Salty air typically greets early morning visitors to Charleston. But get within sight of a local coffee shop and the savory smell of fresh brewed coffee permeates the air. With all the history, shopping, dining, and scenic beauty my favorite way to start the day is with a local coffee.
There was a time before I drank coffee, but I don’t really remember that much about it. I now start each day with a coffee before I even greet the public. But once I’m out, I’m out to explore.
Here is my coffee lover’s guide to my favorite coffee shops in Charleston, South Carolina. This list is in no particular order. But if a coffee shop is on this list it is because I enjoyed the atmosphere, service, and quality of the coffee.
Mercantile and Mash
Merc and Mash, as they locals call it, is more than just a great place to grab a gourmet coffee. They also have a retail shop selling coffee beans, wine, baked goods, and cookware. They have a full menu with all-day breakfast items, burgers and tacos, and salads. The coffee menu includes espresso, drip and ice coffee, and interestingly they make their own flavored syrups!
Mercantile and Mash offers one amenity that is a rarity for coffee shops in Charleston: free parking. Located inside the recently renovated Cigar Factory along East Bay Street it’s about a five-minute drive from downtown.
Mercantile and Mash 701 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC | 843-793-2636 | http://www.mercandmash.com
Inside Tip Do you have a lot of pent-up energy to burn off? Mercantile and Mash is located near the beginning of Wonders Way, a pedestrian path that crosses the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge into Mount Pleasant. About two miles along the path is a gorgeous scenic overlook hundreds of feet above the Cooper River.
Fresh baked bread hang on a wall behind the counter at this modern coffee shop and sister to Butcher & Bee. Food is cooked in an open kitchen with comfortable seating surrounding on all sides. The gourmet coffee includes Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a company based in Portland. Drip coffee is a starter but they also have a pretty good selection of espresso drinks, fresh juice, and wine.
The Daily is located in an interesting location right in the middle of the Septima Clark Parkway, also called the Crosstown Boulevard, on King Street. It takes about five minutes to drive there from downtown or, even better, it’s the first place you could visit after exiting Interstate 26 on the peninsula.
The Daily 652 B King Street, Charleston, SC | 843-619-0151 | https://shopthedaily.com
Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
Kudu is just about my favorite place to visit on the entire Charleston peninsula; it’s the only coffee shop in town where I can get a great latte and craft beer in the same place! They can make coffee almost any way you like it from espresso to macchiato, including my favorite mocha latte they fill to the brim of the glass mug every time. You can also grab an iced coffee, bottled drink, bagels, muffins, and sandwiches. Sit inside at one of the small tables beside the picture windows, or head outside to the reclusive dog-friendly patio.
Another reason Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer is one of my favorites in Charleston is how easy it is to get to. It’s located just off King Street a block from Marion Square, putting it right in the middle of downtown (and near my favorite area of Upper King Street). If you’re driving into the city park at the Marion Square Garage just around the corner.
Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer 4 Vanderhorst Street, Charleston, SC | http://www.kuducoffeeandcraftbeer.com
Inside Tip Upper King Street between Marion Square and Spring Street is the up-and-coming area of Charleston to explore. Local restaurants, shopping, and history just await your arrival. Take a coffee from Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer to go and enjoy the walk.
The Rise Coffee Bar
The owners of The Rise Coffee Bar call coffee and tea “sippable staples of civilized life.” They use fresh beans from Springbok Coffee Roasters of Brooklyn. The menu includes drip coffee, espresso, latte, and cold brew along with a small selection of tea and food.
Located inside The Restoration Boutique Hotel, The Rise Coffee Bar is pretty easy to get to just off King Street on Wentworth Street. The Wentworth Street Garage is conveniently located next door.
The Rise Coffee Bar 77 Wentworth Street, Charleston, SC | 843-518-5117 | https://www.facebook.com/TheRiseCoffeeBar/
City Lights Coffee
This whole-in-the-wall locally owned coffee shop is the perfect place to grab some caffeine without the large crowds. They’re a little out of the way about halfway between the Charleston City Market and King Street, which only makes them a gem waiting to be discovered.
They have a pretty robust menu of coffee but I’m particularly fond of the Counter Culture beans they use for their brews. The lattes, made with Counter Culture’s Big Trouble, was a wonderful pick-me-up on a lazy afternoon. There are a couple of bench seats, a single table, and a few seats at the bar to take the load off your feet while you sip the coffee.
City Lights Coffee 141 North Market Street, Charleston, SC | 843-853-7067 | https://www.facebook.com/citylightscoffee/
Second State Coffee
Second State Coffee is my favorite coffee shop in Charleston for getting work done. The large windows and light-colored walls create a bright and energized workspace. A long wooden table with bench seating in the middle could be a great place for a working coffee break!
Their coffee menu is pretty simple: espresso, pour over, iced. But they are very particular about where they get the beans and include information to help you pick the perfect brew. If you’re not sure, ask; the staff was pretty knowledgeable about counter culture.
