Best Coffeehouses: Central

Lattes and pour overs and macchiatos, oh my! These Central Jersey spots are filled to the brim with personality and quality coffee.

A creamy cappuccino from Cafe Volan in Asbury Park.
A creamy cappuccino from Cafe Volan in Asbury Park.
Photo by Erik Rank

America’s Cup Coffee Company, Asbury Park
America’s Cup occupies a massive space on one of Asbury Park’s main drags. There are 15 tables accompanied by plenty of chairs backed in repurposed burlap coffee bags. Each day the café offers 8 to 10 single-origin coffees, the beans roasted in-house. The popular Rainy Day Blend, a mix of South American and Asian beans, is offered (logically enough) only on rainy days ($1.87). Blends and single-origin beans are sold in half-pound, 13-ounce and 1-pound bags ($6 to $14). Specialty drinks include Red Velvet latte ($3.75). Try their breakfast panini made with eggs, ham and mozzarella, or their new Badass Waffles, a big Belgian waffle made in classic crisp-sweet style or in a dozen flavors like Nutella or cannoli cream. 633 Cookman Avenue.—BM

Booskerdoo, Monmouth Beach, Fair Haven & Middletown
Booskerdoo offers a dozen different blends made from mostly organic, fair-trade, single-origin beans from South America, Africa and Asia. Beans are roasted twice a week in Monmouth Beach, packaged, and mailed to customers across the nation the same day. Booskerdoo’s most popular blends include Jersey Diner, a light roast of Brazilian and Colombian beans; and After Dark, a very dark roast with a smoky flavor, made from Honduran beans (drip, $2). A robust macchiato is $2.75 for a single. Each location offers indoor and outdoor seating, power outlets, house-made goods baked daily, T-shirts, mugs and tea infusers. The 1-pound bags range from $15.99 to $17.49.—BM

Brewed Awakening, Metuchen

This artsy neighborhood spot offers a daily house brew along with a rotating selection of other coffees. The house brew ($2) is a dark roast with a lighter body, offering balanced and mellow flavors, an earthy aroma, and crisp acidity. The shop serves a full breakfast and lunch menu with a nice selection of omelets, wraps and salads. There is also plenty of seating,  outlets and newsstand full of magazines. 417 Main Street.—MR

Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso Bar, Lambertville
Owner Barbara Simon, who grew up in Lambertville, is on a first-name basis with the locals who frequent her tin-ceilinged café in the front room of the JB Kline art gallery and performance space. Simon buys her beans from two Bucks County roasters, Homestead and the Coffee Scoop. Bucks Blend is an extra-strong French roast of organic Peruvian and Brazilian beans. Cappuccino ($3.50) is hand-pulled from a Brasilia machine, allowing the barista to better control the speed at which the espresso is extracted, which in turn affects the flavor. There are flavored coffees and baked goods—many gluten-free, like vanilla-cranberry biscotti and brownies from the Grain Exchange in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. 25 Bridge Street.—PT

Café Volan, Asbury Park
A few blocks from the Atlantic, Café Volan provides a sunny hideaway with floor-to-ceiling windows, wood floors and tables, and exposed brick walls. Baristas are great at finding the right blend for each patron’s taste. Volan sells a rotating list of fair-trade, organic blends from high-end roasters around the United States. Changing roughly every two weeks, the list may include drip from Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, North Carolina, or Kuma Coffee in Seattle. Drip is $2.50, cappuccino, $3. Sit at small, intimate wooden tables for groups of two to three, or at the park-style picnic bench for larger groups. While the café offers free Wi-Fi, owners Doug Parent and Paul Cali encourage a friendly “get-to-know-one-another” environment. 510 Bangs Avenue.—BM

Citispot Tea & Coffee, Clinton
The logo and decor are reminiscent of Starbucks, but its location and artsy ambience make Citispot a spot of its own. The Clinton blend is a medium roast with nuttiness; the Colombian blend is popular for its smoothness. Vanilla latte and caramel macchiato are two of the best-selling espresso drinks. Most of the pastries are baked in-house. In warm weather, try for a seat outside with a view of Clinton’s famous Red Mill. 44 Main Street.—MM

