In the “Harry Potter” books, there’s a magical element to the wizard school called the Room of Requirement. If you run down a particular hall while really needing something quite badly, you’ll find yourself face to face with a door that wasn’t there before.
When you open it, the room provides what you need: a broom closet if you need to hide, a training room if you’re trying to defeat a dark wizard’s long-term plot for world domination, etc. I like to think that PennyCup in Asheville is my Coffee Shop of Requirement. It seems to always be located right where I need it.
They have a shop located right near where my kid goes to preschool and one that is perfectly located on a downtown walk that we frequently take on the weekends. One of the locations is tucked into the smallest little corner of the River Arts District and was there like magic when I thought I had missed the turn for another coffee shop I was trying to find. And always, the thing I want when I find that door is a really good cup of coffee.
While there are multiple micro-roasteries in Asheville, and we’re pretty blessed to have them all, PennyCup is a consistently good choice no matter which of their roasts they pour for you.
Some of the bigger coffee shops in town, the ones with multiple locations, don’t always roast their own (don’t get me wrong, I love some of the third-wave roasts they get!), and there’s something about selling your own company’s roasted beans that feels like they’re taking ownership of the coffee’s flavor. And they should! It’s tasty.
My “home” location is the cute and utilitarian location on Merrimon Avenue. It’s a long, skinny building with simple geometric designs on the coffee shop walls, a bench seat on each wall, various small tables and high tops, and a community table in the front.
I frequently sample their tasty baked goods (ask what they are if you have allergies, since they’re rarely labeled), their cream cheese bagels, and the specialty drinks on offer. My companion most recently raved about their Thai iced coffee, though I usually opt for a very boring 12-ounce of their light roast brewed coffee, taken black.
My most recent cup was so floral and fragrant that I momentarily thought I’d gotten a tea blend instead – a ton of the original coffee flavor remains with their light roasts, since the darker the coffee gets, the more uniform many beans seem to taste.
One of my favorite features is that they choose to be open seven days a week by 7 am – as a remote worker, I’m already mentally juggling how the public library is closed on Sunday and Monday and other coffee shops and meeting spots don’t open till later, but if I want to get an early start, PennyCup is always there for me.
One mental note to prepare for is that many of the PennyCup locations are frequently staffed by one staff member. That’s one intrepid barista handling every drink, bagel, and whole-bean coffee order.
They are usually multitasking when I come in, and the best approach is to be patient and have something to fiddle with (I save easy email deleting for when I’m stuck in the line). Some folks get impatient, but as long as we remember that the guy rapidly cranking out tasty lattes is not the one who decided to staff with only one person.
When you do get to the front of that line, though, you can be ready for the ordering process. The food menu tends to just be the baked goods and a few bagel sandwich options. While the bagel sandwiches vary by location and sometimes depending on the day, I’ve seen simple sandwiches like the Turkey Greek (with turkey, feta, cucumber, and olive tapenade) and the prosciutto and goat cheese bagel on the menu, adding something a little more filling than the cookies and banana bread offerings in the baked goods baskets.
The drink menu is extensive. Choose from the simple espresso shots or brewed drip coffee – most full-sized drinks come in 12-ounce, 16-ounce, or 20-ounce sizes. A cafe au lait, a cappuccino, or a latte will all feature coffee with some kind of milk, either frothed, steamed, or plain.
And the flavored latte options vary, from you picking your own syrup to options like a Raspberry Snow, featuring white chocolate and raspberry syrup, to the Spicy Mocha with cayenne, chocolate, and cinnamon. Anyone preferring a cold coffee can hit the cold brew or pay a small surcharge to make any drink iced.
For non-coffee drinkers, there are still plenty of options, including chai lattes, mate lattes, and London Fogs, a tea latte. Hot chocolate and flavored steamed milk will be popular with younger ones who don’t need any caffeine at all, while those who want more caffeine can add an extra shot to any drink to get more of the coffee kick they crave.
I personally prefer a spot where I can get something more than a tea bag in hot water when I’m taking the time to meet up with a friend and in the mood for tea, so it’s nice that this spot has enough options to fuel all sides of the tea versus coffee divide.
I will warn you, though, that, like too many coffee shops, I’ve occasionally tried to order decaf americanos when there isn’t any decaf available. It makes sense, really, that many places don’t consistently stock these beans, but it’s worth noting if that is what you had your heart set on drinking.
I love the continuity and the details of difference between each location. For instance, it seems like the specialty drinks sometimes vary between locations.
At the RAD location, I never come in expecting to get a seat. If memory serves, there are one or two, but it’s a truly small room and better treated as a mostly to-go coffee spot. The YMI location in downtown is on a quiet block but so close to everything, so I frequently grab coffee there to get a little work done if I’m early for meeting a friend downtown.
I recently visited the Haw Creek location for the first time and loved the community vibe to it. There was a cute little Lit Local cart (tiny mobile bookstore), art for sale on all the walls, and two little comfy furniture “living rooms” in addition to the normal coffee shop tables and chairs.
I love the geometric designs and the pottery displayed for sale on floating shelves. There’s always easy listening music that fades into the background, and this location had a delicious smoothie on special called the Hulk smoothie, which featured blueberries and spinach and was a wonderful pick-me-up while I worked.
The high ceiling in this building is particularly lovely, making the space feel larger than it is, and it’s right next to Creekside Taphouse, a good destination for food and beer if you have little kids because they have a whole playground right next to the restaurant.
I’ve noticed that the PennyCup locations with plenty of tables are connecting places. Sure, there are plenty of us solo workers intently typing out emails, but there are also people doing Zoom calls, people catching up with old friends or having a business networking chat, and people just sipping on a flavorful single-origin and getting their day started.
That’s what a business that is being all things to all people can really do – when you need a Coffee Shop of Requirement, one that will offer the flavorful beverages, cozy space, and plentiful internet you need, PennyCup is never too far away.