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Huntsville’s Craft Coffee Trail offers a caffeinated tour through the city

*Gold Sprint 256 517 8733 Text Victor Burlingame on way 205-792-5857; 2515 9th Ave SW Huntsville Al 35805; trophies Gold Sprint is housed in a former garage in the Lowe Mill District.

If they didn’t know better, visitors to Huntsville might think that NASA’s rockets were powered by caffeine. How else to explain the galaxy of coffee shops in the city? 

As you sip your way along the 10-stop Craft Coffee Trail, you’ll find yourself in cafés inspired by bicycles, cupcakes, and even the Apollo space program. One shop resides in a modified shipping container and another in a former school classroom. 

“You don’t get a homogenized experience,” says Chad Emerson of Downtown Huntsville, which sponsors the trail. “It’s not starving artists selling coffee, it’s people who could do anything they wanted to do.”

And now, as the world emerges from pandemic isolation, Alabamians are eager for the community and connection that shops can provide. “People are clamoring to get out. They’re feeling more the need for social interaction, which most have gone without for a year,” says Victor Burlingame, owner of Gold Sprint coffee shop, where you can also pump up your bike tires or order a craft beer. 

The coffee stops reflect modern-day Huntsville: They’re kind of nerdy with a touch of hipness but, above all, friendly.  “They’re a third place between work and home,” says Burlingame. 

Those up to the caffeine challenge can score a trail mug by visiting all 10 stops and collecting stamps on a coffee trail card, which you can pick up at any participating java joint. But even if you’re not ready to grind though a latte marathon, the trail offers an unexpected perk: a tour through a city renowned for its ingenuity. 

So start your espresso engines. There’s a barista ready to take your order. Here are highlights of the trail.

Gold Sprint

Gold Sprint’s green tea matcha.

Gold Sprint’s green tea matcha.

The buzz: This bicycle café enlivens a former garage in the up-and-coming Lowe Mill District. Bikes hanging on walls and shelves full of donated karate trophies provide a cheerful, eclectic vibe. Inside, there’s a choice of high-top tables and couches. The garage doors open to a patio.

If you walk or bike to the café, you’ll earn a 10 percent discount. Since Gold Sprint opened in 2019, it has quickly become a Huntsville institution.

Preferred pour: The nitro-infused latte with coconut milk is great, but the green tea matcha shines with house-made vanilla syrup and a lavender tincture supplied by a local herbalist. 

Bites: The limited menu includes bagels, breakfast burritos, and a bacon, egg, and cheddar croissant.

Honest Coffee Roasters

Honest Coffee Roasters’ bagels with “lox” made from flavored, smoked carrots.

Honest Coffee Roasters’ bagels with “lox” made from flavored, smoked carrots.

The buzz: This high-energy joint with white brick walls and polished concrete floors bustles with everyone from moms pushing strollers to lawyers grabbing a cup between hearings. Laptop-friendly seating areas are generous with plugs and USB ports, and are favored by students who type away next to informal business meetings and Bible study groups.

Preferred pour: Bootlegger, a latte with house-made Bourbon caramel sauce, served hot or iced. Honest Coffee Roasters sister store in Franklin, Tennessee, roasts the beans.

Bites: You’ll find an extensive menu with acai bowls, breakfast burritos, sandwiches, and salads. Vegans can top their bagels with “lox” made from flavored, smoked carrots.

Piper and Leaf Tea Company

The feta and spinach scone at Piper and Leaf Tea Company.

The feta and spinach scone at Piper and Leaf Tea Company.

The buzz: Even on a coffee trail, there’s room for tea. This specialty business with multiple locations knows it’s in the South and offers 32-ounce mason jars of iced tea blended with local herbs, produce, and fruit. 

Preferred pour: Ninety percent of Piper and Leaf Tea Company’s customers come for iced tea, but there’s also hot tea and even coffee. You’ll probably want to buy one of the custom jars, which come with a straw-friendly lid, for $10. Your first tea is free and after that, refills run $5.

Bites: Don’t overlook the scones. The feta and spinach scone pairs effortlessly with any beverage.

Offbeat Coffee Studio

Offbeat Coffee Studio customers browse through records.

Offbeat Coffee Studio customers browse through records.

The buzz: Pick up some vinyl along with a venti at Offbeat Coffee Studio, a combination coffee shop and record store. Offbeat feels right at home tucked away in Campus 805, a former middle school that has been reborn as an entertainment district with breweries, restaurants, and even an ax-throwing studio. With Alabama’s first Slayer manual espresso machine and comfortable seating, this former detention hall classroom is where you'll gladly spend your Saturday.

Preferred pour: Two words: cereal milk! Sweeten up your latte with milk flavored with Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, or another nostalgic breakfast treat. The result is a fun, sweet sip that tastes better than you’d expect. 

Bites: Enjoy the bagel sandwiches.

Olde Towne Coffee

The bacon, egg, and Swiss on a bagel served at Olde Towne Coffee.

The bacon, egg, and Swiss on a bagel served at Olde Towne Coffee.

The buzz: If the TV show Friends had been set in Huntsville instead of New York City, this would have been Central Perk. The city’s oldest full-service coffee shop welcomes a colorful parade of regulars, from the customer with a pet duck to the chess pair that faces off every afternoon to the young woman sitting sideways with her feet over the armrest as she works on her screenplay. You come for the atmosphere as much as the coffee.

Preferred pour: Choices abound at Olde Towne Coffee. The shop has two on-site roasters that roast 15 different types of beans. Sweeten your drink with the “complicated syrup” at the creamer table. There’s simply nothing simple about this place.

Bites: Sandwiches and breakfast items like bacon, egg, and Swiss on a bagel keep customers fueled up. 

Pizzelle’s Confections

Sweets are paired with coffee or drinking chocolate at Pizzelle’s Confections.

Sweets are paired with coffee or drinking chocolate at Pizzelle’s Confections.

The buzz: A longtime favorite at the bustling Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment facility, Pizzelle's Confections proves that not all masterpieces are painted on canvas. Take your pick from house-made truffles and other delectable sweets paired with coffee or drinking chocolate. It’s a welcome place to take a break from browsing the 100-plus studios in the former cotton mill.

Preferred pour: The Shot in the Dark is what hot chocolate wishes it could be when it grows up. Unlike mocha, which is coffee flavored by chocolate, this is melted chocolate cut with a shot of espresso. The drink is topped with house-made marshmallows in a choice of flavors (go with cinnamon), then crowned with whipped cream, which, believe it or not, helps lighten the drink.

Bites: Whether you prefer truffles, tortes, cakes, or the namesake pizzella, a traditional Italian cookie, your sweet tooth will be happy here.

The Moon Bakeshop

The Moon Bakeshop’s decor draws on Huntsville’s NASA connection.

The Moon Bakeshop’s decor draws on Huntsville’s NASA connection.

The buzz: The Moon Bakeshop seamlessly combines small-batch pastries with specialty lattes. Decor nods to NASA with atomic-style light fixtures and Apollo-era posters, but it keeps things homey with Oriental carpets on the polished concrete floor. 

Preferred pour: The emphasis is on high-quality beans and traditional offerings, from straight-up coffee to lattes, cappuccinos, and cortados.

Bites: Food is not an afterthought here. Feast on fresh sandwiches and croissants—the house-baked chocolate croissant is a flaky, crunchy, buttery delight. On weekends, dig into the hot cinnamon rolls. 

Freelance writer Larry Bleiberg is a fan of everything caffeine, but these days he’s been favoring matcha lattes.

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