Coffee can be a means to an end for staying awake, a social lubricant, afternoon rent for a table and power outlet, or a medium for Instagrammable latte foam art. Few shops in the Triad, however, treat coffee as a science, or offer the mod vibe necessary to commit to such an approach.
Upon entering Green Joe’s, located a 10 minutes up Battleground Avenue from downtown Greensboro, it’s immediately apparent that this place fills a need no other Greensboro coffee shop has yet: A metropolitan vibe paired with a serious approach to studying the bean.
Green Joe’s is the new retail extension of Carolina Coffee Roasting Company, a Greensboro mainstay since 1992 that once operated two shops. Both were shut down in 2003 as the company focused on wholesale distribution; in August, Carolina Coffee opened its new flagship shop. Carolina Coffee roasts a majority of Green Joe’s beans out at its headquarters on the edge of town. The indisputably superior taste of freshly roasted beans is the shop’s main bragging right. They are well deserved.
Green Joe’s could be considered a comforting outpost of big-city coffee worship along the lines of Manhattan’s Stumptown, Chicago’s Intelligentsia or San Francisco’s Blue Bottle. Polished espresso machines glisten in the sunlight as if posed for Pinterest-ready stock photos, not to mention a good-natured barista who knew her doppio espresso from her ristretto offhand, proof enough that coffee nerdiness without pretense was welcome.
And the shiny, high-tech equipment is only one of the giveaways. Cupping classes offered in a rear classroom and typically off-menu drinks on the chalkboard are alien add-ons to most other coffee purveyors in the city, excepting Coffeeology’s creative drinks and Beans Boro’s on-site roasting.
Much of the geekier goings-on at the company’s flagship cafe may be bypassed by the homework-doers or the meeter-uppers in favor of a simple cup of drip coffee. But for the adventurous or knowledgeable, Green Joe’s levels up the Greensboro coffee game to new snob standards while remaining unintimidating with friendly staff and its peaceful atmosphere.
Perhaps the most immediately thrilling item on the menu is the flat white, a cousin of the latte that originated in 1980s Australia. Starbucks’ recently touted knockoff notwithstanding, the flat white isn’t usually listed at other Triad shops, and baristas in College Hill or downtown can be hit or miss regarding familiarity with the drink, which usually consists of a double espresso shot, sometimes condensed to higher intensity, with milk in a specific, velvety consistency called microfoam (in between heated milk and frothed milk) poured on top.
Any schmuck with a steam wand can’t pull this off this at home.
Green Joe’s finished product is pleasantly silky. The smooth double espresso finishes without the expected bitterness, but the drink does have a slight salty aftertaste from the heated milk. Ordering it means receiving it in a beautiful, tiny ceramic cup and sipping along with quiet background jazz at one of the big sunlit windows.
For adventure of a different sort, there’s a new caramel Oreo milkshake, which was more smooth and slushy than thick or creamy. The flavor blend sounds gimmicky, but it’s actually quite light and refreshing, if a bit of a splurge. With an added shot of espresso, the milkshake wasn’t too sickeningly sugary like many of its frozen coffee cousins at chains.
Another recently added summer-menu drink worth trying is the Joe affogato (“drowned”), a dessert menu staple in Italian restaurants consisting of two simple ingredients: A hot shot of espresso poured over a scoop of gelato. Green Joe’s adds chocolate and strawberry flavor to the melted, cold, creamy result.
If you’re a pour-over coffee fan, ask for the Ethiopian Harrar, which is heavy and intense, like dark chocolate, with a fruity finish. (You’ll want to drink it black.) The nitro cold brew is a solid — if a bit bitter and earthy — summer standby as well.
The open hub at the center of the store serves as both its visual centerpiece and mission control. Baristas are generally chipper and eager to answer questions while they prepare drinks.
The high ceiling and huge windows lend a spacious peace not found at, say, Tate Street Coffee, although a silent flat-screen TV with local news on loop doesn’t match the rest of the vibe at all. Depending on the time of day, soft jazz may be playing in the background, or a variety of subdued meditative folksters such as Iron and Wine or Fleet Foxes on shuffle.
Though the menu is a mix of standard fare and nerdy specialties largely unique to Greensboro, the shop’s secret to business longevity and customer loyalty may not lie in their drinks, but in their power outlet situation. Large work tables line a whole wall, and double outlets are tucked under almost every single one. The wifi is solid, too. Any given weekday afternoon, clusters of college kids work on summer assignments while scruffy men in their thirties hunch over laptops. Hopefully, they’re nursing a drink they fully appreciate.