7 Places to Get a Delicious Cup of Coffee in Downtown Honolulu
This one’s for the caffeine junkie.
Most downtown workers get their coffee fix somewhere around their offices—like this cup of kona from honolulu coffee. here’s where we got ours.
Photos: Colby Lawton
Long days at the office and responsibilities at home add up. Some people do yoga or jog to reduce fatigue. Most, though, drink copious amounts of coffee. Speaking as genuine addicts—we got through college with a pot in the morning followed by shots of espresso through the day—we understand the need for a quality cup of joe. And there’s really no better place in the country to indulge than Hawaiʻi, since we’re the only state that grows our own in a big way.
“The thing is, everybody’s got great coffee,” says Sylver E, a mid-20s barista-bartender at the Manifest. “It’s all local. The coffee world has really stepped it up.”
As the state’s hotspot for caffeine consumption, Downtown Honolulu offers a wide selection of coffee shops—each with its own unique perks. We’ve put together a list of seven popular places to get coffee downtown—including two new ones—and what we like about them:
Artistic mugs at Kai Coffee, which opened recently on the corner of King and Alakea streets. Get the traditional pour-over of genuine kona coffee.
With a minimalist design and baby-blue walls, the new Kai Coffee location on the corner of King and Alakea streets successfully avoids the trap of overselling an artistic, intellectual vibe. In fact, the art is mostly cresting surf barrels, which blends perfectly with the blue logo and walls. The baristas’ aloha shirts and colorful bowties were unusual, too.
Speaking of blends, Kai Coffee’s baristas sucessfully impressed with their knowledge of various coffee blends and what each variety has to offer. Gimmicks and cute names aside, Kai Coffee offers a traditional pour-over of genuine Kona coffee, as well as another variety from the Big Island’s Kona side.
“Coffee is an art, because taste is so subjective,” says Ariel Sheperd-Hall, a talkative 22-year-old barista, after giving a comprehensive lowdown on the varieties Kai Coffee offers. “It’s like some people love the Mona Lisa. I love Hokusai more,” referring to the 18th-century Japanese artist best known for woodblock wave depictions. Cue the artistic, intellectual vibe—but it’s subtle.
Anyway, about the coffee. Full taste, robust. No wonder 100 percent Kona Coffee is so revered—it was a cup of silky smooth perfection at $5.95. No bitterness whatsoever, and at a great price considering the quality.
The first taste gave us goosebumps, the kind of body rush we’d been looking for in heavier caffeinated blends, but without the shakes.
“I love pour-overs,” says Sheperd-Hall. “The barista gets to choose how the coffee is made—the saturation, the filter, everything. Otherwise, I have no control.”
Biggest perk: Most variety and new to the downtown scene.
207 S. King Street, 537-3415, kaicoffeehawaii.com
You can order the Cubano from Local Joe, which recently opened in Chinatown, with any image you want in the foam.
Local Joe is an unassuming coffee joint in Chinatown just behind O’Toole’s Irish Pub—though it’s not open late enough to help sober up a friend before Uber takes them home.
We asked about the shop’s best cup of coffee and was referred to the Regular Joe, an Americano for $3.15. We decided it wasn’t fair to compare an Americano to true-blue drip coffees, so we went back for a cup of the 100-percent Hawaiian Coffee of the Day ($2.24 for a medium). We’re glad we gave Local Joe a second round. Unbeknownst to us until ordering the Regular Joe, the coffee of the day is locally sourced and roasted daily on-site. The fresh roasting gave the coffee of the day a delicious toasted quality reminiscent of well-done campfire marshmallows.
The location is comfortable—sparse foot traffic made the area relaxing, and the view of Honolulu Harbor from the shop is lovely. Vintage photos of Chinatown on the wall serves as a reminder that we’ve crossed the invisible line on Bethel Street between corporate downtown and cultural Chinatown.
With a large selection of teas, shakes and smoothies, Local Joe focuses on more than coffee. But it was the java that impressed us the most. Although it’s only been open for four months, regulars have already attached themselves to exotic drinks such as the recently-trendy Bulletproof—a black espresso with coconut oil and butter—and a Cubano—a foamy concoction tinged with cinnamon. Charles Asselbaye, the owner of Local Joe, may be the reason people keep coming back. It seems he knows just about everybody who walks through the door, and makes no qualms about introducing himself to those he hasn’t.
Biggest perk: You can print any image onto the foam of your Cubano—just ask the staff.
110 Marin St., 536-7700
This coffee shop, surrounded by banks and law firms, is a pleasant respite from the bustling Downtown scene. Get the Steampunk for a real caffeine boost.
Brue Bar proved to be a delightfully artistic enclave on otherwise corporate Merchant Street. Surrounded by banks, law firms and agri-giant Alexander & Baldwin, Brue Bar hides a treasure trove of eclectic abstract art, personable staff and state-of-the-art brewing methods.
We were instantly drawn to a drink named the Steampunk, which boasts a higher caffeine content. There are three types of Steampunks available ($3.75 for the larger 12-ounce size), and we elected for the Ethiopia Worka, which has hints of wild berries, spiced cider and rose. The process of making a Steampunk involves using futuristic glass cylinders called a Steampunk Mod3 to steam three different blends of beans into one super-coffee, and the finished product was surprisingly mellow, smooth and very fruity. All of Brue Bar’s coffee comes from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, California, so don’t expect to see your favorite local variety at Brue Bar.
