Queen City Caffeine Crawl [@CharlotteNC]

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – this time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and this time with a Queen City caffeine theme.

Charlotte, North Carolina has been home for over 2 years now. Since the day I arrived, I’ve been pretty bent on finding the best coffee this place has to offer. Come to think of it, that’s one of my top missions anywhere I go. It’s a close jostle with bookstores. But before going any further with this, let’s get something out of the way. Writer, you ask, is Charlotte known for its coffee? Reader, I say, no it is not! This search has been a difficult one but are they a-changing or what, these times?

I’ve been noticing a slow but sure growth of new places to stop for a cup of coffee in the Queen City. I love the idea of a ridiculous crawl and now felt like as good a time as any to launch the next installment. Café Cake Crawl wasn’t going to work here, so I had to scrap visions of a part two. Of the many coffee places I started to peg as potential stops while researching, none too many featured café cake options. If anything, planning for this yielded a clear North Carolinian distinction between coffee shops and bakeries. Down here those two just don’t mix (are you having that??) and Café Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Crawl didn’t have the same ring to it.

Let’s get going with this quest for the best caffeination station. The rules: No chains (but local multi-locationers accepted). No additives to the coffee (I drink it black anyways and yes, my teeth do hate me). No to-go cups because I’m not that busy of a woman – substitute in some worry over a personal problem where if it’s served in a mug I will try to drink it before it’s cooled enough and therefore will ruin my t-buds and thus and thenceforth this crawl. Smallest size only, for fear of cardiac arrest (remember this one for later). And last but not least, must sit down to absorb the vibes (as the kids say) for at least 30 minutes in each individual location.

Understood? All aboard? Great. Now, prepare your heads for this second-hand rush.


Trade and Lore

I purposefully chose to kick off with Trade and Lore because the name and photos from Google Maps were extremely intimidating to me. It seemed like the type of place that looks at you like you have 14 heads and they’re so bored of seeing people with 14 heads so kindly stop breathing their air and go sit in the corner uncomfortably until your coffee is ready, but not announced, so it’s actually been sitting at the counter for a few minutes and was mistakenly picked up then put back down by two other customers before you apprehensively stood up and went to go get it. You know what I’m talking about? Good, because Trade and Lore is nothing like that type of place.

Trade and Lore is upstairs above a NoDa Brewery, Salud, and the space feels exactly like that. It actually went so far as to remind me of some of my favorite spots in New York City. Except instead of astral ambient electro synth, they were playing some tracks in the stride of ‘All Because of You’ by Rise Against. My new preferred way to kick off 8am. The entrance was a little tricky to find so I ended up walking around the block (a fault entirely of my own, I can confirm that there was in fact signage) before climbing to the top of some cool looking stairs that led into a cool looking second floor which I guess I’d describe as a really, really cool looking den? When I thought the thought that I was glad it felt hidden and protected and wasn’t a more obvious in-your-face glass storefront, I realized that I was becoming too annoying for my own good.

I give this coffee a rage against that espresso machine out of 10.

Basal Coffee

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I’m obsessed with the floors here. Also pretty much everything else about here. Confession: never knew this place existed. Never knew it was even about to exist, but allow me to introduce you to yet another fault entirely and all the way of my own. Basal Coffee opened back in March of this year, further emphasizing my point that the Queen City coffee scene is positively blooming (that… are you having that??). The biggest difference I noticed was that where other spots have waited until 100% to open their doors to the community, Basal opened with the minimalist necessities and so many exciting growth plans to share with their customers. I know this because the owner happened to be behind the counter while I was there and gave me a very passionate summary of what’s to come (Block parties! Coffee block parties! Do you hear the people sing?). It’s really cool that our community is going to get to go through this journey alongside the employees and owners of Basal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about opening a place like this of my own some day (Hopes? Dreams? Is that you? How are the children?).

My Colombia pour over (pourover? pour-over? Pour Over? poor over!) was a presentation and a half. Coffee is taken seriously here. Not pretentious seriously, but you can tell that they love it like one of the family. People were coming in all morning describing the tastes and styles that they were looking for and the guys behind the bar weren’t disappointing. I must find out exactly what type of Colombian coffee this was because it was delicious.

