Whether it’s because of the quirky menus or creative atmospheres or friendly people, local coffee shops are must-go destinations throughout Northeast Mississippi.
And the coffee’s good, too.
“At Strange Brew, we do some crazy stuff and have a lot of fun, but we know our coffee,” said Katelyn Reed, certified barista and wife of Starkville coffee shop owner Shane Reed.
Located at 605 Mississippi 12 and open every day from 6 a.m. to midnight, Strange Brew shares a building with Reed’s other business, Cold Stone Creamery. The building originally was a gas station that Reed’s father owned.
“That’s why we still have the gas pumps out front and still sell gas,” Katelyn Reed said, laughing. “It’s all part of our Strange Brew tradition.”
That tradition began almost 10 years ago when her husband graduated from Mississippi State. He wanted to buy the gas station back after his father had sold it, and he wanted to offer college students a place to study and hang out and enjoy some coffee.
So he bought the gas station, completely renovated it and came up with the name “Strange Brew” in a brainstorming session with friends.
“He just liked the feel of it. It’s something a little different, and that fits us because we do things a little differently around here,” Katelyn Reed said.
How different? Well, one of the most popular menu items is the Albino Squirrel – a coffee drink made with white chocolate and hazelnut flavors. Her husband gets all the credit for that invention as well as such frappe flavors as King Cake, Girl Scout Cookie and Strawberry Pop Tart.
“Shane is the creative force,” Reed added. “He’s the one who’s known for coming up with all the weird and wacky flavors.”
The couple is serious, however, about quality. They use coffee beans from a Mississippi roaster and local seasonal ingredients such as fresh mint.
Strange Brew also is known for its free dog treats given out at the drive-through window and for staying open around the clock during MSU finals week, as well as fresh-baked scones and cinnamon rolls customers snap up for game-day tailgating.
“The main thing we want to do is make everybody feel welcome when they come in here,” Katelyn Reed said. “Sometimes coffee shops can feel unapproachable, and we want to get people in the door and show them that coffee can be fun.”
That same welcoming spirit is evident at another local Starkville coffee shop, Nine-twentynine Coffee Bar, at 106B E. Main Street. Starkville brothers Neil Couvillion and Joe Couvillion and their wives, Havilah and Carrie, opened the coffee shop in 2013 in a building that formerly housed a JC Penney store.
“I think this used to be the men’s section,” said Chad Barasch, general manager, as he looked around the open and airy space.
On this early-fall Saturday morning, Nine-twentynine (open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays) was bustling even though MSU was playing an away game. Students huddled over books and computers while families munched on breakfast goodies, groups of friends chatted over coffee and employees prepped for the shop’s first cupping, or coffee tasting.
“We plan to do cuppings every third Saturday,” Barasch said as he briefly consulted with a barista and then headed to the kitchen to check on a batch of homemade biscuits that would soon join muffins and cinnamon rolls for sale at the coffee counter. “Education is important to us, and this is a fun way to allow people to experience different coffees. Our goal is to put an exceptional cup of coffee in front of the customers, to get them excited and to educate them about the world of coffee.”
That approach – using only the best ingredients and helping customers discover the difference those ingredients make – is key to Nine-twentynine’s philosophy, Barasch said.
The shop uses fresh and local ingredients for its baked goods, and its coffee comes from Intelligentsia, a roasting company that partners with growers around the world and buys from them directly. The menu focuses on classic coffee drinks: espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, café au lait and Americano.
“Look, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and I’ve worked with coffee since I was 15, and I never expected to find a coffee shop of this caliber in a small Mississippi college town,” Barasch said. “The passion and quality here cannot be beat, and it’s a small step in the larger process of bringing good things to Mississippi.”
Over at Oxford, good things have been brewing since 2002, when High Point Coffee opened a coffee shop downtown, at 265 N. Lamar Boulevard and then a second location, 2311 W. Jackson Avenue, a few years later. Longtime employee and Russia native Vera Parshikova started working at the downtown shop in February 2003.
“I came with friends to have coffee and felt some good vibrations there,” she said, “so I was very glad when I was looking for a job that they hired me and other places didn’t. This is a very special place where people come to talk, artists and scientists and writers have their meetings here and people just get to know each other. We’re on a corner and it looks so cozy and comfortable and it smells so nice that I think people walking by just have to come in.”
It’s a combination of the good coffee – roasted in Oxford – plus dedicated employees and loyal customers that make High Point so popular, Parshikova added.
“Our first game day was crazy busy – like we had jumped straight into fall from summer – and we had employees just walk in and start helping,” she said. “We have an amazing crew and good people.”
A favorite part of her job is getting to know Ole Miss students and their families.
“I watch the children grow from being too short to look over the counter to suddenly walking in and ordering their own coffee,” she said. “I love this place and I want everybody to feel at home here.”
Story by Cathy Wood // Photos by Lauren Wood