Backyard Trekker: Nashville ~ Coffee and Tea

Throughout April, Adele Belle and our sister site Vagabond Warrior are doing a focus blog series on ‘Nashville to Asheville’ – a virtual travel journey from the heart of Middle Tennessee and roots of Music City east through the Rocky Top hills of Tennessee into western North Carolina’s resplendent Blue Ridge Mountains.  Along the way we will tour the sights, take in the local cuisine, fashion, music, literature and vibes.  Vagabond Warrior and Adele Belle each have an independent spirit, complementing one another.  Vagabond Warrior is my travel philosophy – into the great unknown personality – Adele Belle is a flavor of my southern roots ready to take on the world.  Thank you for joining us on this fun vagabond ‘antebellum’ journey into the soul of Tennessee and North Carolina.

I attended college in Nashville at Belmont University.  Belmont is located on the property of a former antebellum plantation owned by Adelicia Acklen (another ‘adele belle’ :)) As a college student I split my time waiting tables, recording music, performing in songwriter cafes, going to class and studying.  This heavy workload was accomplished through gallons of coffee, tea and scrumptious Tennessee sweet delights.

I love coffee and tea – it is part of my antebellum vagabond soul – there is nothing more relaxing that meditating with my devotional, journal or a good book while slowly inhaling the aroma of fresh coffee and tea.  My love for coffee formed in Nashville where I first experienced the allure of frequenting down home off the wall cool funky coffee and tea bars – where acoustic sounds and good conversation fill the room.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest my love of coffee and tea only cemented into a lifelong love affair – the coffee romance began in Nashville.  At first my priority with coffee was the desperate need for caffeine during midnight study sessions or the seven o’clock a.m. test after an all-nighter recording music in a campus studio or playing a late gig at a songwriter’s showcase.  Coffee, water and tea were my lifelines.  As a vocalist I know caffeine is not idea for singing – so I had to limit my consumption – over time the coffee consumption addiction to stay awake shifted to a desire to enjoy the rich taste and delicate and hearty hues of coffee – each cup of coffee has its own personality.  Coffee and tea are sacred drinks because they need to be savored, enjoyed – for me a morning coffee run is as much a meditation on getting ready for the day as it is just begging God to help me stay awake (and trust me during the Christmas shifts in my department store – espresso shots were a lifeline).

As a writer and literature nut I think there is an added gift in off beat coffeehouses – they are nooks for people-watching and spirit soothing hideaways – how often I have lost myself in a good book or written a heartfelt song with a cup of coffee and homegrown coffeehouse grub on my plate.  I have enjoyed endless conversations with friends discussing everything from the mysteries of the universe to run of the mill chit chat in my favorite Nashville coffeehouses.  My mom spend hours helping me study Spanish in coffee nooks as I worked to pass my final exams.

Nashville has a great coffee culture – the coffee culture is rooted in a diverse blend of influences – from Portland inspired strong cups and Seattle transplants to Nashville’s own coffee revolution.

Many do not know that Maxwell Coffee started in Nashville – that’s right – long before Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, Nashville’s cup of Joe served in the elegant Maxwell House Hotel.  One sleepless night while staying at the Maxwell House in Nashville, President Roosevelt requested a cup of hot coffee – he liked the hotel’s coffee so much he said it was ‘GOOD to the LAST DROP.’  Maxwell House started marketing its coffee, which was eventually sold to investors – it is definitely America’s cup of coffee to this day.  Sadly the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown burned to the ground, but the legend lives on and Nashville’s coffee tradition is alive and well.  The term ‘coffeehouse’ describes Nashville’s culture of coffee and tea because a majority of coffee spots are in retro houses and buildings – with a live-in neighborhood vibe.

The majority of Nashville’s coffee houses and tea rooms feature live music the perfect a la mode for your tea and coffee cups.

Here are my favorite coffee and tea joints in NASHVILLE:

Bongo Java: This is the grand-daddy-O of Music City coffee joints – located in a funky bungalow across from Belmont University on Belmont Blvd, Bongo Java is a tapestry of Nashville’s eclectic mix of residents – businessmen, students, performers, teachers, artists, truck drivers – everyone frequents this hip to the core, cool – laid back no-nonsense good eats coffee house.

