Coffee Break: Swell COffee Co.

Mission Beach, California

by Samantha Adler

I finally found the perfect morning beverage. And an acceptable excuse to down a hoppy, cold drink at 10 AM on the beach.

San Diego’s Mission Beach is especially well equipped for this morning routine; with food vendors, cafes, a boardwalk, and little shops to accommodate surfers, locals, and wanderers (like myself). Colorful houses sprout off this main road on little alleys, with leafy and succulent-rich yards squished against each other. Walking through one of these alleys leads you from the main road to the beach.

I parked in front of one of these cozy little blocks and set off on to get my caffeine fix at Swell Coffee Co. Swell fits right in at Mission Beach, with its beach-y, chill vibes. The cafe is located completely outside, with several stools and tables located in an outside patio. I was pleased to find the bathroom even rode the beach-themed wave, with posters of Point Break serving as wallpaper.

I approached the counter eyeing their coffee options and yummy breakfast menu. Swell was also a roaster, and served it’s own coffee. They also have an extensive breakfast menu, with healthy noms and Mexi-Cali egg dishes. After only eating burritos for a week and getting distracted by several pups behind me in line, I quickly decided to go with a classic breakfast sandwich and a normal, black cold brew.

I found a sunny spot at the corner of the patio. I slurped down half of my coffee when my sandwich came out. While the egg, spinach, cheese, and bacon sandwich was the tamest option, it was so delicious that I ate it too fast to take a photo (I’m sorry!). The bread was fresh and lightly toasted, the bacon was super crispy, and there was plenty of melted sharp cheddar.

It was only after I sat down and took a closer look at the menu that I saw it: a cold brew brewed in hops. A beer ice coffee? My two favorite beverages joined together in a glorious liquid?

After polishing off my plate and my original cup of coffee, I ordered the hopped cold brew to go. I held the cold plastic cup in my hand and took off down a leafy alley towards the beach. Halfway down, standing in front of a tiny fenced yard, with surfboards and yard decorations strewn about, I took my first sip.

The familiar acidity of iced coffee filled my mouth, but then came a big hoppy punch. The flavor was strong, but pleasant for anyone who enjoys a hoppy, bitty IPA. It gave the cold brew a kick, with a hop-bite at the tail-end of every sip.

I would highly recommend to my fellow IPA and coffee enthusiasts. And if you can, drink it on the beach.

Coffee Break: Barista Parlor

by Samantha Adler

Every road trip/adventure has its ebbs and flows. You’re cruising down the interstate singing on the top of your lungs, skipping along the sidewalks of a new town or giggling gleefully at shenanigans you and your road trip buddy have gotten into. Then the adrenaline wears off and the three hours of sleep you got the night before becomes painfully obvious. You find your eyes crossing on a long stretch of highway, yourself shuffling zombie-style through that new city, and you begin to chastise your road trip companion for their song choice, boring stories and the reason they were even born.

Then you find it: coffee. That magical liquid that grants you the energy of a labrador and the optimism of Spongebob. And you’re back to singing, skipping and giggling.

In addition to it’s magical, life-giving powers, coffee is often surrounded by the culture, music, flavors and people of the place you’re visiting. Coffeehouses can transform into Friends-like hang out spots, unofficial work offices, low-key concert venues for local artists and your own mad scientist-esque laboratory for testing out experimental concoctions.

Here are a few favorite coffee break spots we've come across in our travels.

Barista Parlor

Nashville, Tennessee

I arrived in Nashville after several nights of camping and long days of interstate driving. I passed the famed Broadway, with neon signs screaming the names of famous live music venues like Tootsie’s and Honky Tonk Central. Even behind my car’s tinted windshield the lights were blinding and the faint sound of country music seeped in. I continued down several smaller streets before arriving at my destination: an Airbnb. I had chosen to stay with two super friendly girls, who were recent Nashville transplants and had a cute little house on the city’s east side.

I wanted to go out and experience the city’s famous musical allure, but after sitting on the pull-out couch and sinking into it’s feathery bed, a nap was more tempting.  

*clap to the face*

My road trip buddy shook me.

“We’re only here for twenty-four hours. You need to wake up.”

*low guttural growls*

“Let’s get coffee. I read about a great place called Barista Parlor. We can walk there.”

After a fifteen minute zombie-shuffle through Nashville’s green, hip east side we turned the corner to Barista Parlor. The coffeehouse was built inside a renovated auto-repair shop, which gives it its industrial look and feel. The large blue, concrete building sat in the back corner of a large asphalt lot, with outdoor seating and massive carnival style block lettering.

Barista Parlor is no stranger to coffee-fame. The cafe has been written up on several best coffeeshops in the US lists, due to its ingenuity, stylish interior design, fresh baked goods and array of coffee techniques and quality.

Once your step inside, it’s not hard to see why. The coffeehouse is modern, industrial and warm. The space is wide and open, a sign of it’s former car-fixin’ days, with vintage-bulbs dangling from the ceiling, expansive warm wooden tables, metal piping, modern art pieces on the walls and two coffee bars with busy, bustling baristas who were busy as bees. The baristas wore mechanic-style aprons to protect from splattering coffee.

Stepping up to the metal bar, my tired mind was entranced by the baristas’ efficiency.  I ordered an espresso and a homemade strawberry poptart that caught my eye last minute. It looked too good to walk away from, golden with a drizzle of frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Who can say no to something with sprinkles? We sat down at the wooden bar adjacent to the barista station. Priding themselves on the variety of their menu and attention to detail in brewing, the barista station mirrored a mad scientist’s lab.

The poptart was flakey, buttery and fresh with a hint of lemon. I devoured it before my name was called for my espresso, which was a beautiful, dark, earthy, tasty sip of energy. Along with my little cup, I was served a small chewy caramel which was infused with sea salt. It was the perfect post-espresso treat.

We returned the next morning, after a day of romping about Nashville, eating hot chicken and a night of seeing a few live shows on Broadway. This time I ordered the cold brew and a breakfast biscuit, while my buddy ordered a house made "BP Soda Pop" made from carbonated cascara, vanilla and orange. 

Unlike the previous morning, we didn’t beat the rush. The line circled outside the garage doors, with young families, hand holding couples and the tired pre-work individual.

Sitting at the same wooden bench, we got our cold drinks. My cold brew was chocolaty and earthy, served in a printed glass. My buddy’s orange soda was tangy and fresh, both perfect for the hot Tennessee day ahead of us.

Then the biscuit came. It was served on a wooden slab with a bandana for a napkin. The buttery biscuit sandwich was hot, fresh and smelled like breakfast heaven with ham, a sunnyside up egg and cheese. The food definitely mirrored the attention to quality and detail of the coffee.

As the crowd died down, and we sat on out wooden bench sipping cold drinks slowly. Several people stared intently at their laptops, friends greeted others in lines and the few kids munched on fresh cookies.

Barista Parlor mirrors the young, trendy feel of the east side. And like its city, it pays a heavy attention to music. The shop has a stage outside for occasional live performances. The coffeeshop also recently opened another location in an old recording studio downtown in partnership with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach.

If you’re in Nashville and feeling a little sleepy or want a tasty treat/ well-brewed coffee make sure to hit up Barista Parlor.

  • Atmosphere: *****
    • Amenities included:
    • Good, chill working music
    • Quiet and polite patrons
    • Plentiful seating
  • Coffee: ****
    • Caffeine Power: Happily Hyper
    • Flavor: Dark, Earthy
  • Creativity: *****
  • Food: ****
  • Workspace: ***
    • Amenities included:
    • Wifi
    • Outlets