I give this coffee a best pour over I’ve ever had in my quarter century of a life no seriously I’m equal parts floored and amazed and also stunned but mostly thankful out of 10.

Not Just Coffee

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Quite a few of my young millennial friends have social-media’d about this place and a new Charlotte city limits location seems to appear every other month so I figured it was time for me to jump on in. The Not Just Coffee spot in Atherton Mill was fine. It wasn’t exactly my scene, if I’m being entirely honest. It is literally situated in the middle open space corridor of a modernized mill. My personal feeling is that a little more greenery could have enhanced the space to feel less pop-up industrial but I think that might actually be what they’re going for here?

Unfortunately my no to-go cups rule was broken at NJC but it didn’t seem like they had any of the capabilities to deal with dishes so I get it. It also didn’t seem like anyone was coming here for that? Of the short time I spent sitting and watching, most of the people cycling through were intentionally picking up something to leave with or they were bringing in their lunches and getting a cup of coffee to go with it, then back out and on with their lives. Given its growth, Not Just Coffee is clearly great for the citizens of Charlotte, but it’s just not the coffee for Cass.

I give this coffee a paper cups for paper people out of 10.

Queen City Grounds

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Absolutely without a doubt couldn’t leave Queen City Grounds off the crawl, could I? Again, I judged by Google Maps images. I searched coffee, this place popped up, and I audibly groaned because I wanted to stay out of Uptown and, to be honest, it didn’t look super inviting from the photos. Let me say, completely different impression when I walked through the doors. Energy levels were great for an early afternoon. People were sitting and chatting or working away on laptops. Hanging plants! Off of an open loft area! Now we’re talking, this was a vibe.

On the way here I had to make a stop for french fries as a last-ditch effort to build up a liner because at this point the caffeine on the empty stomach was really starting to buzz directly to the tips of all ten fingers. I know, I’m dumb, I know. We’ll speak about that later. I went for a Guatemalan drip brew by the name of Finca Los Chorros. No idea what that means but it was really good. At this point I was really devolving into preserving the integrity of the crawl and not so much focusing on enjoying what I was drinking. When I ordered, the barista behind the counter was super energetic and friendly which made a lot of sense for someone working in a roastery surrounded by coffee shakes, rattles, and rolls all day. A few short minutes into sipping on this, the foot tapping had begun.

I give this coffee an I imagine this is what lightly smoldered firewood tastes like and I’m super into it apparently? out of 10.

Central Coffee Company

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My neighborhood favorite. Had to add Central Coffee Company even though it’s not a new find like the others on this crawl, mostly because I wanted it as a control group. Really didn’t need it, but wanted it. By the time I got here, it began to feel as if all of the coffee in my system had made itself a body-sized reservoir in between the epidermis and hypodermis layers of my skin. A jitter that hadn’t quite taken over my body yet but was definitely enough to make me feel extremely… weird. Ever feel like that? No? Huh.

I love coming to Central in South End first thing in the morning because it’s extremely well-positioned for natural sunlight in the early AM. I bring my tree encyclopedia to veg out for a bit with a to-here, then pick up a to-go for the trek (read: barely half-mile stroll) home to start the rest of my day. Central also has the best weekend hours of any coffee place in Charlotte. Fact. On this trip I tried a Papua New Guinea Kange brew, but there is one particular light roast that I’ve had here a handful of times and it’s the best light roast I’ve ever experienced and it kills me that I don’t know what it is. The flavor profile (if that is its real name) reminds me of crispy birch bark with a hint of toasted marshmallows (don’t ask). I’ll never be able to make it at home though because, fun fact alert, I am terribly horrible at making coffee myself. Seriously. Can’t work out the “mathematics” of it. And people have tried to help. Save yourselves.

I give this coffee a central to my mental and emotional comfort company out of 10.