Getting to Second State Coffee requires a little hike. The nearest parking is the Wentworth Street Garage about three blocks away. But it’s a beautiful walk through the Harleston Village neighborhood.
Second State Coffee 70 ½ Beaufain Street, Charleston, SC | https://secondstatecoffee.com
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee has a fascinating and heart-warming origin story. When Amy Wright’s two youngest children were born with Down Syndrome she became a lifelong advocate for including people with developmental disabilities in society. The core belief behind the Bitty and Beau’s franchise is to create a place for people with those disabilities to find an exciting and useful job.
Starting in Wilmington, NC, the Bitty and Beau’s Coffee location on Church Street in Charleston was their second location. It’s just around the corner from the Charleston City Market and directly beside the Cumberland Street Garage.
The menu includes hot and cold brewed coffee, espresso, frappes, and smoothies. The mocha latte was one of the best I’ve ever had, and I think that’s because of the excited barista who made it for me.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee 159 Church Street, Charleston, SC | 843-609-0455 | https://www.bittyandbeauscoffee.com/
Inside Tip Grab a coffee to go from Bitty and Beau’s Coffee and go for a scenic walk down Church Street. Stop to explore the graves at the St. Phillips Episcopal Church graveyard, admire the wrought iron architecture at the Dock Street Theatre, and go for a tour of the Heyward Washington House.
Brown’s Court Bakery
This locally owned bakery and coffee shop is located inside a renovated Charleston single house. Don’t know what a single house is? It’s an historical home that was one-room wide, two rooms deep, and everything else had to fit in between.
Brown’s Court Bakery is more about the baking side with fresh bread and pastries made daily. The coffee menu is small with limited options of espresso, drip coffee, and ice coffee. They have a few name brand syrups that aren’t all that bad. Grab a cup and head upstairs to enjoy the view with small tables across the room.
Be careful with the parking on St. Phillip Street; most of it is marked residential parking only. The nearest public parking is the Visitor Center Parking Garage at King and Mary Streets a few blocks away.
Brown’s Court Bakery 199 St. Phillip Street, Charleston, SC | 843-724-0833 | http://brownscourt.com
Kaminsky’s Dessert Café
Although pushing the limit of what I consider locally owned, Kaminsky’s Dessert Café is a wonderous amalgamation of coffee, dessert, and alcohol, and not necessarily separately. The café uses King Bean Coffee, a roaster “founded on the simple idea of bringing good coffee to the South.”
The coffee menu includes the standard fare of drip and iced coffee, espresso, and even a Cuban coffee (double shot espresso, sugar in the raw). What makes Kaminsky’s stand out is the expansive dessert menu including milkshakes, floats, and sundaes. Add to that a menu including Irish coffee, key lime pie martinis, and wine by the glass and you have a reason to stay all day.
Kaminsky’s Dessert Café is located on North Market Street beside the Charleston City Market. It’s a great location to take a break from shopping or touring, grab a coffee or dessert, and then continue on your way.
Kaminsky’s Dessert Café 78 North Market Street, Charleston, SC | 843-853-8270 | https://www.kaminskys.com
Pounce Cat Café
It was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of placing adoptable cats in a café with coffee and wine. Pounce Cat Café works with the Charleston Animal Society to provide furry feline companionship while you enjoy your visit to the small shop on Meeting Street.
The coffee selection is bare minimum with only drip coffee and iced coffee options, both from Riptide Coffee Company. The rest of the menu includes sweet tea, craft beer, house wines, and muffins. But really, you know you’ll go there because of the cats.
Located on Meeting Street about a block south of Marion Square, the Pounce Cat Café is smack dab in the middle of three public parking areas. Use the Marion Square Garage, Wentworth Street Garage, or Gaillard Garage.
Pounce Cat Café 283 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC | 843-212-5500 | https://www.pouncecatcafe.com
Inside Tip I highly recommend making a reservation to visit Pounce Cat Cafe. Although not required, because they do accept walk-ins, the cafe limits the number of visitors at any one time to make it safe and comfortable for the cats.
Charleston Coffee Exchange
A trip to Charleston is not complete without a drive into West Ashley to visit the Charleston Coffee Exchange. What started as a simple coffee shop has expanded to include on of the greatest selections of whole beans in the region.
From drip coffee to iced coffee, every kind of espresso, and lots of specialty options, the coffee menu is to die for. But don’t stop there; they also have a selection of sandwiches and baked goods to go with your coffee. Before leaving be sure to browse the retail shop for beans by the pound, custom k-pods, or fresh ground coffee.
The Charleston Coffee Exchange is located at the end of Bees Ferry Road at Ashley River Road. It’s about a 15 minute drive from downtown Charleston. There is plenty of parking on site.
Charleston Coffee Exchange 2875 Ashley River Road, Suite 1, Charleston, SC | 843-571-5875 | https://charlestoncoffeeexchange.com
Inside Tip The Charleston Coffee Exchange sits at the beginning of the 10-mile Ashley River Plantation Corridor. Along that stretch of two-lane road is Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Middleton Place. I recommend a coffee before and after.