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Let’s be real – coffee matters. More than that, though, coffee shops matter. This is spoken as a true coffee addict who used to hate coffee and then sophomore year of high school forced herself to drink it until she could bear it and now she loves it but still has very picky tastes because bad coffee is very, very bad. You tracking with me?

If you love coffee and want a semi-comprehensive, extremely opinionated guide to coffee shops in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, you’ve come to the right place. If you don’t love coffee and don’t care about this analysis, do us all a favor and still read it because the rest of us want you to understand our beautiful, amply caffeinated world.

Some people like to get away from the library to study in a coffee shop. I like to sometimes get away from coffee shops to study in the library. I am not saying my opinion is the best one. You could ask a hundred students and they might all give you a different answer. However, I feel qualified to offer some insight because I have been everywhere in the area that sells coffee more than a few times, and my bank account proves it.

Because there are so many coffee places around, I’ve broken it down into categories.

When you’re living on campus, the best options are on-campus coffee shops.

#1: The Meantime Coffee Co. Located in the UNC Campus Y, Meantime serves up quality brews and social justice. The Campus Y is the center for social justice and social innovation, so buying coffee (or cookies/granola bars, which I can highly recommend) from Meantime sends funds right back into making an impact. Once you’ve grabbed a latte from Meantime and walked over to sit on the benches in front of South Building, wowing at the beauty that is Carolina’s quad, you’ll want to go every single day.

#2: Friends’ Café. You can find Friends’ in the Health Sciences Library, making it a sort of hidden jewel on campus. They make second on the list because their coffee is just good, no matter how you take yours. Conveniently, there is a bus stop right outside, so you can’t even be deterred on a freezing cold day. And, if you can’t find a seat inside the shop, you’re only two steps away from the Health Sciences Library itself. It’s a win/win.

#3: Stone & Leaf Café. They say it’s a real estate agent’s mantra: location, location, location. That surely rings true for this super convenient coffee shop on campus. The Stone & Leaf is located in the Student Stores, right by the Pit. They serve Starbucks drinks and countless bakery items. It is the perfect between-class place for an afternoon caffeine boost. Plus, there are tables upstairs by the window which look out over the Pit. Prime real estate for people watching, if you ask me.

#4: Port City Java. For all you South Campus peeps, this is the place for you. Port City has great specialty drinks, which can be dangerous if you’re like me and you’re hot and thirsty walking out of Rams Head Rec Center. Also a great place to grab a hot coffee when you’re walking to class on a chilly morning!

That wraps up my favorite on-campus coffee spots!

If you’re up for a little walk, or you have a car, you can venture farther out into the greater world of Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Once you do, the coffee shop options are practically limitless. I hope this breakdown will help:

Best coffee: Gray Squirrel. It’s a bold claim to say the squirrel has the best cup of joe, I know. But once you taste their maple latte, I think you’ll agree with me. Also, who doesn’t want to drink iced coffee out of a mason jar? Though the primary location is in Carrboro, be sure to check out Gray Squirrel’s other location in the Chapel Hill Public Library!

Best study spot: Open Eye. I tend to go to Open Eye multiple times a week. Judge me if you will. The café has tons of seating, tons of parking, and they’re open until 11pm on weeknights and midnight on the weekends. They make a great mocha and it’s served in a bowl-like mug. Or, if you want to save a few bucks, they have hot apple cider in the winter for pretty cheap.

Best aesthetic: Perennial. Located on Franklin Street, and just a short walk from campus, Perennial is prime for those exposed brick, natural lighting, Insta-worthy coffee pics. There’s not a lot of seating, so I can’t recommend it for intense studying, but it makes a cute place to meet up with friends. Plus, the coffee is pretty darn good, too.

Best atmosphere: Caffé Driade and Johnny’s Gone Fishing. We have a tie for atmosphere. While very different from one another, both these coffee shops are an immersive experience. Driade airs on the rustic side, nestled in the woods and featuring great coffee along with wine and beer. Johnny’s is where you want to be on a cold winter day, because the building itself is homey and colorful (though the whimsical outdoor seating is fun, too).

Best scones: Bread and Butter. Their homemade scones are seriously to die for and that’s all I have to say about that.

Worth the drive: Namu. As the website says, this is where Korean heritage and the local community meet. Namu is not merely a coffee shop, it’s a retreat. The property is large and seating abounds. Natural bamboo grows around the premises and makes each sip of delicious coffee that much better.


I hope this helps! Please ask me any questions in the comments, and I hope you enjoy your coffee.

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