Undercurrent Coffee

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When I was living in the Plaza Midwood area, I used to drive by this place and anxiously await the day when the “Coming Soon!” signs would be replaced by “Now Open!” signs. Undercurrent Coffee reminds me of exactly what it is: a house that was converted into a coffee shop. It’s refreshing to be in a place that offers multiple brew styles to their customers sans pretension and judgement. I don’t know where it is that hurt me to expect that type of vibe from every coffee place I go into now, but I’m delighted that the Queen City has wrecking-balled that into a very friendly and welcoming dust of nothing.

The ladies and man behind the counter here are phenomenal. They honestly make the place. They make it feel like Undercurrent actually wants you to learn how to appreciate coffee. It doesn’t expect you to walk in the door as a master roaster with a world class palate. They’ll help you figure out what you want (they quite literally offer classes) and “I think I like things that are light and woodsy and kind of taste like caramel” was sufficient for them to make a recommendation and for all of us to move on with our day. Related to vibes, the man and woman sitting next to me were practicing tarot while I worked on writing this – making me feel right at witchy home. The playlist was set to a roll of the “rock and” persuasion but at one point the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights” came on… I just about internally strangled myself to prevent a cry laughing scene. Do yourself all the favors and watch that music video.

I give this coffee a HEATHCLIFF out of 10.


As with the cake crawl… I did not feel great at the end of this! Shocking!

In fact, I sincerely discourage anyone from trying this if you’re not extremely in touch with your caffeine intake limits. Seriously, for health and safety and well-being purposes do not do this. On a normal day I usually drink anywhere from 2 to 4 disturbingly large coffees so I figured I could handle 6 small ones but I was duped, my friends! Firstly because hardly anyone served me in sizes that I would describe as anything other than full. Out went the “small only” rule.

Secondly because it was a lot of caffeine in not a lot of time. This whole crawl took me around seven hours to complete. When I reached the last few stops, I was able to recognize the signs that enough was enough. In fact, I even went so far as to fear caffeine overdose because I’m the Queen of Internet Diagnoses. In all seriousness, the mild chest pain and twitchy shoulders insisted that I not finish the last few sips of some cups. I love coffee, I do, but I love it because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, this started becoming very not enjoyable.

I’m an idiot, I know, but as Eddie Vedder once said, I’m still alive.

Follies & Fixations: July 2017

Yikes, when was the last time we did a Follies & Fixations around here? Unfortunately for all of us, I’ve been running a little low on Follies lately. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of Fixations to share. Time to bring back an old favorite. Read on.

Morning Fog Candle

I’ve mentioned these folks before in a previous Follies & Fixations post, but left out the bit about my obsession. We did a case study on United By Blue in college and they’ve been one of the few brand names that have stuck with me over the years. They’re amazing. Please go check out all of the incredible work that they do and then come back to this. Also follow their insta, as the kids say, for a LOT of wanderlust (not sponsored, just wishing my life was lived through their lens).

Back? Great. This candle was a recent purchase that I was very worried about. I generally don’t trust ordering candles online if I haven’t in-person scent tested them first but ‘Morning Fog’ just sounded so intriguing! “This soy wax candle has a fresh, earthy scent with hints of dewy moss.” Confirmed. Everything it was cracked up to be and more. Now, please join me in patiently waiting for the Pine Tree Hat to not be sold out anymore because, ouch UBB, break my heart wide open. This is why people impulse shop. Take it from me: do not just think about it for literal months because it’ll pull a Dan Stevens and SELL OUT.

Arrival (2016)

Okay, so, this movie has been out there in the world for a while now. It’s been positively ingrained in my brain (crazy insane, got no brain! … no?) and I just can’t get it out of my life. However, I’ve been very distressed to find that not many people I know have seen it. Visually, it was wondrous. Storywise? Wondrous. Scorewise? Wondrous. Similar to Pacific Rim (another film I highly suggest seeing if you haven’t), the promotions and trailers really didn’t do the story justice. Whatever you think it’s about, I promise you that it holds so much more. So many emotions. I sobbed my eyes out for over half an hour in the theater parking lot after the first time I saw it. Please do yourself and myself and every self there is a favor and watch Arrival.

