Food & Drink

Coffee houses in DFW: a delicious grind

General manager Peter Gilliland grinds beans at Avoca Coffee in Fort Worth.
General manager Peter Gilliland grinds beans at Avoca Coffee in Fort Worth.

Coffee isn’t just great for starting your day with a caffeinated kick — it might also save your life.

That’s if recent reports are to be believed that coffee, consumed in regular, moderate amounts, can significantly reduce the likelihood of dying from a variety of illnesses, “from heart disease to diabetes,” as NBC News reported last month.

Not that we needed any encouragement to drink more coffee — the steaming hot stuff fairly courses through our veins, and it’s never been a better time to be a coffee fiend in North Texas than right now, with new, artisanal coffee shops springing up seemingly every week.

So, with the weather getting colder, this is the perfect time to help you figure out where you should sip your next Americano. We rounded up some of our frothy favorites in Fort Worth and Dallas.

Avoca Coffee Roasters, Fort Worth

Brewing history: Garold LaRue III and Jimmy Story, friends since childhood, opened this Magnolia Avenue shop in 2011, around the time the Magnolia restaurant scene was starting to take off.

It’s about as coffee as Fort Worth coffeeshops get — although Avoca sells some goods from local bakeries, the emphasis here is on coffee more than it is, say, at coffee/beer/restaurant place Brewed, just down the street. Roasting is done on site, and many DFW coffeehouses (including Brewed) use Avoca’s roasts. A second location is due to open during the next few weeks on Foch Street in Fort Worth, and just as we were wrapping up this story, CultureMap Dallas reported that Avoca has expanded to the east and taken over the coffee operation in the lobby of St. Paul Place in downtown Dallas

“I’ve been in coffee for quite a long time,” LaRue says. “I’ve worked in coffee all over DFW, from Four-Star Coffee in Fort Worth in the late ’90s to Jupiter House up in Denton.

“I’ve been around, I’ve been to Alaska [where he was a barista]. Jimmy was working for Jamba Juice and got laid off, and we just kind of came up with this great idea.”

A cup of inspiration: “I come from a coffee family,” LaRue says. “My family has been in coffee for a really long time.”

Learning the grind: “A lot of it is learning what the customers like,” LaRue says. “As long as what you want to provide means what the customers are enjoying. You have to listen to them while sticking to your guns. You don’t have to provide everything to them, but you still have to listen. As small as we are, we can do trial and error, and we’re pretty nimble.

“On our wholesale side, we can work specifically for our customers, because we are small. So if you want something specific, we can do that for you.”

Tasting notes: LaRue is an advocate of getting people to drink their coffee black.

“Try the coffee before you add something to it,” he says. “As we get better with our profiles and our techniques and our extraction, the taste gets better. So instead of having to cover it up, we’re able to taste what’s being presented.

“We have customers that will try it first, or will move away from adding cream or sugar, and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, that’s actually different. That’s actually better.’ 

Offbeat tastes: On the other end of the spectrum from straight black coffee, Avoca offers something called a Charlie Sheen — espresso mixed with cane-sugar Coca-Cola, for a sweetened, carbonated drink in which the coffee flavor still stands out. We noted a lot of people ordering it, and yes, it will give you a caffeine buzz.

1311 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 682-233-0957,


Brewed, Fort Worth

Brewing history: Opened in 2012, Brewed expanded on the coffeehouse definition to also include other brews — namely, craft beers — as well as a full restaurant menu.

“We wanted to figure out a way to bring ‘community’ to Fort Worth in a unique way,” says co-owner Joey Turner, who is also Brewed’s marketing/community director. “We started dreaming about the old public houses, bringing the working class and white-collar together, so that after a hard day’s work you could come together regardless of your standard of living.”

As varied as Brewed is, Turner says that coffee is the common denominator.

“That was the base behind why we started dreaming of a place like Brewed,” he says. “And why we wanted it to feel more like a house, or a home. [Comfy furniture is a Brewed trademark.] We wanted it to feel familiar, and we wanted whatever we were going to do to incorporate the heart, the hands and the head.

