Aren’t coffee towns supposed to be cold and wet? Or populated by broody, moody types? If so, Santa Fe’s coffee scene is downright unnatural. But it’s real, too, thanks to the hard work of a few ambitious entrepreneurs, a handful of steadfast owners, and a bunch of badass baristas. If you’re a local, you might be inclined to take this generous landscape for granted, but I encourage you, local or no, to awaken to the riches here, especially during this alternately stressful and soul-soothing period leading up to the New Year. From pumpkin spice to a straight-laced Americano and whatever else floats your caffeine-fueled boat, here’s a quick take on what’s brewing in the City Different.
The vibe: Anchoring the western arm of Alameda Street around Alto Park and along the river corridor (“the Brooklyn of Santa Fe,” as some call it), one of Santa Feans’ favorite coffee shops sits in an unassuming space inside the Solana Center. In the early days, Betterday’s funk (the good kind) felt bold. Today it’s become arguably the coolest hang around, especially if you measure by haircuts and laptop stickers. Browse Pink Floyd records alongside vintage Wranglers at the brand-extension outpost next door when you’re not taking meetings, and know that Betterday is as great a place to get some work done as it is to meet friends.
The drink: Espresso. When I stopped in on a Tuesday morning, I was staring down a long workday, so I was in a mood for traditional fuel. The rich brew capped with expertly executed crema flooded my psyche with memories of a sunny morning in Madrid, reminding me I need more travel (and great coffee) in my life.
The rest: Betterday is open basically all the time in coffee shop terms: 7 am to 5 pm every day. For a tasty meal or snack to share, try one of their burritos—their homemade tortillas are not to be missed.
Pair it with: Browsing records and a stroll along the River Trail.
The vibe: Java Joe’s isn’t much into origin stories or roast boasting. They’re about an unpretentious place to land, a tasty, fair-trade drink, and some baked offerings. Here customers read real newspapers, bikes hang on the walls, and sunlight pours in through the giant windows. When I stopped by, Gen X nostalgia flooded the space by way of ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” playing on the stereo.
The drink: Mexican Mocha. Deeply chocolatey and deliciously laced with cinnamon, I opted for decaf since I was past my caf quota for the day. I also passed on the option for whipped cream, but you don’t have to.
The rest: Set companionably among body shops and warehouse spaces and around the corner from Meow Wolf, Java Joe’s hand-painted exterior charms, and there’s plenty of parking. I’m partial to this location, but their Rodeo Road spot is open later and on Sundays.
Pair it with: A stop into the Kitchen Angels’ retail shop, Kitchenality, just a few doors down—I’ve gotten some screaming deals on saute pans and other culinary accessories there—or a descent into the refrigerator portal at Meow Wolf.
35° North Coffee
The vibe: On a Friday afternoon in October, the sunny patio at 35° North was almost full. The music was groovy and the barista was sweet and obviously serious about craft, serving up cups to a steady stream of afternoon jolt seekers.
The drink: I was feeling adventurous and a little peckish, too, so I opted for a Latitude Adjustment, which the barista let me know is considered by some to be a meal substitute. A bulletproof coffee, it’s made with butter and MCT oil, a supplement derived from coconut oil. This drink seemed worthy of the name—very rich, the butter and oil well integrated and a full coffee flavor that wasn’t cowed by the other ingredients.
The rest: Located inside the Plaza-adjacent Santa Fe Arcade, 35° North has a more local feel than you’d expect. When I was there, a couple behind me busied themselves calling Craigslist apartment advertisers, while others took work meetings, squinting into their laptops. Another wrote thoughtfully in a journal, and a couple sat in a state of bliss soaking up the sun at a table set against the stucco wall. The spot is open every day until 4:30 pm.
Pair it with: An afternoon museum hopping or a sunny bench on the Plaza.
Ohori’s Coffee Roasters
The vibe: My usual go-to for Ohori’s is the Luna location, where on weekday mornings you’ll often find customers lined up to the door. The baristas are friendly and skilled, and while you wait, you can browse various coffee accoutrements, from RBG mugs to high-end French presses. This time, though, I switched it up, checking in to the Pen Road location, tucked behind the southwest corner of Cerrillos and St Francis.
The drink: OK, it’s a little unorthodox for a coffee shop tour, but here I went for a tea. I asked for black, and the barista immediately recommended the Russian Caravan. The smoky blend was just right for a late-afternoon perk-up.
The rest: A fridge stocked with Mata G salads and Tesuque Village Market burritos makes snacking unfussy but quality, and I took note of the café’s retail offerings, perfect for picking up holiday and host gifts while grabbing a latte. I took home a pound of their French roast, which my husband lifted to his nose, breathing the aroma of his favorite locally roasted coffee straight from the bag.
Pair it with: Holiday shopping or quality time with a good book in one of their cozy cubby-style booths.