Rainier Galvanized Bar Cart

The recent move (yes, that happened) has led to quite a few new furniture acquisitions for Casa del Cass. Let me tell you, this bar cart and I had quite the flirtation. I saw it online one day and couldn’t get a feel for it. Weeks passed, and when I finally decided that I wanted it I dragged my entire family to the mall only to find that it was sold out! Another Pottery Barn location apparently had one left in stock, but she-wants-it-not struck hard so we went back home and I resolved I’d find another in the future. Fast forward to the next day and it was back in my heart’s desired. In the car we piled and hark! What happiness was achieved wheeling this galvanized beauty into the pre-designated bar corner of my living room and piling it high with bottles of this, that, and the third (not so high, any friends who would like to send me belated housewarming gifts should see below for suggestions). This is such a Southern-aesthetic piece and quite a cost-effective alternative to the gilded gold glass carts currently in fashion elsewhere. Add some terra cotta plant pots and you’re in business, baby.

Scotch

Your girl has recently begun her slow emergence into the whirled wide web of Scotch. By which I mean that a few years back I submerged myself into some bourbon and haven’t looked back since. Every now and then I’ll try a whisk(e)y (aside: one time my best friend made me try a Japanese whisky and wow, did I hate it a lot… tears of hatred level, a lot) but currently my eyes are on this highlander heritage prize. I want to get good at Scotch. I want to just like Scotch, full stop. So here we are. My first big-girl-,-bottle-of-my-own foray was into Glenkinchie (that’s definitely not the way to hyphenate, Cassie, you menace):

My review: “Tastes like wood with a hint of soap.”

My best friend’s review: “A slight cheerio taste on the palate and a swift kick to the windpipe on the swallow.”

Basically, we love it?

Visitors to the Queen (and her) City

Now that I no longer hate my apartment, it’s been quite the treat having friends and family by to visit! In the past few weeks both of my best friends have come down to the Queen City, one for the millionth time and one for the first time. Also my brother, sister, mother, and grandmother – yes, all 4 at one time and yes, all 4 staying with me in my one bedroom apartment. Even though Charlotte has never felt like a permanent home to me, I’m thankful that it has been so kind in the interim and that I get to share all of that kindness with friends and family. Can I entice you to come visit? That bar cart of mine has recently gotten its own guestbook (thanks to a friend’s suggestion) so come on over and let me make you a drink and then you can write about how awful it is and think about how you wish you never had it and warn others to beware and come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! Oops, I broke me again.

“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben

The second page of the Foreword. That was how long it took for this book to make me cry. Usually I save all of my bibliove for specifically designated posts, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. A recent search for a tree species guidebook (we’ll get into reasons for that in a different post on this site some day, I’m sure) led me to this bestseller about, well, the hidden life of trees. When my family came to visit I teared up just describing what I learned from the first few chapters and my sister, who rarely reads, felt compelled to rush out and get a copy for herself. It’s such a beautiful read, please join us! And then also become friends with me on Goodreads and let me know what you thought about it.

Tuneage

It’s been absolute ages since I made you all a playlist, hasn’t it?? No theme this time around, just some recently discovered tunes that I’ve been listening to lately. Enjoy.

Learn Stuff: My First Mile In A While

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So… let’s take a moment to be very real with each other. I’m not physically fit.

Once I hit 22 my body started giving me warning signs about my physical fitness, or lack thereof, with the tiniest bits of extra weight tucked here and there. Then I hit 23 and my body hit me. I started noticing bigger tucks and it made me a little worried. I’m not trying to be Adriana Lima, and I’m in no way making any negative comments about my body appearance or striving for weight loss (my weight is a perfect amount for my 5’8″ frame), but I’d like to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle! Since every passing year proves my likelihood of becoming a vampire, and therefore immortal, is getting smaller and smaller, I figured I might as well try other ways of extending this life I’ve been gifted. Being an all-around healthier person seems to lend to that.

Individual exercise was never my thing but it’s been a while since I played competitive sports in any capacity to make up for that. The last time I was habitually physically active was in high school when I played soccer, a sport I’ve played since I could walk. I’ve done the odd yoga class or elliptical session in college, but even those clock in at maybe a few times a year. A couple weeks back I went to see my doctor for my first physical since those very high school soccer years and she told me that people my age should be doing at least 2 and a half hours of cardiac training per week. And no, getting your heart rate up over Pride and Prejudice (2005) does not count.

