Long before third wave coffee and in-house roasteries were popular, Madison’s independent coffee shop culture was alive and booming. In the same way local residents expect exceptional quality for their food, they expect their coffee to be remarkable as well. Big chains like Starbucks or Dunkin are largely shunned from downtown Madison, favored instead by local purveyors.
During my 8 years living in Madison, both as a student and as a resident, I sampled my fair share of coffee shops around town. A cozy booth in a buzzing cafe was my study location of choice! I have summarized all of my favorite downtown Madison coffee shops in one easy list. If you’re also looking for AM food options, check out my best of Madison brunch & breakfast guide.
Madison’s coffee culture offers a mix of old-school espresso bars and innovative cafés. Every place has its own approach, but they all have that quintessential Madison quirky whimsicalness. A number of the best coffee shops are family-owned shops, while others offer their own roasting or bean blends. You can expect an excellent assortment of fresh coffee all around downtown Madison!
Black Locust Cafe
Address: 829 E Washington Ave
On a busy stretch of east Washington avenue, Black Locust is tucked inside Robinia Courtyard just a few steps from Breese Stevens Field and the Sylvee. This modern concept space has several different businesses inside, including a restaurant and beer bar. Black Locust has a different look and approach than other Madison coffee shops, focused on avante garde roasts and teas. The yellow and blue tiled floors contrast with the massive wood grain wallpaper, giving an almost psychedelic experience to the patrons. The staff is friendly and inclusive, never making you feel dumb for asking questions or showing curiousity.
Address: 127 N Hamilton St
Having just celebrated its 12th anniversary, Bradburys is a Madison coffee legend. On an advantageous corner just off the Capitol Square, the industrial style space is filled with natural light. It is so inviting. With a buzzing atmosphere of hipsters and young parents, this cafe is almost always packed. The staff isn’t super friendly, but their lattes are lovely. They use beans from a rotating selection of roasters like Phil & Sebastian, Ritual, and Ruby Coffee. The food here is especially good too, particularly the crepes and scones. They make all of their pastries and baked goods in-house using local purveyors, so all the dishes have a seasonal flair.
Address: Multiple locations, including on the square, State St. and Monroe St.
Although Collectivo is a big chain now (there are over 20 locations in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago), I still love this place. And so do many Madison residents! Since 1993, Colectivo has been batch roasting its sustainably sourced coffees by hand. My husband is obsessed with their coffee ice cream shake, while I love the nitro cold brew. Plus, their baked treats are delicious – try the molasses ginger snap!
Colectivo has mastered the art of branding, giving each of their roasts a cool logo and name. The spot-on branding is mirrored in each of their cafes, which almost always have the Mexican sugar skull logo painted somewhere on the wall. Their colorful, hip, industrial spaces are all unique but consistent. You’ll know exactly where you are! There is lots of merch to purchase as well. Recently, their staff voted to unionize, making Colectivo the largest cafe union in the nation representing 400 workers.
Address: 601 Langdon St
I normally wouldn’t advocate going to a coffee shop inside of a hotel, but Poindexter is an exception. Their espresso is spectacular! It has a beautifully oily top with notes of sweetness and grass, making for an incredibly smooth sip. It was my favorite cup of coffee from our visit this summer. The massive communal table in the center of the cafe has some quirky light fixtures made out of vintage toy cars and trucks. I always had a lovely experience with the staff here, who were chatty and friendly.
Johnson Public House
Address: 908 E Johnson St
Beloved by neighborhood residents with an almost cult-like following, Johnson Public House, or JPH, is a Madison staple. They’ve been in business for over ten years in a location that until recently was pretty far off the beaten path. JPH has a classic coffee shop vibe – well loved mismatched furniture, locally made art adorning the walls, and a barista who really knows their stuff.
Roasting their own coffee under the label Kin Kin, Johnson Public House serves a great cup of espresso. Their chai latte is noteworthy as well. I love that they don’t take themselves too seriously, coming up with clever names for their single origin coffees, like “You Survived 2020.” On a nice day, grab your coffee to go. JPH is located only a block away from Lake Mendota, so you can admire Madison’s natural beauty while getting caffeinated.
Address: 107 King St
Talk about the OG specialty coffee shop – Ancora has been on Madison’s coffee scene since 1994! The brightly colored charming cafe looks almost the same as the day it opened. Stepping inside will immediately brighten your mood. Thankfully the coffee has changed since the 90s, adapting with the current coffee trends and latest developments. Because it’s been around for so long, I think Ancora’s coffee might be one of the most underrated in Madison. I certainly overlooked it for a while, favoring more trendy spots. But whenever I return to Ancora, I am happy I did because their espresso is lovely.
Grace Coffee Co
Address: 1216 E Washington Ave
This place is a stunner. The interior design at every Grace Coffee Co location is absolutely perfect, especially at their east Wash location. The vibrant velvet couches and tall palm & Bird of Paradise plants add a pop of color to an otherwise black and white design. I love the massive chalkboard menus behind the counter too. It has a big city vibe in the heart of Madison. I find the espresso a little bit strong here, but their cold brew is amazing. It was actually featured in the US National Cold Brew Championships in 2021. As a note, Grace Coffee Co has come under fire recently for poor management practices and health code violations. This was super disappointing to learn, and I hope they’ll be able to turn it around.
Address: 1408 Williamson St
This might be the most Madison-vibe coffee shop on this whole list, because it is one half espresso bar, one half bike shop. Madison has a well-deserved reputation for being a very bike-friendly city. There are tons of well-established bike lanes, bicycle boulevards and over 100 miles of bike paths around the city. It just makes sense that bikes and coffee would eventually come together in one space! Similar to JPH, Cafe Domestique doesn’t take itself super seriously and the whole mood of the cafe is casual. You’ll see patrons clip-clopping in with road bike shoes, and joking with the friendly baristas. There are always two different espressos available, sourcing coffee from roasters like Intelligentsia, Square Mile, and Superthing.