Coffee seems to be in the backdrop of many Americans’ lives. We wake up, have some coffee. Going on the road? Better get some coffee first. Need a place to meet up with friends and chat? A cup of coffee is in order.
In Tyler, where do we go to get that sweet caffeine nectar?
Tylerites have several options outside of chain coffee shops. These spaces provide a place to come and be with friends — these days ideally distanced and masked in between sips. Chances are, the coffee beans were roasted not too far from where you’re enjoying it.
Choosing a local coffee shop means you are directly supporting a local business owner you could actually have a conversation with; someone who will personally thank you for coming in.
I took my camera and made a tour of local shops in Tyler, capturing regulars and owners. Everywhere I visited, my question was the same. “Why is this local coffee shop important to you?”
The Foundry Coffee House
First stop, The Foundry Coffee House, a staple to the specialty coffee scene in Tyler since 2014. Maya Foster is one of the shop’s tenured baristas, honing her craft for over five years.
“The biggest aspect for me is community. I think the community plays a huge part in it for me, but also there’s nothing like getting to know not only the baristas but also the owners and founders of the place,” she said.
“You get to catch their vibe as it was originally intended when it was opened.”
Samuel Broadus, a newcomer to Tyler who has a job in marketing, came into The Foundry to do some work.
Within minutes, he was sipping a shaken cappuccino suggested by Foster.
While at The Foundry, I stopped to talk to Johnathan Ramm, director of roasting at Porch Culture. The roastery, located in the back of The Foundry, processes coffee sold in The Foundry and delivered to customers who sign up for their subscription service.
We talked about the local coffee scene and how Ramm and his team saw a local need.
“We started Porch Culture because we noticed there was a gap in Tyler,” Ramm said. “It was hard to find coffee that you knew was freshly roasted. No one had a roast date on their bag, so you just had to guess when you were buying coffee.”
Ramm explained how coffee is connected to geography and farming. “Coffee is where I started to think about where things come from. It’s a connection to agriculture, and good farming practices yield good coffee,” he said.
“We wanted to be able to connect the local Tyler community, and kind of connect those dots of where is your coffee coming from and who is your coffee coming from,” Ramm said.
Just around the corner from The Foundry is Café 1948 Coffee and Juice Co. They opened their brick and mortar store in June of 2020 but began as a mobile coffee vendor housed in a 1948 Boles-Aero trailer.
Like every coffee shop, Café 1948 has its regulars. Trey Dillon, a Tyler resident, expressed what is important to him about local coffee shops.
“It’s essential for [downtowns] to have culture and arts, and coffee shops as a whole are a pillar of culture,” Dillon said. “It’s not the whole piece, but it’s an important one. I find that energy and that movement of both people and ideas to be inspiring in a place that I choose to exist in.”
For many of Café 1948’s regulars, the shop is a work space. Sterling Smith is a software developer often seen on his laptop.
Musharaf Mohiuddin, who goes by Nabeel, studies in the UT Tyler Health Sciences master’s program. He talked about why he chooses Café 1948 as a workspace.
“Honestly the thing about local coffee shops is promoting small businesses. That’s the first aspect: helping your community,” said Mohiuddin. “Another thing is you get to know a lot of people locally. If someone is coming into a place that’s local, most of the people are from there, so you get to socialize with them, as compared to a more mainstream place like Starbucks, where everyone is pretty much in the drive thru.”
Boards and Bites
A three mile drive southeast took me to Boards and Bites. This coffee shop promotes card and board games available for patrons to enjoy while eating and drinking coffee.
I walked in and was promptly greeted. I noticed the atmosphere was more tranquil than some of the larger coffee shops.
Honor Neal, who doubles as both a Boards and Bites barista and regular, was studying when I came by. For Neal, who lives within walking distance of the shop, the local component of Boards and Bites makes a difference.
“Whether I come here studying or playing games with my friends and family, I know I’m supporting a local business and local people,” said Neal. “I’m interacting with people from my town and even in my neighborhood, just getting to see them and enjoy their presence.”
Big Shot Coffeehouse
A few miles south, I met up with Lydia Baskin. She has been on the coffee scene for a few years at Coffee City USA and running her own mobile coffee unit, Café Corretto. Now, she has a brand new shop just outside Tyler in Gresham: Big Shot Coffeehouse.
With her new shop only having been open a few weeks, she had some fresh insight to the importance of a local shop.
“So probably a recurring theme I’ve been hearing from my customers the past few weeks was that this community has needed a space like this for a long time,” Baskin said. “Somewhere to go in and sit down but also a local coffee shop that has a drive thru because so many moms don’t want to get out of their car.”
Baskin talked about what her shop provides. “It’s somewhere they can come and catch up with friends and do job interviews and figure out meal plans. That’s why local coffee shops are important to a community, because it provides, as those big guys say, that ‘third place’.”
Chris French is an independent photographer based in Tyler, TX, who takes all of his photos through vintage film lenses. He is also a local musician and barista. Chris loves to share in the nostalgic feeling provided by photos and aims to bring that joy to others. To see more of Chris’ work, you can follow him at @mrcoffeeswag.
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