Coffee Corral, Red Bank
Owner Russ Crosson’s daughter, Courtlyn, loves horses. Hence the name and look of the family business—full of horseshoe-studded decor and hitching posts. Coffee Corral roasts its mostly organic, fair-trade coffees on-site, usually 15 to 20 different single-origin coffees, also available by the bag. All are prepared in the time-consuming but full-flavored pour-over method. For those in a rush, they offer C&C House Blend, a mix of beans from Sumatra, Brazil and Colombia, available ready to go. Sumatra, a customer favorite, is smooth and full-bodied. The Corral offers a slew of specialty drinks, like Peanut Brittle Caramel latte or coffeeless Warm Heart Hot Chocolate. There are slam poetry nights and a menu of seasonal treats with plenty of gluten-free options. 177 Dr. James Parker Boulevard.—BM

The Coffee House, Edison
This European-inspired coffee house offers a taste of Italy with a fresh-brewed cup of illy, a leading Italian brand. The medium roast ($1.70) balances sweet and bitter flavors with a pleasant acidity and a hint of chocolate aroma. Customers can request pumpkin spice, hazelnut, mocha and other flavors. Pair the coffee with one of the house-made plain or (apricot, Nutella or cream) filled croissants, a sandwich, or a scoop of gelato. Watch TV on the couch, relax by the fireplace, or borrow a book off the shelf. A 12-ounce can of illy beans (decaf and regular) is $17.931 Amboy Avenue.—MR

Dragonfly Music & Coffee Café, Somerville
Dragonfly is part coffee house, part musical-instrument store (mostly pianos and guitars), and part live-music venue five days a week. Owners Susan Flaherty and Peter Prasa get their organic beans from Jersey City’s Kobrick Coffee Company, which does the roasting. The mainstays are a Guatemala light roast and the three-continent Dark Velvet ($1.80 a cup). Settle into one of the mismatched armchairs and take in the dragonfly art—paintings, sculptures, rugs and more. The shop sells artwork, pottery, books, CDs, and other useful goods from local artisans and musicians. Prasa tunes and restores pianos and guitars in the back half of the space, called Pianos Plus, which is open to the café. The menu includes paninis, small pizzas, soups, salads and breakfast sandwiches all day. 14 East Main Street.—JB

Factory Fuel Co., Flemington
The huge former Stangl pottery factory now houses an eclectic mix of vendors, art galleries, Stangl Stage (a live music venue) and Factory Fuel Coffee. In the center of the café’s industrial space stands one of the factory’s massive kilns. It’s lined with benches where you can sit inside, chat, and sip your coffee, which comes from Counter Culture, a distributor in Durham, North Carolina. The two most popular blends are Ethiopian: Fast Forward is light and nutty; Hologram is bolder, with notes of fruit and chocolate ($2.24). Kimberly Scola bakes scones, cookies and such each day, but regulars know to get there early on Saturday for her coveted organic donuts. Garage doors on one wall open to the spacious Stangl Stage for concerts or the weekly farmers market. 2 Stangl Road.—JB

The Grind Coffee House, Plainsboro
From a rotating gallery of 33 different coffees, typically nine blends and single-origin coffees are set out daily for customers to serve themselves. Ohana Hawaiian Hazelnut, a flavored coffee and customer favorite ($1.85), is available year-round.  Large paintings of famed musicians such as Eric Clapton and B.B. King decorate the walls. Breakfast and lunch are served, along with pastries and desserts. 7 Schalks Crossing.—MR

Grover’s Mill Coffee House & Roastery, West Windsor
Yep, it’s the Grover’s Mill that Orson Welles made famous with his terrifying 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. And, yep, the coffee is touted as “Out of this world!” This café-roastery has amassed a broad following. “Everybody feels welcome,” says Franc Gambatese, an owner with wife Mickey DeFranco. Gambatese’s 85-year-old father is often behind the counter, and daughter Joey oversees breakfast and lunch, including the popular Windsor Breakfast, an egg sandwich with goat cheese, basil and avocado. Desserts include Junior’s cheesecake. Gambatese describes the sustainably harvested beans in the house blend ($1.75/cup; $11/12-ounce bag) as “smooth, full-bodied, with a clean finish.” At least 6 of 25 rotating varietals and blends are offered daily. The standard method is drip, but you can request French press at an additional cost. Beans (ground or whole) and Martian-themed mugs, T-shirts and paraphernalia are sold in the café and online. 335 Princeton-Hightstown Road.—PT

