Chattanooga Coffee Culture Cultivates Community

By Natalia PĂ©rez

Whether it’s the rustic, comfortable vibe at Local Coffee at East Ridge, the fun and inviting aesthetic at (be)caffeinated, or the deep, rich colors and patterned walls, chairs, upholstery and floors at Mad Priest Coffee Roasters -- Chattanooga’s diverse, welcoming coffee culture cultivates community, work and social spaces, and of course, great coffee. 

In our current age of artisanal coffees and glossy, high-end machinery, coffee culture has long permeated our daily lives. According to the National Coffee Association, about 62 percent of American adults consume coffee everyday. It jumpstarts our days, fuels us for late nights, is a lovely supporting element in our social interactions and a long-standing icon for instagrammable photos or hip locations.

Coffee is a universal language, bringing us all together in different ways: a quick coffee date with a friend, coffee breaks at work, interviewing for a job at a coffee shop, bonding over a great cup of coffee at a networking event, or just a general coffee date (the falling in love at a coffee shop trope exists for a reason). 

Many of us have transitioned into working remotely over the past year, and it’s unsurprising that our Gig City has recently been named the best city to work from home by PCMag and Forbes. Chattanooga boasts many remote worker essentials -- including delightful, vibrant coffee shops. These aesthetic spaces offer atmosphere, WiFi and of course, your favorite coffee. 

Whether you’re new to Chattanooga or a longtime local, a great way to rediscover or get to know the personality of your city is to visit its local coffee shops. 

Here’s a tour of Chattanooga’s quirky, laidback, colorful coffee scene, along with some great places to work remotely or find community. 

Frothy Monkey 

Located on the Southside at 1400 Market Street, Frothy Monkey has been open in downtown Chattanooga for almost four years. Frothy Monkey roasts its own coffee and offers beer, wine and cocktails for all your beverage desires. 

As with every Frothy Monkey establishment, the historic space speaks for itself. 

“We were lucky to have the opportunity to go into the Chattanooga Choo Choo, pouring with history and stories. Designing was easy,” says Brittney Harrison Russler, director of restaurants and hospitality at Frothy Monkey. 

"The vibe at Frothy Monkey all comes down to the people who work with us. We are big believers in letting hospitality set the tone, so we strive for folks who work for us to be individuals who generally care about people, and that in itself, makes the place feel good.”

Frothy Monkey’s commitment to hospitality stretches beyond hiring practices. The team supports several charitable and civic organizations, prioritizing neighbors and partners, and organizations dedicated to the arts, sustainability, historic/land preservation, equity and self-empowerment. 

Frothy’s food and drinks are made from scratch, using original recipes and thoughtfully-sourced ingredients from regional farmers and producers whenever possible. The lattes are customer favorites and year-round staples, with seasonal menus offered based on drinks submitted by staff. The Royale, a turkey and swiss sandwich, is the top selling sandwich (Russler recommends you add some regional bacon on it).
 
“My personal fave is our shrimp and grits for dinner, or our cheese plate and charcuterie anytime with a glass of wine. And how can you ever mess up breakfast?” Russler says. 

The Frothy team loves community events, and have been part of Make a Mark Chattanooga, Spirits in the Wild for the Chattanooga Zoo and The Equity Alliance Voter Registration among several others. Russler says they look forward to participating in them again soon, as well as hosting another city-wide latte art throwdown. In the meantime, Frothy team members look forward to continuing to serve the community on the other side of the pandemic, eager to smile at guests with more than their eyes again. 

(be) caffeinated

(be) caffeinated has two locations in Chattanooga: a drive-thru in Red Bank on Dayton Blvd. -- open for about 1.5 years, and a drive-thru and patio seating on the North Shore--open for almost three months. In both locations, the aesthetic is fun and inviting, with plant decor in the North Shore location. 

The Red Bank drive-thru is a comfortable, accessible place for (be) caffeinated customers to grab coffee on their way to work or after a stressful day. The recently opened North Shore location with patio seating seeks to create a haven for people to meet a friend, study or work, and have stable EPB internet. 

(be) caffeinated intentionally supports other local businesses, and locations represent between 10 and 15 other local businesses including Rembrandts, Mad Priest Coffee Roasters, The Local Juicery and several others. A percentage of sales from every Chattahooligan -- (be) caffeinated’s signature drink -- is donated to Operation Get Active, the nonprofit arm of the Chattanooga Football Club, which helps teach kids across the city (and the state) soccer and social skills. 

“We also partner with other local nonprofits like Tennessee Kids Belong, Northside Neighborhood House, The Epilepsy Foundation, and do our best to provide a safe spot for both our customers and our employees,” says Christopher Wood, (be) caffeinated founder. “Our biggest impact, however, is in how many other small businesses we work with. We love working with other entrepreneurs, and every business we work with is a pleasure.”

