An outpouring of coffee shop openings point to a shift in Memphis

Recent openings point to Memphis’ growing preference for new-wave coffee shops that prioritize coffee flavors, roasts and brewing methods.

As Memphis continues its redevelopment of city neighborhoods, the need for public spaces where residents can come together as a local community becomes even more important. In 2015, following the redevelopment of Binghampton, craft coffee shop and retailer City & State found its home on Broad Avenue.

Since City & State set the stage for an outpouring of new coffee shops, Memphis has seen growth in locally-sourced craft coffee shops in the past year alone, from Edge Alley to French Truck and The Hub.

Lisa Toro, alongside her husband Luis, originally planned for City & State to solely be a retail store but decided to introduce craft coffee in order to launch this underrepresented scene to the developing neighborhood. As the Broad Avenue Arts District continues to grow, City & State aims to be the meeting point where neighbors and businesses can come together and get to know one another in order to truly strengthen its community.

“It naturally creates a gathering space for the neighborhood and the area,” says Toro. “We saw a need for more community and a need for coffee.”

Averell Mondie hangs out at City & State, one of the first new-wave coffee shops in Memphis.

Memphis has been home to a number of local coffee shops for years, such as Midtown's Otherlands and the now departed Republic Coffee, but the city’s exposure to new-wave craft coffee has been limited, making details concerning local roasters, flavor notes, and meticulous brewing methods a new experience. Therefore, making spaces approachable is key in opening craft coffee shops to ensure that customers feel welcomed rather than out of place.

“We took the big leap knowing that it was going to be new in the market,” says Toro. "A lot of folks here weren’t familiar with craft coffee, but we’ve seen it grow. We’ve seen people adopt this and get more enthusiastic by asking questions and wanting to learn.”

While the rise of craft coffee in Memphis is certainly growing, it’s the lack of accessibility to local roasters and distributors around the area that proves to be the largest obstacle for local coffee businesses to open and thrive. As opposed to its neighbor Nashville, whose proximity to a number of local micro-roasters makes opening and running speciality coffee shops a much easier task, Memphis’s location is a tricky spot to source quality, new-wave coffee roasters.

Another problem Memphis faces is the unequal influx of local businesses in areas such as Midtown and Downtown versus East Memphis and the outer suburbs. Businesses continue to gravitate towards the urban core leaving more residential neighborhoods high and dry.

Fortunately, with the opening of Downtown-based Tamp & Tap’s second location in East Memphis and brand new shop The Hub, it appears that the suburbs of Memphis are welcomed into coffee culture.

Spearheaded by Peet Strydom as general manager and Lance Hedrick as lead barista, the Hub opened just a few months ago at 6000 Briarcrest Avenue.

Hedrick, who is a member of the Speciality Coffee Association, said his drive in opening The Hub stemmed from his exposure to the growing coffee culture in cities such as Nashville and Chattanooga. He identified Memphis as the next city in need of embracing this movement.

Currently, Hedrick travels to neighboring cities to buy specialty micro-roasted coffeee in bulk.

Peet Strydom, general manager of The Hub in East Memphis.

“You would think there are so many distributors you’d need nearby, but I’ve have had the hardest time.” Hedrick says. “When you get to the south, it’s few and far between where you have coffee cities, so there’s no distributors because there’s no need.”

While options may be limited, long-standing Memphis roasters J. Brooks and Ugly Mug have paved the way for the likes of Dr. Beans and New Orleans-based French Truck, the latest players in Memphis’s roasting scene. However, Hedrick hopes he can introduce Memphians to what’s outside of the 901 area code.

“Memphis loves Memphis,” Hedrick explains. “Which is one of its top attributes, but because of that I’m terrified about carrying other roasters besides Memphis-based roasters. We want to celebrate Memphis but we also want to celebrate coffee and all its aspects.”

Both Toro and Hedrick are actively working on introducing different ways to highlight Memphis’ growing coffee culture. City & State organized Memphis’s first Cold Brew Throwdown in July while Hedrick put together the first annual Latte Art Competition in January, both events drawing crowds from Memphis as well as neighboring cities. While the scene holds a competitive edge, especially in a cities where options are limited, fellow craft coffee houses hope to unify in order to bring it to its full potential.

“The more we adopt and embrace this movement, the more that raises the visibility and awareness across the country and beyond,” says Toro. “It’s such a great community, that’s the beauty of craft coffee.”

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