The shop is roomy and the staff is welcoming—perfect for meeting for business or tucking away from busy downtown to get some work done. If the shop’s hours ran later, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find the walls lined with pale college students working late into the night on Macbooks. The menu covers the basics of coffee from Verve Coffee Roasters—think Americanos, espresso and machiattos—and has a wide selection of tea, as well as a hot cocoa that uses organic chocolate.
Biggest perk: Ambiance.
119 Merchant St. and 1164 Bishop St., 441-4470, bruebar.com
Local coffee varieties and blends are sold at this spot in Pioneer Plaza.
Downtown Coffee, located at the foot of Pioneer Plaza on Fort Street Mall, serves as a great stop-and-go for quality local coffee varieties and blends at a reasonable price. The shop has barely enough room for a line and a waiting area for upcoming drink orders, but offers outside seating where patrons of nearby restaurants compete for a seat in the shade. Fortunately, we scored a spot near Pioneer Plaza’s fountain, which provided a peaceful mid-morning backdrop for our daily caffeine drip.
All of Downtown Coffee’s beans are locally sourced. We were steered towards the coffee of the day—a Maui variety, medium roasted—which proved very light, with the slight signature sweetness of Hawaiian-grown coffee. No bitterness detected and the acidity was low. Altogether a great cup of coffee, which bodes well for the other varieties and blends on offer.
The Kona coffee here is almost always made into espresso, so, if you’re a Kona fanatic, order the Americano. The dark roast is a blend of Waialua and Maui coffee, and, like Local Joe’s, the shop roasts the beans on-site.
What really sold the coffee was the price-to-quality ratio. A quality cup of locally sourced coffee for $2.24 puts a caffeine habit into the semi-supportable realm. Good news for caffeine addicts, too. The location is so convenient it is a constant exercise in self-control to not walk in for one more cup.
Biggest perk: Best bang for your buck.
900 Fort Street Mall #100, 599-5353, dtcoffee.com
The 100-percent Kona pour-over at Honolulu Coffee took some time, but it was worth the wait.
Honolulu Coffee was designed with efficiency in mind. The shop has a similar layout as Starbucks, with plenty of room for a line, a pick-up station and a couple of tables lining the walls—smart for a popular coffee shop in the heart of industrious downtown. It seems as if Honolulu Coffee is solely responsible for the efficiency of the workforce stationed in Bishop Square—it was nearly 2 p.m. and the crowd was still going strong.
Negotiating a table inside took a little bit of patience, but the 100-percent Kona pour-over takes a little time to make and was completely worth the wait, though the price is a little steep at $6.95. The coffee came in a glass pot on a wooden tray with an empty mug to pour it in. Presentation? Check. In fact, the whole thing looked so good—or maybe it was the look of contentment we had when we took the first sip—another patron asked what it was and ordered it himself.
Though Kona coffee is always a treat, Honolulu Coffee has a locally-sourced coffee of the day that fits the budget a little better for $2.65 for a medium. Besides coffee and tea, Honolulu Coffee has a couple of smoothies on the menu and serves up some rather popular acai bowls.
Biggest perk: Presentation.
1001 Bishop St., 521-4400, honolulucoffee.com
The menu at the Manifest, which transforms from a buzzing night spot into a relaxed space during the day—and with coffee.
The Manifest conjures up thoughts of waiting in a massive line on Hotel Street on First Fridays to get into one of Chinatown’s most popular after-party zones. The scene at the Manifest during the day has a much more relaxed and intimate feel.
The bartenders switch between making cocktails and operating an espresso machine. No drip coffee or pour-overs at this bar. The day was hot though, and it was somewhat of a relief to not gulp down a cup of hot coffee. We opted for the iced Americano made from a Waialua variety for $2.
Without drip coffee, The Manifest offers more with its scene than it does in the way of coffee. A large, red-bricked room with fewer than a dozen people spread around the bar and tables is a rare sight in the the throngs of downtown caffeine-seekers.
It was clear the crowd was regulars. The bartenders were friends with nearly everyone there and smooth jazz rolled softly from night-club quality speakers.
Biggest perk: The scene.
32 N. Hotel St., manifesthawaii.com
Teapresso may serve coffee, but tea is really its specialty.
Teapresso focuses mainly on the first part of its name—tea. Unlike the former inhabitants of the glass corner shop on street level Executive Center, you won’t get much in the way of variety of coffee at Teapresso. The server’s first suggestion was a sea foam caramel coffee. Its saving grace is a dark brew known as Death Wish, an organic coffee boasting twice the caffeine content and brewed with late-morning pounding headaches in mind. We found it difficult to stay seated post-Death Wish, and, considering the voltage, the coffee was pleasantly smooth. Definitely bitter, but not as bad as drinking mud.
The shop is bright and inviting, though a little exposed to the downtown chaos. The inside tables are cramped when it’s busy, and we had to wash some stickiness off our arm after leaning against a broken table outside. The staff loves tea but seemed a little less well-versed when it came to coffee blends or varieties.
Teapresso is good for a heavy-duty shock on the go if you’re desperately trying to avoid Starbucks or love organic coffee. Be prepared to pay the price though—$4.99 for a small Death Wish gives a disappointingly low dollar per watt. It seems the drink is more a novelty for the occasionally adventurous tea drinker than a real stab at the crowd that would require a caffeine patch to ever quit drinking the stuff.
Biggest perk: Organic coffee and lots of tea.
1088 Bishop St. #101, 537-5488, teapressobar.com