer when Alaskans are burning the candle at both ends. After all, if the sun never goes down, is it ever really bedtime?

Which is why Alaska’s coffee roasters are household names to the locals. There’s Kaladi Brothers, which grew from a lone espresso cart in 1984 to a burgeoning business with 16 stores around the state (and one in Seattle). There is SteamDot Coffee Co., whose Midtown café features a “slow bar” with a rotating menu of origin coffees, where your coffee is ground and brewed fresh to order. And then there’s Black Cup Coffee — they serve a full menu of espresso drinks but their motto, as their name implies, is: “Extraordinary coffee best served black.” Undecided? Head over to Sip Coffee Lounge where you can order a coffee flight of coffees featuring both Kaladi Brothers and Black Cup brews.

It’s a friendly battle of the beans. Everyone has their favorite, but each of these coffee purveyors enjoys a well-earned popularity.

But coffee can be as much about café culture as it is about beans. A good coffee house is part community center, part extended office, part mental day spa and part art gallery. It’s a great way to learn about someplace new. And in Anchorage, café culture is thriving.

Kaladi Brothers Café at the Performing Arts Center (621 W. Sixth Ave.) in downtown is a bustling space and a convenient spot to grab a cup of stamina while in the midst of souvenir shopping or on the way to see a show. Another cozy spot is Moose A’La Mode, featuring expertly made coffee drinks served alongside some of the best baked goods in town. Try the most delicious cupcakes in town with inventive flavors like s’mores, blueberry lemonade, and cinnamon toast crunch. Another spot that specializes in sweet treats and brew is Gelatte (with a downtown location and one in the Dimond Center Mall) where, as the name suggests, you can warm up with a specialty drink or cool down with house made ice cream. Or you can thread both needles and order an affogato, if you want a grown-up sip that pleases your inner child. Another local favorite is Dark Horse Coffee (646 F St.), a cozy, slightly out-of-the-way spot with a reputation for great coffee drinks (which they source from Heritage Coffee in Juneau) and avocado toast. Bonus points for their inviting little porch, where you can sit and sip on sunny days.

If you require an American breakfast alongside your Americano, Kaladi Brothers coffee (including their own snow city espresso blend) is served up at the friendly Snow City Café (1034 W. Fourth Ave.). A favorite with locals, this funky, vibrant spot features rotating local art, an impressive variety of eggs Benedict and expertly crafted espresso drinks. I’m particularly partial to their use of tall, sleeved pint glasses to serve large-sized lattes and mochas. Hot drinks taste better served this way. It’s just science.

Originale, the authentic, downtown Italian deli serves a variety of traditional specialty Italian coffee drinks. And if you can resist their incredible sandwiches stuffed with imported Italian salumi, like my favorite, the “Don Quixote” with ham, homemade garlic mousse, and manchego cheese, then I bow to your superior will power.

That Feeling Co. is an eclectic houseplant, gift, and coffee shop with excellent coffee and the added bonus of good neighbors (Johnny’s Produce in Midtown and Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop downtown) because if you pick up some carrots and a baguette along with your mocha, you’ve been “doing errands” and not just being self-indulgent.

In Spenard, the Writer’s Block, a cozy book shop with an excellent café featuring local coffee, adult beverages, and an eclectic food menu (I’m partial to the curry-dusted pelmeni) is making excellent coffee drinks and offers a menu of eclectic events like open mic’s, poetry readings, book launches, and even the occasional Japanese sake tasting. Downtown, hit up AK Alchemist (103 E. Fourth Ave.), which describes itself as the perfect mix of “Alaskan culture, urban city swank, and steam punk artistry” all wrapped up into one coffee house.

On the other end of the ambiance spectrum is Kobuk Coffee (corner of Fifth Avenue and E Street). By Town Square, in the historic Kimball Building (1915), this charming little gift shop retains some of its original fixtures and flooring. In a store packed full of unnecessary necessities (old-timey candy, scented candles and teacups), you’ll be hard-pressed to make it to the coffee room without doing some impromptu browsing (and, if you’re like me, buying). Kobuk offers a whole range of espresso drinks and a wide variety of teas but, whichever you choose, make sure you get house-made doughnuts to keep it company. What kind of doughnuts, you ask? Like everything else in the store: old-fashioned.

Husband-and-wife owners George Gee and Deborah Seaton have been running Side Street Espresso (412 G St.) for 25 years and it has evolved from a café into a neighborhood institution. In contrast to the gleaming fixtures of trendier, newer cafés in town, Side Street Espresso is like a living scrapbook commemorating 2 1/2 decades of serving the Anchorage community. The cozy space is filled with curios, a Buddhist shrine, a lending library, a rack of local postcards, board games and layers of notices about local events. Espresso drinks are expertly made and soups, quiche, and fantastic biscuits and gravy, feed the appetite and the soul. George and Deb treat everyone like an old friend. But my favorite thing about Side Street Espresso is the art.

George has been creating an original piece of art on white “specials” board almost every day for 20 years. Inspired by his morning thoughts on his walk to work, Monday’s board might announce a vanilla hazelnut cinnamon latte atop a portrait of Shaquille O’Neal. Or Georgia O’Keefe might share space with the price-point for a salted caramel mocha. George used to erase these daily (with a Zen-like attitude that I cannot fathom) but local public outcry inspired him to begin to preserve them. They’ve now been assembled into a book of collected works called “Flutters from Side Street.”

It’s a reminder that a cup of coffee can invigorate, but a café can inspire.

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