9 Local Cafés Hipsters and Coffee Geeks Will Love

Here are some of our favorite coffee-first cafés around town. Even if you can’t tell a peaberry from a pour-over, you’re still guaranteed a carefully brewed, delicious cuppa joe.

1. Morning Glass Café

Photo: Steve Czerniak


Morning Glass attracts coffee lovers of every variety, whether you like to start your day with an iced caramel latte (shaken, not stirred) or are interested in the nuances of coffee from Mexico. Whatever you order here is prepared with impeccable attention to detail, from the housemade syrups to the espresso, for which the baristas adjust the grind and timing daily, sometimes even three times a day, to account for humidity and variation in the beans. Stop by Morning Glass’ stylish coffee counter inside design shop Fishcake, or enjoy your coffee in its open-air Mānoa location. The latter also has a terrific breakfast and sandwich menu (and the best burger on the island).

2955 E. Mānoa Road, 673-0065, morningglasscoffee.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: espresso soda, iced latte
Coffee geek: the pour-over coffee of the day, which includes at least one Hawaiian coffee and a variety of Stumptown and Sightglass coffees
Geek factor: low to high
Lingerability: medium, with a work limit of one hour



2. The Curb

Sumner Ohye and the Mod Bar at The Curb; Pour-over at The Curb.

The Curb’s location at UH Mānoa keeps the student population happy and caffeinated with lattes (soy, almond and rice milk available) as well as the coffee-less frozen hot chocolate, aka The Oxymoron. If The Curb at Mānoa is Coffee 101, then The Curb in Kaimukī is the advanced course, a coffee lab with cold-brewed coffee on tap, a selection of beans from premium roasters Four Barrel and Intelligentsia, and some of the most knowledgeable baristas around. You can even get an organic espresso—Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.’s Big Truck blend. “It’s definitely a laboratory,” says owner Sumner Ohye. Seating, unfortunately, is limited. Watch for The Curb’s new spot opening in the Pan Am building by the end of the year, which will be a hybrid of The Curb’s current locations.

3538 Wai‘alae Ave., 321-1073, and 2560 McCarthy Hall, UH Mānoa campus, 956-7660.


What to order:

Average Joe: latte
Coffee geek: a manual brew of the barista’s choice
Geek factor: low (at UH) to high (at Kaimukī)
Lingerability: low



3. Brue Bar

Courtney Heim and the Steampunk at Brue Bar; the Slayer at Brue Bar.
Photo: Olivier Koning


The café for all the cool, sexy coffee toys. With the Slayer espresso machine, Pure Coffee Empire cold-coffee system and Steampunk single-cup coffee brewer, Brue Bar delivers the caffeinated shot you’ll need to destroy the demons and save the world—otherwise known as getting through Monday. Brue Bar’s downtown location services the on-the-go crowd, though it’s also a pleasant place to work or gather over a cup, while the new Kaka‘ako spot offers even more for craft coffee seekers. Brue sources from lesser-known boutique roasters: the espresso blend comes from Seattle’s Caffé Ladro and the coffee from Santa Cruz’s Verve Coffee Roasters.

119 Merchant St., 441-4470.


What to order:

Average Joe: espresso con panna, espresso with a dollop of whipped cream, which comes with a shot of sparkling mineral water to cleanse the palate
Coffee geek: anything from the Pure Coffee Empire (at the downtown location) or the Steampunk (in Kaka‘ako)
Geek factor: low to high
Lingerability: high



4. Kai Coffee

Sam Suiter’s family started Honolulu Coffee Co. When he was 12, he was already helping out downtown, and he continued to manage the cafés long after the family sold the company. This year, however, he broke off to start Kai Coffee. It’s in Waikīkī, so it definitely caters to tourists, but that doesn’t preclude a great cup of coffee. The smooth, all-Hawaiian drip blends four coffees from the Islands (most recently from Ka‘u, Kona, Maui and O‘ahu). The bow-tied baristas are fast and friendly.

2424 Kalākaua Ave., 923-1700, kaicoffeehawaii.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: Kai Latte, a mac nut latte topped with mac-nut-flavored whipped cream
Coffee geek: Cortado, an espresso with steamed milk, taller than a macchiato, shorter than a latte
Geek factor: low to medium
Lingerability: medium



5. Bills Sydney

Bills breezed into Waikīkī earlier this year and brought with it an Aussie espresso menu of long blacks and flat whites. It serves only an organic espresso blend by Stumptown. Grab a cup in the downstairs café or sink into a plush sofa in the bright and airy, mid-century modern meets rustic beachhouse upstairs. And don’t forget to order the ricotta hotcakes.

280 Beachwalk Ave., 922-1500, billshawaii.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: latte
Coffee geek: long black (like an Americano, but with the espresso poured over the water to preserve the crema)
Geek factor: low
Lingerability: high



6. Morning Brew Coffee House and Bistro

When Morning Brew opened in downtown Kailua in 1995, it had almost everything a great café should have: stellar brews, tantalizing desserts, healthy breakfasts. What it lacked was enough seating. Then, in 2008, it moved to a larger space next door, and—just like that—Morning Brew had it all. If you just need a quick buzz, the house blend of three South American grinds is standing by. But, if you’re not in a rush, the Hawai‘i-grown coffees are brewed by the cup, and they’re the way to go. Grab a table, turn on the Wi-Fi, tuck into a stack of made-from-scratch blueberry pancakes and soak up Kailua’s beachtown vibe. Like any great café, Morning Brew invites lingering.

