Moving To Downtown Tampa: The Coffee Scene

Tampa is a community of coffee connoisseurs who frequent a diversity of shops from traditional Cuban diners serving Cafe con Leche with a dollop of political gossip to trendier wifi cafes where entrepreneurial ideas are hatched, downtown workers gather and local artwork is for sale.

The key to each's success? Establishing places and environments where you want to be -- to work, to talk, to play, to be seen and to meet your peeps.

Here, 83 Degrees takes a look at four of downtown Tampa's coolest, evolving coffee shops. Discover what they offer, what to expect when visiting, the brains behind the coffee beans, how these coffee shops came to be, and what patrons find at each.

Buddy Brew

It all began when David and Susan Ward of  Tampa started giving bags of freshly ground coffee to family and friends as Christmas presents a few years ago. The enthusiastic responses combined with their own love of trying different kinds of coffee soon made opening a coffee shop seem like a natural thing to do. Both had careers in the corporate world, but craved being part of the local java scene as much as they craved a cup of top quality brew.

From a business aspect, their timing was ideal. In 2010, coffee shops were just beginning to emerge in Tampa and few were in or near downtown.  So the Wards searched around for a cool space and soon established Buddy Brew at 2020 West Kennedy Boulevard, a place oozing urban grit and charm, as they desired. The neighborhood was evolving and edgy, and a rapidly becoming a destination for emerging restaurants, galleries and boutique shops. 

Buddy Brew's coffee beans are roasted in small batches at the shop (named after the couple's dog). Then, they are ground fresh for each patron's order.

"Everything is about the coffee,'' says David Ward. "If it isn't awesome, we're failing.''

Wayne Rabineau of Apollo Beach agrees that the coffee is awesome. The first time he and a few friends visited the craft roaster, it was love at first sip.

"It was the best coffee I had ever tasted,'' says Rabineau. "We each had four cups.'' Among his faves? Costa Rica Naranjo's "hint of chocolate.''

While coffee attracts people to Buddy Brew, what often keeps them coming back is other patrons.

"It's about creating a community, a welcoming place, like having coffee in your home kitchen,'' says David Ward. "The lack of televisions is on purpose because we want patrons to talk and mingle.''

Friday mornings at Buddy Brew are known as a time for members of the startup community and aspiring entrepreneurs to gather. Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe is often there and sometimes does webcasts from the shop about the region's growing new economy.

"Open Mic nights, musicians playing live and fun surprises are on the horizon,'' says Susan Ward.

Buddy Brew also recently opened a second location at nearby Oxford Exchange on Kennedy Boulevard across the street from the University of Tampa.

Kahwa Coffee

Raphael Perrier, co-owner of Kahwa Coffee Roasting Company, worked his way up in the coffee business, holding positions such as barista and manager over 18 years, before opening a coffee shop. He started two Kahwas in St. Petersburg (a cafe in 2006 and an espresso bar in 2008), and built on those successes to open two in Downtown Tampa (espresso bar and café) in early 2012.

"A great downtown [Tampa] is in the near future, says Perrier. "It's been growing little by little, especially in the past six months.''

Kahwa -- the name is the Arabic word for coffee and French slang for the drink -- roasts its coffee beans locally. The coffee beans are ground fresh for each pot of coffee and each shot of espresso.

Patrons say they consider Kahwa a "neighborhood coffee shop,'' where everybody knows their name. It is a hangout spot with the perk of caffeine, a place to have fun, be friendly, get to know each other and embrace individuality. This individuality is also reflected in the works by local artists displayed on the walls.

"We want experience to be fun beginning to end,'' says Perrier.

The downtown Tampa shops are on the first floor of the Element (one of the city's newest tall apartment buildings) and in the atrium of the Rivergate Tower (the round building / Tampa's sixth-largest office tower).