“Hand-crafted coffee is the cornerstone of that.”

A cup of inspiration: “A lot of people look at the Starbucks story, and in the craft world it’s sometimes frowned upon,” Turner says. “But it’s for sure the inspiration for us. I read [Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz’s book Pour Your Heart Into It probably in 2003, and that was kind of the foundation of falling in love with the concept of a ‘third space.’

“For sure, back in ’93, going back into my first Starbucks kind of changed the way that I intermingle with people over a cup of coffee.”

But there are two sides to that: In the early ’90s, there were several small independent coffee shops in DFW— but when Starbucks began moving into the market in the mid-’90s (the first free-standing Fort Worth store opened in late ’95), those smaller shops began to struggle. Brewed took a lesson from that.

“We realized that if we’re just going to serve coffee, we didn’t think we’d be able to survive,” Turner says. “That’s why we serve coffee and craft beer and have a full kitchen.” (Oddfellows, a restaurant/coffee bar in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District, also served as an inspiration.)

Learning the grind: “We wanted to come out of the chute learning third-wave coffee the right way,” Turner says. “Our main trainer was Cuvee Coffee in Austin. We took our team out for a two- or three-day training. … When we opened, we were ready to do things the right way. And Garold from Avoca helped us out.”

Turner says that Brewed caught the craft-beer wave at the right time, and that he saw a lot of collaboration among North Texas brewers. But there was almost none in the coffee world. Brewed is trying to change that.

“People were frustrated right off the bat when they knew our concept: ‘Why would you open another coffee shop a few blocks away from Avoca?’ ” Turner says. “Our response was, ‘We’re going to highlight them. We’re going to use their beans in our coffees.’ We also want to highlight a few other [roasters].”

Tasting notes: Turner says his personal coffee preference is the clever pot, aka the clever coffee dripper. According to a New York Times coffee glossary, it’s a “filter cone with a stopper that lets the coffee steep before dripping, extracting more flavor.” “It’s similar to a pour-over,” Turner says. “It’s almost like one of those single-pot immersion tea deals, where you put it over your mug, and after four minutes, it just drains out.”

Offbeat tastes: Although cold-brewed coffee isn’t all that unusual, Brewed does pour its cold brew from a tap, much like you’d pour a draft beer. In fact, the cold brew takes on a lighter hue toward the top of the glass, giving it the appearance of a black-and-tan. Turner says that Brewed’s pumpkin-spice latte is also very popular during the fall and winter months.

801 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-945-1545, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m.-midnight Friday, 9 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.

Buon Giorno Coffee Co., Grapevine and Fort Worth

Brewing history: The Grapevine location, opened in late 2006, is one of the longest-running coffeehouses in Tarrant (the Fort Worth one opened on the outskirts of downtown a few years later). Buon Giorno roasts its own beans at a roasterie in Haltom City. But the story goes deeper.

“When I was 18, I hitchhiked across Europe with a friend and landed in Italy, where I experienced espresso for the first time and fell in love with the rich, strong flavor,” co-founder and owner David Clarke says in an email. “For the next 35 years I became known as the coffee nerd in my attempts to replicate this early experience in my own home and after several espresso machines and sampling coffee from all manner of different sources I began to roast my own coffee at home.”

A cup of inspiration: “I had a real desire to see somewhere that could offer an opportunity for community, which I saw as sadly lacking in our sprawling urban jungle,” Clarke says.

“The old European coffee houses were a hub for this kind of community where people of all walks of life mingled and shared their lives, religious views, political movements and just enjoyed the coffee and company.”

Learning the grind: “To be honest this has been a 40-year experiment that involves trial and error on a daily basis,” he says. “ I am always concerned with doing the best we can and am never quite satisfied with the results — I make adjustments to the roasting profiles (every coffee has an individual roasting profile) and will introduce those changes for specific coffees if I feel like we can improve the final result.”

Buon Giorno has also made equipment upgrades, including a new lever espresso machine from the U.K. in 2013, and programmable brewing machines for large-volume drip coffee that help simulate the “pour-over” method.