The vibe: Like Betterday’s older and better-heeled cousin, this longtime neighborhood go-to is where locals meet to catch up and relax with a latte or a slice of quiche. At Downtown Subscription, you’re likely to find a cluster of retirees outside with their dogs alongside a family from out of town sipping and noshing before setting out to sightsee. On a recent chilly weekday morning, the line stretched to the door and the generous patio sat nearly empty. Soon, though, the sun would do its work, inviting customers to slip out the french doors and cluster among the tall grasses that decorate the generous space.
The drink: Macchiato. Don’t expect to find seasonal drinks and fancy lattes here. The customers may be chill, but the baristas are all business. My drink was strong and smooth, with a generous dollop of foam.
The rest: This place’s welcoming vibe extends to canine customers. On my visit, a fluffy white pooch struggled to keep her cool as her owner waited to order. The parking lot seems to work for people, but you’ll be sorry if you try to pull your Sprinter van in here.
Pair it with: Browsing the tables of new fiction releases at Garcia Street Books next door.
The vibe: The trifecta of CrashMurderBusiness, Chocolate + Cashmere, and local jeweler Cynthia Jones makes this place a destination in itself. The cozy café space is replete with comfy grandpa chairs, new age books, and, in a gesture that kind of says it all, groovy tunes coming from a shiny vintage boom box.
The drink: Snuggle of Sloths. If you’re thinking that’s not a drink name, you obviously haven’t been to CMB. The Snuggle is a divine beverage that defies explanation, a “coffee alternative” made with dandelion and chicory root as well as barley and rye, evidence that anything’s possible if you just believe.
The rest: It was inevitable that some creative beings would come along and morph this dreamy little midcentury gem of a building into a fun business, and CMB, along with its roommates, exceeds expectations. My drink was one of the best I’ve had in the city. In short: go.
Pair with: Chocolate samples and jewelry browsing at the other shops in the building. Or just take a seat and breathe.
The vibe: Iconik’s newest location is a spacious and central spot where not long ago I only visited when the air light went on in my car. (It’s in the former location of Discount Tire, which now occupies the larger building next door.) With wraparound windows facing north and east, the Santa Fe coffee chain has once again brought a distinct feel to an overlooked space while offering the same serious, well-crafted coffees.
The drink: Gibraltar a.k.a. cortado. Here the drink is identified not by the traditional Spanish name for a 1:1 ratio of steamed milk to espresso but by the type of glass it’s often served in. (Blame the popularity of Blue Bottle Coffee, which first popularized the Gibraltar moniker.) My expectations were high, and it delivered: warm in color, silky on the tongue, and just the right temperature.
The rest: Iconik (arguably) put Santa Fe on the coffee map when three coffee nerds opened the first location at Lena Street ten years ago. The place changed hands a couple of years later, but its staying power has helped make Lena Street a trendy spot for small businesses looking to establish themselves without going bankrupt from downtown rents. From there, Iconik took over the old Catholic school on Guadalupe, edging into the downtown scene. Iconik Red is their third location.
Pair it with: Depending on the location you choose, Iconik’s brews go with everything from tarot readings to tire rotations.
Also of Note
Baked & Brew
With a drive-thru window and a convenient location on Cerrillos Road, the newest addition to the city’s coffee scene, Baked & Brew, is establishing itself as a fresh and fun spot for weekday morning drinks and more. Oh, and the pastries dazzle. A steady flow of customers stopped in when I visited. The kitchen was busy, and oldies played on the radio, infusing the vintage building with a fittingly retro vibe. Their oat milk flat white swept me off my feet.
The Mud Hut
When indecision struck at The Mud Hut, my request for a recommendation came back to me. “Depends on what you’re in the mood for,” the barista offered. So true. The chalkboard tempted me with a Maple Butter Latte, and I went for it. The Mud Hut occupies the tiny light-filled spot across from the library along the vibrant food hub that is Marcy Street, and in addition to coffee drinks, they offer burritos from Posa’s, including a vegan option with avocado. Sipping my drink at one of the shop’s two sidewalk tables, memories surfaced of my New England childhood, reminding me that maple sugar is less about the sweetness than the subtle, warm flavor.
Wolf and Mermaid Enchanted Roasters
Adjacent to El Gancho Fitness, Swim & Racquet Club, Wolf and Mermaid makes a strong argument for real coffee culture along the sleepy Old Las Vegas Highway corridor. My cortado was expertly crafted, giving me high hopes for the future of this relatively new venture. Their Los Alamos shop opened in October, and rumor was (maybe still is?) that they’re eyeing a downtown Santa Fe space. Pair it with a workout or swim at El Gancho.
Sky Coffee Co.
Sky Coffee offers a cozy meeting space and warm patio that puts you in the middle of things now that the Railyard is shaping up as a true destination. It’s as good a primer for a drink at As Above, So Below as for a movie at Violet Crown, and offers an alternative to the (also noteworthy) Farmers’ Market coffee bar, Cafe Fresh. If you like pretty, spotless spaces, you’ll find this little joint pleasing. Don’t miss their mocha, which they make with Kakawa chocolate.
Susanna Space’s essays have appeared at Guernica, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, and many other literary outlets. She is an associate editor with edible New Mexico and The Bite.