Chandler Gibson • A&E Editor
The Talon sent coffee aficionado Chandler Gibson to explore the city’s choice coffee shops
I remember being surprised the first time I walked into Strada Caffe. This isn’t supposed to be here, I thought. This is Tyler, Texas: city of roses and Earl Campbell. What the hell is a La Marzocco doing here? Is that cardamom syrup?
But it is supposed to be here. It’s supposed to have an ivy-covered patio, a bright red La Marzocco espresso machine and a delightfully casual food menu. Just like Tyler, carved out of the Piney Woods, Strada carved itself out of a need for something other than Starbucks.
Their espresso, from Cuvee Coffee in Austin, is rich and light. It’s bright and balanced like a Costa Rican coffee, but has a smoothness and roundedness indicative of something else. While the underripe, under-roasted sourness of Cuvee can be off-putting, the refreshing overall flavor balance more than compensates.
I don’t like sweet coffee, so the fact that I would order a gallon of the iced almond milk spiced brown sugar latte says a lot to me. It was sweet, but I could still taste the espresso.
The cafe has the coziness of an Italian espresso bar, and reminds me of a small bistro cafe in Florence near the Santa Maria Novella train station where I had Italian espresso for the first time. While that espresso was admittedly better, the vibe at Strada (which means “street” in Italian, by the way) comes dangerously, and affordably, close.
The Foundry Coffee House
Everything about The Foundry packs a punch, from the scale of the ceilings’ height to the flavor of their espresso. It’s busier than most of the other coffee shops, and it’s larger than most people realize. Everything's big here. The menu above the counter, walls and industrial open ceiling all stretch high upwards. The couch areas, scattered around the shop, are great places to lounge. Barstools and high and low top tables fill in the rest of the seating. Usually, even when busy, you can find a seat.
The espresso, served on a wooden slab with a sparkling water sidecar, is from Yemen and tasted light and bright. It was smooth, creamy and dry with a surprising coriander spiciness indicative of the region. I also ordered an iced almond milk lavender latte, which was light and sweet, but not noticeably so.
In the back, past the stage area, Porch Culture Coffee, a local coffee roaster and wholesaler, has recently set up shop. Their coffee comes in three light roasts, two mediums and one dark roast and is for sale at The Foundry, as well as available for use in drinks.
Boards & Bites Cafe
Former UT Tyler professor, Matt Gayestki owns this narrow and--at least from the outside--plain coffee shop. Tyler’s newest nerd cave not only serves espresso, sourced from Coffee City USA, but they also provide rentable board games to play. Everything from Monopoly to Catan sits in their library.
Their espresso is uninteresting. It has an over-pulled ripeness to it that overshadows any bitterness from which it may have otherwise profited. Notes of melon and citrus brighten the flavor, but the iconic bitterness is noticeably absent. The vibe is relaxed, and they have a selection of sandwiches ranging from classic to eclectic.
Wood & Bean Cafe
Where the hell am I? I asked myself as I drove up to the place. Actually where am I? I’m gonna die here.
This place is hard to find. Down a country highway to another country highway, down a small gravel path to the bottom of an embankment and inside a repurposed shipping container is Wood & Bean. Their espresso, from Coffee City USA, is rich and smooth with a smoky balance that ties in the warmth of the wood and the coziness of the East Texas country. My iced almond milk pumpkin spice latte was sweet and rich, but still resembled the espresso. The coffee shop also caters to customers’ dietary needs.
The owners, Adam and Bridget Schreifer, work in woodcarving as well. Most of the coffee shop is for sale, with small price tags hanging on or next to various decorations and accents.
“We give the forks as a courtesy, it’s really easier if you just pick [the scone] up,” Chrissy, the barista, said after she caught me struggling.
Because it was my first time, I got a scratch-off ticket and won a free scone. Out of strawberry cheesecake, Cinnamon Lover’s and Pumpkin Spice, I went with pumpkin. The scone, which was really more of a donut, was delicious and rich just like the hospitality at this off-the-beaten-path coffee shop.
Nestled in a shopping center between the Azalea District and Downtown Tyler, Brady’s Coffee has been serving classic coffee since 1996. With almost 30 different types of coffee to smell and sample, the store offers a large selection of beans from Distant Lands Roasters in Tyler.
Their espresso is fantastic. Bitter, bold and rich with an Old World acidity that reminds me of nothing else I’ve tried in Tyler. It makes perfect sense that it would be delicious in an iced almond milk pumpkin spice latte, which was a measured and effortlessly complex sweetbitter drink. Brady’s easily has the best espresso in Tyler--full stop.
The interior is cozy and intimate, with eclectic seating and tables. The art is mismatched, the menu is handwritten and the parking is minimal, but the espresso and coffee are not to be missed. They have a polite no-cell-phone policy, so it isn’t exactly the most study-friendly, but if you’re a hard-copy-book-with-notes-in-the-margins person, you can probably blend right in.
With the current construction in front of the Plaza Tower in Downtown Tyler, Cafe 1948 is a bit hard to get to, but worth the walk., This airstream cafe is one of the most picturesque coffee spots in East Texas. The original trailer is actually inside the lobby of the building, with string lights and bistro tables scattered around the area.
The espresso, sourced from owners Samuel and Amber Richmann’s family’s Arizona company, Single Speed Coffee Roasters, is overpoweringly bitter. Albeit the interesting notes of smoke and earthiness, it was initially unpleasant. The iced almond milk lavender latte, on the other hand, was delicious, and I usually avoid sweet coffee drinks. I would definitely order it again. As far as food goes, the cafe sells gourmet toasts, like avocado toast and the Vagabond--rosemary brie spread, fig compote, bacon and arugula on toast from Delightful Food Company.
The vibe is slow, bright and a bit corporate, so it may not exactly be the place to get some studying done. It is, on the other hand, a good place to grab a latte and a toast on your way to get a drink at a downtown bar, or maybe to see a show at Liberty Hall.