At 21st St. Coffee in the Strip. Photo by TH Carlisle

Coffee shops are powerful places. So much so that coffee was banned in Mecca in the 16th century, as coffeehouses were thought to be gathering places for insurrectionists. Though the ban didn’t stick, it’s a testament to the humble coffee shop’s historic status as a community hub: a place to meet, debate, and perhaps even plot.

In modern America, coffee shops play a range of roles in our lives. They provide afternoon energy boosts, makeshift offices for creative types, and tasting rooms for sampling carefully sourced beans. Coffee punctuates our day, and finding the right coffee shop is like pulling on that perfect pair of jeans.

In that spirit, we’ve assembled a list of 10 Pittsburgh coffee shops for every occasion. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to work or a perfectly pulled espresso, the city’s booming coffee scene can deliver.

Tazza D’Oro is the neighborhood stop for coffee and espresso. Note: it’s rarely this quiet. Photo by Erika Gidley
Tazza D’Oro is the neighborhood stop for coffee and espresso. Note: it’s rarely this quiet. Photo by Erika Gidley

For espresso: Tazza D’Oro, Highland Park

Tazza D’Oro means “cup of gold” in Italian. The name fits. Every cup I’ve had at the Highland Park shop has been perfect, thanks to highly skilled baristas and great beans from North Carolina’s Counter Culture roaster. And though Tazza D’Oro is a great stop for everything from herbal tea to frittatas (they recently added a Friday brunch), the shop is where I learned to love espresso. They pull a rich, eye-opening shot, and the knowledgeable staff can tell you all about the ever-changing selections. And every Monday they offer free espresso, letting newbies explore without breaking the bank. In addition to their flagship location, Tazza D’Oro runs a shop at CMU, giving students a much-needed alternative to that crummy cafeteria brew.

Also check out: La Prima Espresso Company, Strip District & Oakland

The Commonplace Coffeehouse in Squirrel Hill

For locally roasted beans: Commonplace Coffee, multiple locations

TJ and Julie Fairchild started Commonplace back in 2003 when they opened a coffeehouse and roastery in Indiana, PA. They have grown quite a bit in the years since, adding several more shops and a Pittsburgh roastery. Through all of that growth, Commonplace has remained focused on sourcing great beans and roasting them with care, operating out of the same Larimer warehouse as East End Brewing. That attention to quality has not gone unnoticed, and many of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants and coffee shops (including several on this list) use Commonplace beans. With lively community-focused shops in Squirrel Hill, Garfield and now the Mexican War Streets, Commonplace Coffee is a force in the Pittsburgh coffee scene.

Also check out: Zeke’s Coffee, East Liberty

Consistently one of the best. Espresso a Mano on Butler St. Photo by TH Carlisle.

For a great atmosphere: Espresso a Mano, Lawrenceville

Espresso a Mano is the Cheers of coffee shops. Despite Lawrenceville’s sometimes-deserved reputation as a haughty hipster hub, the baristas at Espresso a Mano are far from aloof. The friendly staff, guided by owner Matt Gebis, greets regulars by name and creates a space that is equally inviting for work or play. Like Tazza D’Oro, Espresso a Mano sources many of their beans from Counter Culture. They also support local businesses in a variety of ways, from selling pastries made by the Gluten Free Goat to inviting a rotating lineup of food trucks to park in front of the shop. Though Espresso a Mano expanded last year, seating is still tough to come by—a testament to the warm, welcoming vibes that emanate from the Butler Street hangout.

Also check out: Lili Café, Polish Hill

Sarah Walsh at Caffe D’Amore on Butler St. Photo by TH Carlisle
Sarah Walsh at Caffe D’Amore on Butler St. Photo by TH Carlisle

For specialty drinks: Caffe D’Amore, Lawrenceville

Caffe D’Amore has a lot going for it. Sarah Walsh, a top notch barista and a veteran of Pittsburgh’s coffee scene, opened her Upper Lawrenceville shop in the fall of 2015. Walsh, who also offers coffee catering for events, emphasizes sustainability at every turn, brewing with reusable metal filters and offering to-go coffees in Mason jars. And though they do many things well, I can never resist Caffe D’Amore’s specialty lattes, which include inventive options like ancho-mocha and maple. The salted caramel latte (which could be a syrupy sugar bomb in less skilled hands) uses rich milk from Pasture Maid Creamery and homemade caramel from Legume for a grown-up treat.

Also check out: Biddle’s Escape, Regent Square

At 21st St. Coffee in the Strip. Photo by TH Carlisle

For total coffee geekery: 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Strip District & Downtown

Before ever setting foot in 21st Street Coffee and Tea, I knew about the milk. The shop’s decision to not have milk and sugar out on the bar is divisive, to say the least. While some see it as snobby, 21st Street (which has locations in the Strip and Downtown) is all about letting great coffee just be great coffee. The beans come from Chicago roaster Intelligentsia, one of the pioneers of the American coffee renaissance of the 1990s. Those celebrated beans are used for carefully prepared pour overs, Aeropresses (a relatively new method of brewing that uses air pressure to extract flavor), and classic espresso drinks. And though they do have milk and sugar, 21st Street pays so much attention to every cup that you might not even want it.

Also check out: Constellation Coffee, Lawrenceville

Drew Cranisky

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.