Bongo Java was founded in 1993 and has a variety of daily roasts, specialty drinks and a Yum menu of comfort foods with a Music City flare.  Bongo is the city’s oldest coffee house – and is a gathering place for friends, colleagues and live – you’ll see everyone from A-list country stars to down home no fuss plumbers in Bongo.  While it has a reputation of having the best coffee in Music City – it lives up to its appeal by consistent quality and service – not just resting on past laurels.

It doesn’t hurt that Bongo Java is ‘blessed’ by the heavenly nun bun.  In 1996 one of Bongo’s scrumptious cinnamon rolls came out of the oven looking like Mother Teresa – a miracle of our daily bread.  I’m a Christian and what can I say God words in mysterious ways.  Sadly the Nun Bun was stolen, but the legend lives on

As a college student I was broke – so I usually stuck with a piping hot cup of their house coffee of the day and the occasional grilled cheese – (I developed celiac in college so I enjoyed a few years of succulent cinnamon rolls before giving up the ghost)


Located in the trendy (and I mean this as a complement – trendy as on the mark, always evolving – full of local authenticity and charm) district of Belcourt – you’ll fall in latte love with Bongo Java’s sister spot Fido.

Fido is a bit more industrial and has a city edge that appeals to Vandy med students, on the go Music Biz peeps and area students.  The coffee bar says it blurs the line between upscale and organic coffeehouse – down home and uptown in one

Fido offers signature drinks including mmm-good lattes.  In fact Taylor Swift (I’m a Swiftie #noapologies) has been seen here and our next stop Frothy Monkey a few times.

Romeo – one of the delicious lattes on the Fido roll call.
Latte with rose, agave + lime

Frothy Monkey:

Cool name, awesome vibe, artsy neighborhood, craftsman bungalow, nooks and crannies – beans java – what more can you want in a coffee spot.  12th Avenue South is near my own neighborhood and I walked up to Frothy Monkey a lot with my mom.  We used to love to sit in their cozy chairs, read the paper, talk about the latest news and then meander the block where art galleries and local restaurants flourish – I have learned that 12 Ave So continues to grow and Frothy Monkey only gets better and better with the addition of partner restaurant Burger UP.

Excerpt from their website:

We feature creative folks using local ingredients to prepare original dishes served in a cozy and approachable atmosphere. Frothy Monkey has been a staple in the Nashville community since 2004. We were one of the first coffeehouse concepts in Nashville and one of the cornerstone businesses to open in the transformed 12th South Nashville neighborhood. The chef driven menu offers breakfast, brunch every day, kids menu, lunch + dinner with expanded beverage offerings including coffeehouse standards as well as craft beer, wine + cocktails.

We’re a neighborhood concept. The brand is a staple in the Nashville community and a proud member of the neighborhoods we serve. You can count on Frothy to deliver quality, creativity, and approachability in everything we create. Our relationships with farmers and others who care about where ingredients come from is at the center of who we are.

Locally sourced, craft made home loved food – innovative and comfort recipes – Frothy Monkey is worth the stop in Nashville.   They have a wonderful tea selection – particularly herbal tea – ideal for vocalists who need to sing the blues without feeling light the frog is in their throat.

Portland Brew:

Located a coffee bean away from Frothy Monkey, Portland Brew on 12th So grew out of one couple’s passion for coffee.  Though originally from the South, the owners fell in love with the coffee culture while living in Portland Oregon, when they returned to the south they decided to share the STRONG Brew of Portland the Pac NW – in college we had the opportunity to partner with Portland Brew to help promote the young business – since then the business has continued to grow. Follow their latest tweets via Twitter

High Garden Tea:

I have not been here, but my friends rave about the quality of the tea and community feel servicing East Nashville with wild herbal and traditional teas in bulk coupled with an inviting tea room.


Another great coffee and tea house located in the Murphy Road area of Nashville.  Dose has de-VINE teas, pastries and mocha to make you loco – yum!

Savannah Tea Company:

High-Tea with southern flair – my grandmother was from Savannah and this name upholds the elegant southern charm and gracious food of a Savannah kitchen.


Stay tuned for a coffee and tea inspired post in our Antebellum Kitchen segment on coffee and tea inspired fare, food for the artist soul

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