Tasting notes: “My favorite drink is an espresso macchiato, which has nothing to do with the rather poorly named drink from a large chain with caramel — but is the traditional Italian one shot of espresso and an equal shot of steamed milk,” Clarke says.

Clarke says that his favorite coffee is a Geisha varietal coffee from Panama called La Mula that is grown by a friend who won the national Geisha competition in Panama last year.

“I was selling a 12-ounce bag of this coffee for $75 this year, and it is the most exquisite and complex flavored coffee I have ever had,” he says.

Offbeat tastes: “We do an unusual concoction served in a shot glass that is called the BG Trio — it consists of three layers that are all separate: syrup, milk and espresso,” Clarke says. “This is drunk very much like a shot of alcohol in one go, to give the overall effect of three flavors in one.”

2350 Hall-Johnson Road, Grapevine, 817-421-7300; 915 Florence St., Fort Worth, 817-698-9998;

Craftwork Coffee Co., Fort Worth

Brewing history: Fort Worth’s newest coffee shop isn’t open yet — the owners expect to have a grand opening Jan. 2, and hope to be serving coffee earlier than that.

The “work” part of the Craftwork name is key.

“It’s a coffeeshop and community-oriented workspace,” says co-founder Riley Kiltz, a TCU grad. “Thirty percent of our space is a coffeeshop that’s open to the general public, and 70 percent of our space is a workspace that’s members only and allows people to have an office in a community-oriented environment.”

A cup of inspiration: Kiltz and his partner, Collin Sansom, worked out the concept from their own experience. Kiltz has spent the past few years working in private equity, traveling around the world as a consultant, working on South American real-estate assets and doing a lot of working remotely.

“All the workspace options out there kinda sucked,” Kiltz says. “I wanted to find a solution to it.”

Sansom worked as a barista trainer at Austin’s Thunderbird Coffee, and is leading the coffee side of things.

Kiltz also says that Starbucks helped lay the foundation for a coffee culture that seems to be taking hold in DFW.

“A lot of people bash Starbucks,” he says, “but we would not be here without what they did in establishing this as the norm for Americans.”

Learning the grind: Kiltz, who got an education about coffee, says it can be tough to find a starting point for customers, since there are so many coffee varietals and points of origin.

“Do you throw them something with subtle tasting notes?” Kiltz ponders. “Some people might drink coffee that has a black-tea note to it and say, ‘I hate that. I’m not gonna touch that.’

“Or it might be really earthy. It’s like, ‘Where is this mark where people can start to explore?’ ... You can’t start the average consumer at something that’s completely off the map.”

Tasting notes: The primary roaster for Craftwork is Tweed, a Dallas-based roaster, along with Arkansas-based Onyx Coffee Lab, Michigan-based Madcap Coffee and Washington-based Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.

“Some of my favorite coffees are Kenyan coffees,” Kiltz says. “There was a Kenyan [called Kathakwa] that Madcap did that I was really impressed with. It’s very close to a full-bodied wine. That’s what that coffee tastes like.”

Offbeat tastes: “We’re all about simplicity,” Kiltz says. “You’ll definitely see seasonal craft drinks come in, some type of spiced latte or something like that.

“But more than likely, the most dynamic things that we’ll offer are the single-origin espressos that we’ll rotate through. Those are going to be the things that people who really love coffee will come in and try.”

The shop will be at 4731 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth.

Mudsmith Coffee, Dallas

Brewing history: Brooke Humphries, the mind behind Beauty Bar and Barcadia, among other beloved DFW institutions, opened Mudsmith Coffee on Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas in January 2013.

A Fort Worth location, reportedly set to open across the street from the Fort Worth Barcadia this fall, as reported by the Dallas Observer and others, has yet to materialize, and attempts to reach Humphries for comment were unsuccessful. Locations are also planned for downtown Dallas and Frisco.

It quickly found favor among the city’s creative class, many of whom use Mudsmith as an ersatz office, getting work done within its tastefully appointed walls.