Hidden Grounds, New Brunswick
Just blocks from the Rutgers campus, this basement shop is a favorite of students and coffee enthusiasts alike. The Sumatra medium roast ($3) releases almond and cocoa flavors with a refreshing berry finish. Every cup is prepared slow drip; pour-overs are available on request. The shop serves regular and gluten-free pastries, a small selection of sandwiches and snacks. Alternative beverages include fresh-squeezed “detox juice” (a blend of apple, carrot and ginger) and masala chai. Beans available by the pound ($13-$15). 106 Easton Avenue.—MR

Infini-T Café, Princeton
This below-ground coffee and tea room offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free sweets and savories. Owners Mary Fritschie and Mike Carnevale travel to the Near and Middle East to buy their organic teas and coffees, some of which they sell online. The space resembles a souk with its partly tented ceiling, carved wood trim, and eclectic art and artifacts. The staff is warm and welcoming, whether French pressing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe ($3), drip brewing Guatemalan ($2.25), or painstakingly making authentic Turkish coffee ($4). Breakfast, served all day, includes a silky tofu scramble (no eggs) with Indian spices. Soups, salads, sandwiches, panini and small plates also tilt toward Indian spices and flavors, with a few familiar additions like French toast and carrot-ginger soup. 4 Hulfish Street.—PT

Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, Leonardo
For more than a decade, Jersey Shore has been roasting their single-origin, all-Arabica, mostly fair-trade, organic-and Rainforest Alliance-certified coffees at their Shore-themed café. They also make their own blends such as Jersey Shore Breakfast, a best seller. It’s a smooth brew made from Central and South American beans ($2). Baked goods arrive daily from Flaky Tart Bakery in Atlantic Highlands. Settle back in a big armchair or pick up a bag of beans to go (1 pound, $13.50-$18.99). 64 Thompson Avenue.—BM

Lambertville Trading Company, Lambertville
Mochaccino ($4.50/single; $5.60/double), made with Dallis Bros. coffee, is one of the popular drinks at this café and specialty market, going strong for 33 years under original owners Lisa and Dean Stevens. Super-rich hot chocolate, 11 varieties of beans, local baked goods and five daily brews stand at the ready. Any coffee can be brewed by French press on demand. In summer, LTC—as the locals call it—is known for serving iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. “We were ahead of the curve on that one,” says Lisa. Sip at the communal high-top that dominates this charming throwback. Floor-to-ceiling shelves and cabinets are laden with china coffee mugs and specialty confections and foods. Cash and check only. 43 Bridge Street.—PT

No Joe’s Cafe, Red Bank
In business since 1993, No Joe’s sells fair-trade and organic coffee from beans roasted by Dallis Bros. Coffee in Long Island City. The house blend is a medium roast of Central and South American beans, producing notes of citrus and a nutty finish ($1.87). A dark roast of Guatemalan beans is brewed in a French press, yielding a thicker brew with smoky flavor and hints of chocolate ($3.99). Specialty drinks include the bold and sweet Nutella latte ($2.95). There are tables and a menu of soups, salads, wraps and more. The staff is friendly, the walls are a cheerful yellow, and there are plenty of seats, making it easy to say yes to No Joe’s. 51 Broad Street.—BM

OQ Coffee Co., Highland Park
Seasonal brews, many of single origin, range from $2.50 to $6 a cup. Ethiopian Gelana Abaya ($5), full-bodied with a light acidity and berry flavor, has a lingering finish. It’s prepared with a pour-over into a Chemex coffee maker to bring out the subtle flavors and aromas in the beans. Snacks include mozzarella-oregano scones and fair-trade chocolate bars. Photographs and paintings by local artists are on display. Beans are sold by the pound ($13-$25). 13 South 3rd Avenue.—MR

