Take that, Starbucks!

Brewing debate: Are these the best coffee shops in Austin?

Brewing debate: Are these the best coffee shops in Austin?

Espresso machine
The best coffee shops in Austin may surprise you. iStock

It seems Austinites argue almost as much about the best coffee shops in Austin as they do about the best breakfast tacos, best queso, best barbecue joints, best food trucks, and so on. Now, we can inject some caffeine into Austin’s coffee debate.

Sifting through about 7,000 Yelp reviews posted over the course of several years, University of Texas junior Rachel Downs discovered that just three Austin coffee purveyors — Venezia Italian Gelato, Dolce Neve, and Apanas Coffee & Beer — were among the top 10 in two categories she singled out: reviewer ratings and reviewer sentiment.

Downs conducted the coffee-review analysis for her final project in a management information systems course at UT. She examined Yelp reviews by searching the word “coffee” included in reviews of establishments in Austin.

The rating score, developed by Downs, was based on the number of stars awarded by Yelp reviewers, and the sentiment score came from comparing positive and negative words within the reviews.

In the rating category, Venezia came in second place, with Dolce Neve at No. 4 and Apanas at No. 7. Over in the sentiment column, Venezia grabbed the top spot, while Dolce Neve was No. 3 and Apanas was No. 5.

Earning the overall highest marks in the rating and sentiment groupings, Venezia would appear to be the coffee champ of Austin. (Sorry, Starbucks.) Italian-themed Venezia, which serves coffee, as well as gelato and pastries, opened in May 2016 on South Lamar Boulevard. A husband-and-wife team from Italy owns the establishment.

On Yelp, more reviewers rave about Venezia’s gelato than any other offering, but they also praise the shop’s coffee. One reviewer remarked that the coffee “is unlike anything I’ve ever had before.” Another reviewer lauded Venezia for brewing coffee “that tastes like you’re on vacation.”

In March, Downs published the data on data.world, an Austin-based data analytics and collaboration platform. That’s where we came across the findings of her study.

“I’ve had many bad experiences at well-rated coffee shops and good experiences at poorly rated coffee shops,” Downs tells CultureMap, “so I wanted to understand more about how coffee shops are rated.”

Downs, who’s studying management information systems and marketing at UT, is president of the university’s chapter of the American Marketing Association.

According to Downs’ study, these are the top 10 coffee shops in Austin based on Yelp reviewer ratings:

  • Third Coast Coffee Roasting Co.
  • Venezia Italian Gelato
  • Fleet Coffee
  • Dolce Neve
  • Anderson’s Coffee Co.
  • Flat Track Coffee
  • Apanas Coffee & Beer
  • Corona Coffee Co.
  • Summermoon Coffee Bar
  • Live Oak Market

Downs says the Yelp reviews she studied were “heavily positively skewed,” as nearly 81 percent of them earned ratings of four or five stars.

These are the top 10 coffee shops in Austin based on Yelp reviewer sentiments, Downs’ study shows:

  • Venezia Italian Gelato
  • The Factory - Cafe with a Soul
  • Dolce Neve
  • Cafe Java
  • Apanas Coffee & Beer
  • Cafe Ruckus
  • Mary’s Cafe
  • Sa-Tén
  • Arturo’s Underground Cafe
  • Hot Mama’s Cafe

“Sentiment does match fairly well with star ratings,” Downs says, “but sentiment is generally more positive.”

As a means of comparison, just one of the coffee retailers — Sa-Tén — in the two Yelp categories from Downs’ study appears on a list of the 11 “hottest” coffeehouses in Austin published in 2016 by dining guide Zagat. Meanwhile, four of Austin’s top Yelp-reviewed coffee shops also show up among the top 15 best coffee shops on Foursquare. Those shops are Cafe Java, Flat Track Coffee, Fleet Coffee, and Summermoon Coffee Bar.

Coffee shops realize reviews make a difference, wherever they’re published.

“As competition continues to grow, online ratings and reviews will prove to play an important role in the success of new and existing businesses,” Downs says in her analysis.

“One highly competitive market in the Austin metropolitan area is coffee shops,” she adds. “As an existing coffee shop, or a new entrant into the market, understanding how people are talking about your shop, how satisfied people are with your shop (through ratings), and what attributes of your shop are influential in those ratings will help you prioritize aspects of your shop that will determine its success.”