University District

Coffee culture: Four great coffee spots in the University District

Since January, High Ground News’ On the Ground team has been reporting from the University District. To help us connect with residents and other stakeholders, we hosted a weekly pop-up Community Newsroom where people could drop by with story ideas, feedback and questions.

Belltower Artisans, a coffee shop and pottery studio on the Highland Strip, has served as host for those newsrooms.

Related: “Coffee and community journalism: On the Ground in the University District

For three months we’ve been enveloped in the sounds and smells of the district’s coffee culture. It seemed only fitting to pay homage to that culture before we move on to our next embedded neighborhood, Madison Heights.

Cafe Eclectic recently announced it was closing its Highland location, but there are still several local options to suit any taste. The district also features two Starbucks locations -- one on the University of Memphis’ main campus and one at 3388 Poplar Avenue -- but here are four local places to get a great cup of coffee and a bite to eat for your next study session, business meeting or relaxing afternoon with friends.

The Home Away from Home: Avenue Coffee

Avenue Coffee is located at 786 Echles St. in the University District's Normal Station neighborhood. (Ziggy Mack)
(901) 454-3348 | 786 Echles Street
7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday | 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Avenue is tucked away in the Normal Station neighborhood near the University of Memphis. Most of its clients are students -- high school through doctoral students -- and residents.

“It does kind of take people away from the business of life because it’s tucked away in the back of a neighborhood,” said general manager Noah Randolph. “So people come in, they feel a little less stressed about life because it’s not as busy.”

There are plenty of nooks and corners to sit in and work or study or board games for an unplugged afternoon with friends or family.

Despite the atmosphere, Randolph insists that their latte game is anything but quaint.

“Our pride and joy is our lattes. We do latte art with all of our lattes,” he said.

Opened in April 2013, Avenue offers a full range of coffee and espresso options, from local Reverb Coffee Company and specialty roasters from around the world.

A chalk map of the University District's many distinct neighborhoods graces the walls of Avenue Coffee. (Submitted) They’re currently offering an orange creamsicle specialty latte, as well as sun tea, a black tea steeped for 12 hours and infused with other flavors for a sweet orange profile mixed with a smokey undertone.

“It kind of brings you back to full Southern roots,” said Randolph. “It’s something you would imagine yourself sitting on the porch in summer weather and drinking.”

They also offer light food options including bagels, oatmeal and homemade chicken salad and turkey, bacon and apple sandwiches, which are both top sellers. Avenue serves locally made Area 51 Ice Cream, and their current seasonal flavor is lemon icebox.

“It’s kind of the closest you’re going to get to home, without it being home,” said Randolph. "It looks like a house, it kind of feels like a house. There’s an upstairs and a downstairs, and you get to know the people there very well.”

The Trendy Hotspot: Belltower Artisans

Belltower Artisans is located at 549 S Highland St. in the University District. (Cole Bradley)

(901) 417-2137 | 549 South Highland Street
7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday | 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday | 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Belltower is part coffee shop and part pottery studio and cooperative. It’s the brainchild of friends and University of Memphis students Christopher Galbreath and Micah Dempsey.
Launched in November 2017, the shop offers full coffee and espresso services from local and specialty roasters served in ceramic cups made in-house.

Custom mugs are made in house at Belltower Artisans. They're available for purchase and used for customer orders. (Submitted) They also offer the cups for purchase alongside other handmade items from other local artisans, teas from Orange Mound’s My Cup of Tea, sandwiches and pastas, and breads and pastries made by Binghampton-based Chocolate Drop Shop.

On the pottery side, they offer classes from beginner to pro and space for working ceramists to form, bake and store their goods.

Related: “College students open coffee shop and pottery studio near University of Memphis

Belltower’s aesthetic is modern but rustic, with accents of wood among brick and concrete. When the university is in session, it’s a hot spot for study sessions and meetups, but Galbreath said the clientele varies.

"There is not one single demographic that I would say we cater predominantly to,” he said. “We see a lot of students but we also see lots of professionals. Really, age and race and socioeconomic background -- we see all across the spectrum."

The O.G.: C K’s Coffee Shop

(901) 324-5680 | 509 South Highland Street
Hours: 24-hours Monday through Sunday

The classic C K's breakfast is served 24-hours a day at C K's on Highland. (Submitted) C K’s Coffee Shop has been located on at the northern end of the Highland Strip for as long as most Memphians can remember.

A good portion of its staff and regular clientele have been around for decades, and its surfaces are stained with ancient grease and the nicotine of a bygone era when smoking was still allowed in restaurants.

C K’s has no WiFi, it’s cash only and its coffee is the old no-fills, pot on a warmer served with creamers in plastic thimbles. But that’s its charm.

You can work, read or study for hours with a solid, cheap cup of joe. If you’re hungry, the full menu is served all day.

The Newcomer: Levee Coffee and Creamery

Levee Coffee & Creamery is located at 31 S Highland St Suite 113 in the University District. (Submitted)

(901) 590-4282 | 431 South Highland St Suite 113
6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday | 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday | 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday | 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday (extended evening hours in summer)

The owners of Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizza are behind Levee Coffee and Creamery. The Highland location opened in January, following their successful first shop in Collierville launched in April 2017.
Levee Art, the custom latte art available at Levee Coffee & Creamery, is a key offering of the newest coffee house on Highland. (Submitted) Levee offers a full espresso bar featuring local roasters in a sleek and modern atmosphere. They’re known for their latte art which customers can add to hot and cold coffee drinks and milkshakes.

They also offer small-batch, homemade Ice cream in fun flavors like My Jam (strawberry) and Mustang Madness (cookies and cream), as well as homemade waffle cones and specialties like affogato (espresso and ice cream) and a raw cookie dough that’s safe to eat.

For healthier snacks, try the homemade steel cut oatmeal and muffins.

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017. 
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