Riverside Coffee & Tea, Clinton
From Riverside’s cozy stone porch, you can sip your coffee and gaze down at a waterfall on the South Branch of the Raritan River. In cold weather, sit beside the fireplace, nursing a latte. A cup of house blend ($1.75) can be amped up with a splash of various flavored syrups. The friendly staff gets creative with espresso drinks like the maple bacon latte. 51 Main Street.—MM

Rook Coffee Roasters, Six New Jersey Locations
With six Monmouth County outposts—and two more on the way—Rook has become one of the state’s largest independent coffee merchants. Most of its coffees are fair trade and organic. Best sellers include Guatemala, a medium roast with hints of Baker’s chocolate and almond (drip, $2.25); and its cold brew, made New Orleans-style from fresh, typically dark  Sumatra beans and chicory (cup, $4; 32-ounce bottle, $12.50). Dark-roasted Sumatra is smoky and pungent (drip, $2.40). Rook imports its beans and roasts them at its facility in Ocean Township. Coffee can be purchased online in 12-ounce bags ($14.10 to $15.70) or 5-pound bags ($84.20 to $94.20). Regulars love Rook’s fresh rolls delivered fresh daily from Balthazar Bakery in Englewood (plain, $1.25; with fig butter, $2.25). The café eschews tables and chairs; there’s only a counter with power outlets and no stools. Why? To focus on the coffee, of course.—BM

Rojo’s Roastery, Lambertville & Princeton
Rojo’s lives up to its motto, “We take coffee seriously.” Owner David Waldman buys his beans from independent, small-volume growers whom he says the major coffee companies overlook. Waldman runs the red, natural-gas-powered 1956 Probat roaster in the warehouse-like café he established in Lambertville in 2006. In 2013, he opened a second Rojo’s on Princeton’s Palmer Square. Each day Rojo’s offers a single-origin coffee ($3.50 for a 12-ounce pour-over), a house blend ($2) and an espresso blend ($3). Both locations sell beans and coffee-making equipment. Lambertville is rustic industrial, with bulging burlap coffee sacks piled high. Palmer Square is sleek and minimalist, with just three tables and a stand-up bar—and without the restrooms and free Wi-Fi available in Lambertville. Palmer Square stocks a handful of sweets, while Lambertville offers ice creams from Princeton’s Bent Spoon and baked goods from Frenchtown’s Lovin’ Oven.—PT

Small World Coffee, Princeton
The grande dame of Princeton coffee houses has been packed with university students, faculty and townies since its founding by Jessica Durrie and Brant Cosaboom in 1993. It’s an institution, beloved for its coffees, speedy yet friendly service, and community-oriented events. The original location on Witherspoon Street hosts local art openings, brings in musicians to play on Saturday nights, and holds monthly free tastings. Crispy Hippie ($2.25/single; $3.25/pour-over; $3.60/16-ounce café au lait), one of their latest blends, is described as “full and smoky, just like a really crisp piece of bacon.” The smaller, less bustling Nassau Street outpost offers the same array of brewed, iced, espresso and specialty coffees (plus teas, hot chocolate and cider), and makes breakfast and lunch items for both locations, including granola, sandwiches, soups and salads. Patrons prize the mini-tarts and all manner of baked goods from Lillipies, a Princeton bakery. The 80-seat Witherspoon location provides a password for an hour of free Wi-Fi. Both locations are cash only.—PT

Turnstile Coffee Roasters, Belmar
A mile from the beach, Turnstile roasts its international selection of fair-trade, organic beans in-house, including some from Portland, Oregon’s famous Stumptown brand. Wood tables, brick walls and big windows create a rustic environment, and the friendly staff generates an everyone-knows-everyone vibe. Turnstile’s daily blend varies with the seasons (drip, $2). The crema in the many espresso drinks is inscribed with a leaf pattern. The excellent vanilla latte is $3. The café sells grinders, brewing machines, shirts, and 12-ounce bags of fresh-roasted coffee ($12–$14). Owner Mike Ayars gives courses in coffee knowledge and appreciation.—BM

Click here to leave a comment
Click to enlarge images

Get dining articles like this delivered straight to your inbox

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required
Required not shown
Required not shown