The Kahwa crowd? College students, TECO employees, attorneys, business people drift in and out all day Mondays through Fridays; young moms congregate many late mornings; an artsy crowd often headed upstairs to visit the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in the Cube shows up most afternoons. Art shows are held first Fridays of the month. Book readings and private parties are common. The Rivergate Kahwa is closed on weekends.

The Element Kahwa is open seven days a week, attracting young professionals and apartment dwellers from upstairs as well as from residents of the nearby SkyPoint and workers at small downtown shops  who enjoy a more relaxed vibe.

The crowd of "regulars,'' shop managers say, is growing in both locations.

Cafe Hey

S. Cheong Choi, co-owner and president of Cafe Hey, opened its doors in 2007 as a place where bohemians -- writers, artists, poets and musicians -- could meet up on the edge of downtown to share creative and social causes and concerns.

Paintings and drawings from local artists adorn the charming brick walls of the establishment. Evenings of live music and stand-up comedy are on the horizon, as well as “Speed Hating” (details TBD). Board games, such as Yahtzee, are also available for sharing.

"We have grown a reputation as a great non-traditional venue for both art and music,'' says Choi.

Cafe Hey offers specialty coffee beverages -- more than two dozen with catchy names -- and offers a fabulous selection of teas too. (Interestingly, the shop serves Buddy Brew coffee.)

But the daytime scene at Cafe Hey differs from Buddy Brew and Kahwa in that the lunchtime crowd often snakes outside the door as lawyers, business owners and creatives mingle in line waiting for yummy soups made fresh daily (think pumpkin & yellow squash), unique sandwiches (Rebel, Rebel and Summer Lovin'), crispy salads (kale and red cabbage) and standout vegan dishes.

Workers walk in from blocks around the cafe on the north end of Franklin Street next to Interstate 275.

All day, regulars hunch over laptops and ipads, working on independent projects or meeting with clients. Thursdays and Fridays are busier days, while weekends are more relaxed and provide a good environment, and caffeine, for college students cramming for exams.

"We have patrons who only come to Open Mic or to listen to musicians, and then enjoy the completely different atmosphere of the lunch rush, and vice versa,'' says Choi. "It's a mixed bag, and coffee is offered at all hours.''

The Buzz

Amy Cadicamo, owner of The Buzz on Harbour Island, transitioned from liquors to lattes. With a background in spirits, she originally planned to open a piano lounge in Tampa's Channel District. But when that didn't work out, she found space on Harbour Island. The result: A coffee shop that also serves alcohol -- and drinks that mix both. Plus homemade baked goods. Cadicamo's pumpkin bread is most popular.

The Buzz patrons can order favorite caffeinated beverages, such as Buzz Latte, in the morning, and return hours later to order favorite alcoholic beverages. (Happy hour is popular at The Buzz.) The Buzz holds independent film nights and documentary series nights. Cigar City Magazine (not to be confused with Cigar City Brewing) and The Buzz coordinate events together, such as documentary film series night. Documentary film series nights occur the first Thursday of each month; Independent film nights occur the second Thursday of each month. Both events are hosted by Paul Guzzo of Cigar City Magazine.

Weekdays typically attract nearby workers earlier in the morning, followed by business people, and college students throughout the day. Harbour Island has two large office buildings (including Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's local office) so The Buzz is the go-to coffee shop for these professionals.

High-tech and creative minds congregate at The Buzz, including members of Android development, meetup and writing clubs. The Buzz also hangs works by local artists on the walls.

"Sipping coffee (The Buzz serves Kahwa coffee), sitting outside with their dogs, taking in the scenery of the upscale area overlooking the waterfront, are some things patrons enjoy,'' says Cadicamo. Many patrons live on Harbour Island and walk in; visitors can park in a nearby lot for $1 per hour.

Juliette Cassistre is a Boston area native who loves sunny Florida, fitness and health-conscious cooking and baking. She has been a freelance writer for several local publications, including a stint as a Food and Drink Website Editor. She earned her BA in Communications at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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