My baby step decision was to start running a mile a day. My friend Allison is the person that put that idea into my head in the first place. She runs an incredible health and fitness blog over at Fit For Real and a few months ago she posted about how she runs a mile every day. Even throughout my months of not exercising, I couldn’t get that post out of my head. It always felt like that would be something I’d start on if I ever decided to get into exercise and as soon as I started my recent panic about my physical fitness her words kept coming back.

A few days after my doctor’s appointment it was time to face the actual event: my first run in… at least 6 months but probably closer to a year. I was excited, I felt motivated, I laced up my sneaks and hit the pavement… only to barely make it to the bottom of my street before my body realized what I was doing and started trying to shut me down with a vengeance. Shins started aching, lungs beat back against my rib cage, feet grew leaden, legs trudged and dragged like a tantruming toddler’s.

My inner monologue really took off faster than I was running with a million things my brain thought about my getting back into the cardiac swing of things, and therefore I decided to turn them around to share with you in case you’re trying to get into that habit too. Here are some notes from my first mile in a while.


First, you don’t need to like exercise. I freaking hate exercise. People ask me what my favorite thing to do to work out is and I say stretching. Running was never for me. I marvel at the fact that I ever even made it through as many soccer seasons as I did, but I also acknowledge the fact that I played defensive positions which required more of a quick sprint than the constant stamina needed from the midfielders. But running a single mile? That seems like such an insignificant amount! I’ve seen quite a few websites that say running a 10 minute mile is a decent pace for beginning runners with moderate health levels so that became my first step goal.

When I run I listen to Steady130 mixes because they’re just all around ideal and they’re long enough (about an hour) to be a constant beat rather than listening to a playlist I made myself with breaks in between the songs that don’t even really match up well in the first place. If you choose to listen to these as well a tip from me to you is to start the mix before you start running. I press play as soon as I’m ready to get dressed and let the tempo get into my head as I lace up my sneaks and take one last sip of water. I assume it puts some kind of psychological pace into my head so that starting to physically run isn’t so much of a shock to the system but who knows.

Motivation is hard to find for me, as I’m sure it is for many other people out there in the world, so I make it competitive. I’m literally the most competitive person I know and I’m pretty happy to be that way because I like to think it’s more of a personal, inside quality than an annoying, outside one. I’m constantly striving for a personal best and what makes me get up and move to achieve that is when I see things, or people, I want to incorporate in that. Take Allison. She’s a motivator, she’s an inspiration, she is not in any way shape or form being factored as someone I need to best. I need to best myself, and my competitive streak tells me that in order to do that I need to take a page out of her book. Allison is only one example here. Trust me, there are many athletes and personal connections and total strangers that I add into my internal competitiveness.

Pace is also a big problem for me. Back to those soccer influences, I would rather sprint than pace myself. I’m a long-legged girl with a big stride, but that means that I happen to outstride the pace my cardiac system can actually maintain. My legs want to leap and bound themselves up and down the street but my lungs and heart can’t keep up so the biggest challenge I have is reining myself in. Eventually I’ll work my way through the 10 minute mile goal to get to 9 minutes and 8 minutes and ideally 7 minute miles (fingers crossed) but for now I’ve got to remember to pace myself because the important thing is to just make it to the finish line.


At the end of my first run, crawling up the stairs all red in the face, my neighbors were probably looking at me thinking I just finished a marathon rather than a mile. Quick side note: I’d like to say thank you to all of the people I went to high school with for moving out of the neighborhood so I could make less of a fool of myself in front of people who actually recognize me. But I had done it! I finished a mile! And it felt supremely miserable and painful in the physical sense but kind of rewarding in the mental/emotional sense. I’m not 100% sure I agree with the runner’s high thing, but I guess I have to concede that accomplishing a run definitely boosts my dopamine. Or seratonin. Or whatever it is that makes me happy and proud of myself.

Because a mile is hardly anything! And yet it’s so much! If Allison can, I can and if I can, you can. Probably. Most likely. Let me know how it goes regardless.