(be) caffeinated represents much of Chattanooga’s coffee culture: relational, supportive, service-oriented and inviting. 

“The coffee culture in Chattanooga is fantastic,” Wood says. “Not only is it much more expansive than I could have ever imagined, especially for a relatively small city, there is a coffee shop or roaster for pretty much everyone. We love being a part of a city that loves coffee so much and I think we are fitting in quite nicely. Coffee shops like Goodman's, Sleepyhead, Velo, Mad Priest, etc. are all great to work with and are so welcoming.”

(be) caffeinated has seen much growth in the past year, despite the pandemic, and are branching into a new roasting company, New Wave Coffee Roasters. They’re entering the final stage of development and expect to be roasting coffee in the upcoming weeks. Give them a follow at @newwave_coffee to keep up.

Mad Priest Coffee Roasters

Michael and Cherita Rice started Mad Priest Coffee Roasters in 2015 as a social enterprise and small-batch specialty coffee roasting company with the mission to “Craft excellent coffee. Educate the curious. Champion the displaced.” 

Their focus has always been to run a sustainable, for-profit business with a focus on social and environmental goals alongside their economic ones. 

They started out to hire refugees resettled in Chattanooga, in partnership with Bridge Refugee Services, and the vision has since expanded to work alongside nonprofits and individuals on larger issues of social justice, community, equity and inclusion. 

“We've expanded our vision to not only focus on refugees and immigrants, but also on issues like gentrification and racial inequality,” says Cherita Rice, co-founder of Mad Priest Coffee Roasters. “We've taken a step back, especially during COVID-19, to figure out how to grow in a more long-term, sustainable way, and really invest in our team -- including the beginning of an employee ownership program.”

Mad Priest has two locations: a new drive-thru at their roastery location in East Chattanooga, and the original espresso bar on Broad Street in Southside. Although the once rich, colorful, patterned seating area at their Cherry Street location is now permanently closed due to COVID-19, Michael and Cherita have still cultivated a similar, unique environment at their two current locations, playing diverse music, featuring bright colors and creative marketing statements

Their most popular coffees are their Dark Night of the Soul (dark roast blend), Sloth Dispelling (breakfast blend) as well as single-origin coffees from unique places. Customers love the drip coffee, traditional espresso beverages, and fun, seasonal coffee and non-coffee beverages. 

“We're super excited about some new, unique single origin coffees that we've got coming this spring, a new subscription club, and most of all, our YouTube channel,” says Cherita Rice. “The pandemic forced us to change a whole lot about the way we do business, most notably with the transition from in-person gatherings and events (such as coffee cuppings, food pop-ups and cultural events) to virtual experiences. 

Local Coffee at East Ridge 

If you’re a Local Coffee at East Ridge regular, you most likely swear by the chai, the Rhode Island Coffee Cabinet, or the espresso drinks. 

Co-owned by Debbie and Danny Lance, Local Coffee at East Ridge aims to create a local place for people to gather and build relationships, along with providing medical assistance to people around the world. 

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, a portion of sales of Local Coffee’s True Brue coffee — a blend provided by Mad Priest — goes toward mission work in three countries. Those dollars help provide medical and educational supplies for children in Kenya, help support a girls' home providing education in Honduras and benefit local missionaries building churches in Uruguay.

Local Coffee, while currently relocating, had a rustic, comfortable, community-centered atmosphere. Danny Lance, born and raised in East Ridge and also the senior pastor at True Life Church, has been consistently invested in advancing, nurturing and partnering with the community. 

From the start, one of Danny and Debbie Lance’s main goals was for Local Coffee to be the hub of East Ridge, so they hosted large community events like ArtBeat nights, a monthly series of local artists' gallery exhibits and live music from local bands, held in conjunction with East Ridge Creative Arts, and the East Ridge High School Chorus Christmas concert among other events.

“We were fortunate to have a really large space and large separate meeting rooms, so we hosted all sorts of community events and organizations,” Danny Lance says. “We had everything from candidate forums and monthly Meet the Mayor breakfasts to school events, concerts, Chamber of Commerce Council board meetings and business networking events. We also hosted many private events like birthday parties and showers. One of our favorite spaces was a great little fireside space with couches.”

Danny Lance speaks highly of Chattanooga’s coffee culture. 

“One of the best things we found when we were just getting started and trying to learn the culture was the willingness of all of the other shops and roasters around town to help us get onto our feet. We were fortunate enough to later be able to pay that forward by helping a couple of other local shops get started."