600 Kailua Road, 262-7770, morningbrewhawaii.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: the Krakatoa Steamer—espresso, caramel and creme de cacao syrup, with Ghiradelli chocolate
Coffee geek: a pour-over in a hot mug, made with the Hawaiian coffee of your choice
Geek factor: low
Lingerability: high



7. Downtown Coffee

Fred Hokada and a Diedrich roaster at Downtown Coffee.

Freshly ground coffee is hard to beat. But if anything can beat it, it’s freshly ground, 100-percent Hawai‘i-grown coffee that was roasted just last Saturday. In other words, the kind of coffee served at Downtown Coffee, a little coffee bar on the ground floor of the Pioneer Plaza Building. Owner Fred Hokada stopped serving imported coffee in 2011, and he’s been wholly devoted to homegrown varieties ever since. Every Saturday, he rolls his roasting machine out the door of his shop (which is too tiny to accommodate customers and a piping-hot roaster at the same time), and he prepares about 100 pounds of coffee for the coming week. He also roasts coffee for a handful of other discerning vendors—Gorilla in the Cafe, The Curb—but mostly he roasts for himself. “Freshness is the key,” Hokada says. This even applies to the cream he uses, which comes from Island Dairy on the Big Island. Because, really, what good is a latte made with freshly roasted, 100-percent Hawai‘i-grown beans if the milk sailed over from the Mainland?

900 Fort Street Mall, 599-5353, dtcoffee.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: the latte, named "Best Latte" by the now-defunct Honolulu Weekly newspaper
Coffee geek: espresso with 100-percent Ka‘u peaberry
Geek factor: low to high
Lingerability: low



8. Green World Farms

“We are O‘ahu’s first coffee visitor farm,” says John Alvarez, roast master and general manager of Green World Farms, where you can stroll among some 2,000 coffee plants and taste samples of five different Hawai‘i coffees. While Green World’s agricultural side is relatively small—about the size of the typical family-run Kona coffee farm—its café and roasting operation occupy a 3,000-square-foot warehouse. The space is made somewhat cozier through its collection of international coffee art and the enduring aroma of freshly roasted coffee. Located near Wahiawā, in the 7-acre triangular tract where Kamehameha Highway meets Kamananui and Kaukonahua roads, Green World is strategically positioned as an easy pitstop for those headed to the North Shore. “We have beautiful public bathrooms,” Alvarez says.

71-101 N. Kamehameha Highway, 622-2326, greenworldcoffeefarm.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: any of the many flavored coffees, such as the medium-roast marshmallow creme
Coffee geek: a regular coffee, black, brewed with the beans grown right outside the back door
Geek factor: medium
Lingerability: high



9. Coffee Gallery

Before Starbucks introduced the Frappucino, Coffee Gallery was whipping up the Mocha Freeze, a slushy blend of ice cream, espresso, chocolate and ice. Located at the North Shore Marketplace in Hale‘iwa, Coffee Gallery has been inducing post-surf-session brain freezes since 1987. It also roasts coffee in-house, blending various Hawai‘i-grown varieties with imported beans and offering others in their single-estate form. And it bakes its own pastries (the blueberry cream-cheese scones cry out for dunking!). The atmosphere is pure North Shore, with tourists combing for souvenirs while local caffeine fiends chill on the screened lānai or beneath the ancient monkeypod tree. Just don’t let the kids roam. A sign warns, “Any child left unattended will be given a shot of espresso and a free dog.”

66-250 Kamehameha Highway, 637-5571, roastmaster.com.


What to order:

Average Joe: Mocha Freeze
Coffee geek: a bag of Waialua Estate peaberry, to be ground and brewed at home
Geek factor: low
Lingerability: high



Daylight Mind Coffee Co.

Visiting Big Island? The Ambience at This Kona Café is One of the Best in Hawai‘i

Photo: Martha Cheng


Kailua-Kona— It’s hard to beat the views here—this might be the best café setting anywhere in the state. Sit downstairs, where it feels like you’re on the bow of a ship heading out to sea, or opt for a seat on the upper deck for a panoramic ocean view. But this café isn’t just about the ambience. One of its partners is Shawn Steiman, aka Dr. Coffee, so there are multiple Hawaiian coffees to choose from, and you can even order a flight of coffees, uniquely brewed by a centrifuge. (“How else are you going to get one-ounce brews quickly and with no waste?” Steiman says. “If I leave only one legacy to cafés, it would be the centrifuge as a method for making coffee flights.”) Definitely don’t miss dessert, which includes a liliko‘i opera gateau, layers of liliko‘i buttercream, sponge cake and dark chocolate ganache.

Not headed to the Big Island anytime soon? You can find Daylight Mind coffee at the Kaka‘ako Farmers Market on Saturdays. 75- 5770 Ali‘i Drive, Big Island, (808) 339-7824, daylightmind.com.