Cup of inspiration: Humphries told D Magazine last year her motivations for all of her endeavors, including Mudsmith, were simple: “My hustle, which can be good and bad, is risk-taking. But I think I’m different from anybody in Dallas, because I’d do things nobody ever would do.”

Tasting notes: While the atmosphere is a big part of Mudsmith’s success, so, too, are its beverages. There is a range of coffee choices — from Chemex pour-overs to Americanos and cortados — any one of which is guaranteed to be among the best coffee you can sip in North Texas. Mudsmith also offers beer on tap, wine, tea and juices.

Offbeat tastes: The most unusual offering at Mudsmith might be the “Van Gogh Spritzer,” which is four espresso shots mixed with sparkling water, a syrup of your choice and “crunchy” ice in a 16-ounce cup.

2114 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 214-370-9535;

Ascension Coffee, Dallas

Brewing history: Australian expat Russell Hayward brought his prodigious coffee knowledge to bear on Ascension Coffee, which opened in Dallas’ Design District in late 2012. (Hayward was unavailable for comment, despite multiple requests.)

The coffee shop, which prides itself on “high-quality, farmer-focused” coffee, and roastery’s mission statement is summed up thusly on its website: “We are obsessed. We love talking to you about the flavor notes, about the brewing methods, and about the farms we support, but will happily serve you a cup of our finest and leave you to experience it without any pressure, without any pretense. You lead, we will follow. Our journey here is one of love for the bean & love for the people who care for them.”

Cup of inspiration: Beyond serving up satisfying cups of coffee, Ascension also has made it a priority to educate consumers about the drink. Located off-site, Ascension Coffee Roasters is home to a Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)-certified training lab, where those interested can learn about cupping and specific preparations for coffee and espresso drinks.

In addition, coffee equipment like brewers and grinders are sold here, and Ascension Coffee Roasters even offers consultation for those thinking of opening their own shops.

Tasting notes: Much of Ascension’s menu is centered on its flavorful, rich coffees — the cortado, in particular, is a thing of caffeinated beauty — and, like other coffee-centric shops, Ascension also offers a variety of noncoffee items, including wine, brunch and dinner menus.

Offbeat tastes: While it’s not exactly odd, the “long black” might seem unusual to Americans, as it’s more popular in Australia and Asia. This riff on an Americano is a double shot of espresso poured over hot water.

1621 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, 214-741-3211;

Davis Street Espresso, Dallas

Brewing history: This coffee shop, nestled in Dallas’ revitalized Oak Cliff neighborhood, is an extension of the Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters brand, which was itself founded in 2008 by Shannon Neffendorf.

“In March 2008, Jenni (my wife) and I began roasting coffee on a converted gas grill in our back garage in order to bring great coffee to Dallas,” Neffendorf writes on Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters’ website. “Without the convenience of a retail storefront, we began delivering the coffee ‘milkman style’ to our neighbors in Oak Cliff.

“Every other week our customers wake up to a fresh-roasted coffee hanging in a little burlap sack on their doorknob.”

That “retail storefront” eventually materialized in 2013.

Cup of inspiration: Neffendorf might have wanted a retail space for people to find his home-roasted coffee, but the coffee’s quality quickly found its way into more than 50 restaurants and stores across North Texas (you can find Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters products everywhere from Central Market and Whole Foods to Barley & Board in Denton).

Almost a decade after getting started, Oak Cliff Coffee and Davis Street Espresso still offer a tightly focused and highly selective group of coffees.

Tasting notes: This is where Oak Cliff and Davis Street Espresso shines, showcasing blends from South America and Central America — the Dominican Republic peaberry is superb — on a relatively slender menu, and allowing them to be explored with a minimum of fuss (there’s no Wifi at Davis Street!). Pastries and other snacks round out the menu.

Offbeat tastes: Fancy a little blend of hot and cold? Then check out the Van Buren, a cortado chased with a glass of sparkling water.

819 W. Davis St., Dallas, 214-941-0381;