Philadelphia’s coffee scene has long been one of the most advanced, cutting edge, and diverse in the country, from the early days of Third Wave to a modern coffee culture sprawling with options and choices. Sprudge has covered Philly extensively over the years, most recently in a well-met block of stories in our Build-Outs of Coffee feature series and editions of On The Menu and Coffee Design. You can explore a decade’s worth of Philly content on Sprudge in our archives.
But… our last Philadelphia “guide” feature was all the way back in 2015. Clearly it’s time for an update. A city of distinct, interconnected neighborhoods, one could spend days exploring Philly and still not make it to every noteworthy coffee shop. With such a wealth of options, no list could be simultaneously thoughtful and completist, and really, you should use any “best of a city” list as a jumping off point for exploration. Such is the case for this 2023 Philly Coffee Guide on Sprudge.
Use this guide as just that—a guide, a starting point—but let the city lead the way. The creativity that permeates the coffee industry here makes it impossible for one guide to capture the ever expanding, innovative Philadelphia scene. Don’t hesitate to ask that barista what their new favorite, secret coffee pop-up is, or where they like getting coffee on their day off. Follow the smell of freshly roasted coffee down the block and duck into that building that just has the word “coffee” painted across the window. You might just discover your new favorite Philly shop.
Two Persons Coffee
Two Persons Coffee is located in the heart of the Bok Building, a massive, converted vocational school in South Philadelphia. The landmark structure, covering an entire block in South Philly, now houses a community of artists and entrepreneurs, filled to the brim with small businesses, studio spaces, and one of the best views of the city from the rooftop bar and restaurant. In the former tool library, Two Persons has managed to create a welcoming cafe feel amidst the lofty, industrial building, filling their portion with plants, blue tiled walls, and cozy seating nooks, perfect for catching up with friends or settling in to get some work done. The towering built-in shelves around the space are filled with artifacts that pay homage to the building’s history. Even the coffee shop’s name is a tribute to the building: in 1923, the namesake Edward Bok, published a book titled “Two Persons.”
The multi-roaster shop serves a selection of curated roasters. On my visit, they had offerings from nearby Passenger in Lancaster and far off Coffee Collective from Denmark. Next door, Machine Shop Boulangerie turns out traditional French pastries with an emphasis on seasonality and locally sourced ingredients. Wander through the nearby halls to peruse the other small businesses occupying the first floor, including a bike shop, ceramics studio, textile shop, and boutique clothing store.
Ultimo Coffee was an early pioneer of the Philadelphia specialty coffee scene. They first brought Counter Culture Coffee to South Philly’s Newbold neighborhood in 2009, a time when good coffee was hard to find in the city. A lot has changed from those early days. In 2016, Ultimo established their own private roastery and lab space just a few blocks away from their original cafe. They have since added three additional locations, including a large cafe and bakery in Germantown. Their constant evolution has kept them relevant as specialty coffee has grown throughout the city.
On a sunny Friday morning, I visited their Catherine Street location. The cozy shop sits on the corner of tree lined streets in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Inside, the bright space maintains a quiet relaxed atmosphere, despite an almost constant stream of customers. The cafe is full but doesn’t feel overcrowded. Outside, several tables are placed along the building’s window lined exterior. The baristas work efficiently behind the wood paneled bar, pulling shots on a La Marzocco and talking quietly to the regulars. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee and a pastry (try the citrus polenta cake) and settle in to get some work done.
Much like Ultimo, Elixr is a Philly institution that has helped lead the development of specialty coffee in Philadelphia. Their Rittenhouse location is on a quiet side street, tucked away from the busy Center City. The rustic industrial space sees a steady flow of customers at all times of day, often with a line to the door. Service is quick, though, and you won’t regret waiting. Their coffee lineup covers all the bases, featuring several staple blends and a thoughtfully sourced rotation of single origins. The coffee is roasted nearby by owner Evan Inatome.
Since their inception, Elixr has left its mark on the coffee scene in Philadelphia and beyond. They have expanded to three locations across the city, plus one in State College, PA. In 2021, they opened a location in Nashville, TN. Elixr has made appearances in the US Coffee Competition circuit several times, with Inatome placing in the top 10 for Roaster Competition several times. His dedication to great coffee is clear in the cafe. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted with shelves of retail bags with staple seasonal blends and an ever-rotating line up of interesting single origins. The menu features an extensive list of hand-poured options. Grab a cup, walk the few blocks to Rittenhouse Square Park, and enjoy.
Thank You Thank You Coffee Brewers
On a quiet, unsuspecting corner on Philly’s Jewelers Row, Thank You Thank You Coffee Brewers beckons you in with the sound of whirring grinders and the smell of espresso freshly pulled on a La Marzocco GS3 AV. The tiny cafe effortlessly blends the historic look of Philadelphia with modern touches, housed in a building from 1860 featuring simple yet thoughtful décor throughout and a large front window hand painted with their logo.
Opened by Cody McGregor in 2022 the cafe has a no gratuity policy in hopes of creating a livable wage for their baristas without relying on tips. McGregor is a Philly coffee veteran, and the cafe’s warm, personal service is memorable.
Thank You Thank You is an exemplary model of a multiroaster. The thoughtful sourcing is obvious in the curated selection from around the world that lines the shelves of the tiny space, among which you’ll find the likes of Sey, Dak, and April. During my visit on a sunny spring day, the selections were light and bright, exactly what you want to sip on while sitting on a park bench. The offerings change often. You can find the current menu on their website or just stop by and let the friendly baristas guide you to your new favorite roasters.
In a city with such a well-established coffee industry, it can be hard for a micro-roastery to keep up. Instead of trying to compete with the expensive selection and green buying power of the city’s larger roasters, Persimmon Coffee decided to embrace their size and focus their roasting and green buying on a singular coffee at a time. This forces them to approach their roasting with creativity, says Director of Coffee Sawyer Beckley. The goal is to create a coffee that is both approachable and interesting, appealing to both the specialty coffee fan and the new coffee drinker. With their Friday Coffee Club, customers can sign up to receive their newest roast on the first Friday of every month.
After a series of successful pop-ups around the city, Persimmon Coffee opened their storefront in the Fishtown neighborhood in July 2022. The shop, infused with Japanese and Korean minimalist design, feels just as intentional as their coffee program. The solid oak bar sports a La Marzocco Linea Mini, Mahlkönig K30, and drinkware from a local, neighborhood ceramicist. In addition to espresso and drip, the menu features several creative signature drinks, sure to catch your attention, a thoughtful selection of teas, and locally sourced baked goods. Though seating is limited, the bright, simple shop is the perfect place to sip and contemplate. They were a 2022 Best New Cafe finalist at the Sprudgie Awards for good reason, and should be a major point of emphasis for coffee lovers exploring Philly.
Audrey Parise is a coffee professional and freelance journalist based in Baltimore. Read more Audrey Parise for Sprudge.