Written by Shay Wilson, Breaks Interstate Park
We can all agree the weather’s been a little wacky lately. One day, it feels like the perfect day of Spring and the next, you’re suddenly wondering if you somehow transported to Antarctica. I know everyone around here brags about how you actually experience all four seasons in Appalachian region, but I was not expecting to go through every season in four days. Personally, I prefer a little consistency, however, the abrupt changes in weather can only mean one thing for me: having an excuse to drink different types of coffee!
I know, it sounds weird… weather changes causing an increase in coffee intake. But when you think about it, any coffee advertisement relates to the upcoming or current season, so it’s actually not as insane as it sounds.
Most people usually stick to drinking their coffee one way, either hot or cold. I, on the other hand, change my coffee temperature preference almost daily. There could be three feet of snow outside and I’d be shivering while drinking a frappe or sweating in ninety-degree weather and having coffee hot enough to burn your taste buds off. Bottom line, I like my coffee, and I love trying new flavors. Now, I don’t want you thinking that I’m some coffee connoisseur. I can’t tell you the difference between the types of coffee beans or if a coffee shop uses the expensive brand of flavored syrups. In my opinion, what really makes a coffee taste great is the shop’s atmosphere. If I instantly feel like I’ve entered a lifelong friend’s house who favors perfectly dimmed lights and great music, I always end up loving their drinks, no matter what I try.
Even if you aren’t as much of a coffee buff as I am, you should absolutely still try to visit these cafes. Not only would you be supporting local businesses, but they all have more to offer than just coffee. Maybe I’ve just found your new hideout after work or a cool place to hang out with your friends on a rainy day, you won’t know until you try it.
Most recently, I discovered The Ugly Mug in Wise. Now I use the word ‘discovered’ because it’s like the hidden caffeine gem in a little shopping center. If you drive down Main Street in Wise and find Tracy’s Salon next to a traffic light, park there! Adjoined to the salon is, in fact, The Ugly Mug. You remember my idea of the perfect atmosphere: dim lights, great music, and a friendly, familiar feeling when you enter? That’s exactly what you’ll find here. It’s the picturesque coffee shop for college students looking to study or really, anyone looking for a nice and quiet personal time. In case you were wondering why it’s called The Ugly Mug, they have handmade mugs there ready to sell! If I had stayed about another five minutes, I would’ve bought one for sure. The mugs were all so unique; they’re definitely the mugs you’d bring out during a holiday dinner as a conversation starter. But back to the reason I ventured out there: the coffee. I always look for something different, a style of coffee I’ve never heard of or tried. I got their Chocolate Peanut Butter Frappe and it changed my life. It was the perfect blend of chocolate and peanut butter with that slight aftertaste of espresso, and of course, it was topped with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. If it was at all possible (and wouldn’t make me go broke), I would happily drink one of these every single day for the rest of my life.
In my first blog, I mentioned The Family Bakery in Gate City. I spent the entire paragraph talking about how their cupcakes are to die for, but I didn’t even touch how great their coffee is! You can get just about any variation you want: latte, cappuccino, americano, regular coffee, decaf, hot, cold, flavored or not-flavored. I went the classic route, getting a caramel cappuccino. It came in a glass mug and maybe I smiled just enough that I got a little caramel heart put on top of the foam. It was adorable, and of course, I took about a hundred photos of it because it’s all about appreciating the little things. I’ve had a lot of cappuccinos in my time and I can honestly say that was the best made cappuccino I’ve ever had. It had the right amount of foam; it wasn’t too sweet or too bitter. Normally, I don’t drink coffee while I eat lunch, but surprisingly enough, the coffee complemented perfectly with the ham and cheese croissant and potato salad I had. When you go visit, make sure you get something to eat and do not pass on the great opportunity of possibly getting a design drawn in your coffee’s foam!
All the way out in Richlands, right across the street from their library sits The Communication Cafe. It’s incredibly easy to spot. If you’re walking or driving down that street and see a huge red and white sign that says ‘Mediterranean Cuisine’, you’ve found it. It’s this quaint cafe that embodies beautiful interior design, a delicious menu, the friendliest staff, and you can get your computer fixed there! Even though there were plenty of tables to sit at, I chose to sit at their coffee bar. It makes the whole coffee drinking experience a little more personal and exciting when you can watch them make your order. The staff is incredibly kind so don’t be afraid to ask them what their favorite coffee is because no matter their answer, you’ll love it. I got their Hawaiian Baby Momma, which you can get hot or cold. It has Hawaiian hazelnut espresso, white chocolate syrup, and vanilla almond milk. Okay, I take my back earlier statement about not being able to taste the difference in the espresso beans. You can 100% taste the hazelnut in the espresso, and it just gives the drink an earthy undertone that you didn’t realize you needed in your coffee. They actually open in the afternoon until the early evening so it’s the ideal cafe for those who like their caffeine kick later in the day. My favorite part? If there’s a coffee that you’ve fallen in love with, you can buy the coffee beans from the cafe, and bring the Communication Cafe experience home!
I’m not sure if this is just a trend in southwestern Virginia, but it seems to me that a good majority of cafes don’t look like your typical coffee shop. Maybe I’m just used to commercialized coffee places and not aware of just how cool local businesses are. Point in case, Lebanon’s own Restore Community Coffee’s building made me double check I was at the right location. It’s not hidden or anything; it actually sits on top of a small hill right off their main street. The building looks cool but its outer appearance and the simplified title of just ‘Restore’ definitely gave me cool thrift store vibes. As many people do, I trusted Google, went inside, and fell in love. The interior is just as cool as the outside. If it was a person, I’d describe it has someone having an old soul. It felt rustic, worn in, and inviting. To the side of the register, you can choose from amazing Restore merchandise from sweaters to hats to coffee mugs. I didn’t get anything crazy flavored, but I couldn’t get enough of their Vanilla Iced Coffee. It was simple and sweet, and I wish they sold it by the gallon. They know how to tempt you though. Across their counter, they have homemade desserts lined up, rice crispy treats to fudge, to their famous chess bars. My advice to you: don’t resist the sugar temptation!
Please, please, please check these cafes out! Whether you’re coming in from out of town or you’ve driven by it a million times and never stopped, try it! They all offer some type of food or dessert, and alternative drinks, like smoothies, if you’d rather not have coffee. Make the trip, join me in my new found favorite places and maybe together we can all form a Heart of Appalachia coffee shop fan group! We want to see your caffeine-fueled escapades! Use one of our suggestions from this blog or discover another one of the other southwestern Virginia coffee shops, take a photo, and tag us on Instagram or Facebook!
Until next time, Shay signing off to enjoy another cup of joe!