in search of: the best coffee in des moines, iowa

coffee. when that liquid gold hits my lips i'm transformed from a mindless body to a human being wrought with senses, thoughts and feelings. basically, it brings me to life.

let me be clear about something as we go down this road though - i am not a coffee snob, errrr, expert ;-) and it's a-okay if you are, but if i'm being honest i couldn't tell you the difference between a cup of coffee with the beans fresh-pressed in guatamala versus a cup of medium roast from my local coffee shop. 

now, i've had bad coffee. the kind that automatically triggers you to spit the contents back into your cup in disgust. and i really feel like if i think the coffee is bad than it must be horrible, because this isn't a picky coffee palette. for instance, i may not prefer black coffee, but i can roll with it if your coffee is my version of good and the option is no coffee or black coffee.

when my good friend teresa invited me to spend a saturday in des moines to go shopping she suggested we do a mini coffee tour, hitting only the best rated coffee spots. des moines is the capital of iowa, and approximately 2 hours away from where i live in cedar rapids, iowa. 

let this guide serve as your way to the best coffee spots the next time you're in des moines!

THINGS I LEARNED: 
1. all other 'find the best coffee' adventures will be had over multiple days - too. much. coffee.
2. i enjoy soy milk instead of almond milk in my coffee (who knew!)
3. des moines does coffee right. there wasn't any place where i didn't enjoy my drink, simply places i preferred one drink over another.

WEST END ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE
address: 22 9th St, Des Moines, IA  50309
what i ordered: small latte with almond milk and peppermint flavor
how much did it cost: $2.95 (small)
what else do they serve? various coffee drinks, soda, water, lemonade, beer and wine + small pastries 

experience? hands down, this coffee shop had the BEST environment. i mean, it's filled with amazing treasures that would make joanna gaines realllllll happy. the coffee was good. no complaints. i went with my standard latte with peppermint and was very happy with my order. my only advice is that if you're visiting west end for the first time give yourself the time to browse. and by browse i mean FOUR floors of items. it's not a place you'd want to just pop in and out of unless you live des moines and have the ability to visit anytime. 

west-end-architectural-salvage-coffee-des-moines
west-end-architectural-salvage-coffee-des-moines
west-end-architectural-salvage-coffee-des-moines
west-end-architectural-salvage-coffee-des-moines
west-end-architectural-salvage-coffee-des-moines

SCENIC ROUTE BAKERY
address: 350 E Locust St #104, Des Moines, IA 50309
what i ordered: small hot peppermint tea + mini ham and cheese quiche
how much did it cost: $4.90
what else do they serve? various coffee drinks, limited breakfast items (breakfast burritos, quiche), a variety of pastries, beer, wine, tea, soda, lemonade, lunch (a variety of wraps, sandwiches and salads)

experience? definitely the best food options of the five coffee shops i visited. so many options, and i have a weakness for quiche so any place that has quiche automatically wins 10 points in my book. i actually have more of a salty tooth than a sweet tooth, so i was very pleased to see that scenic route offered options of people like me who don't gravitate towards sweet breakfast items.

my peppermint tea was great; and while i didn't a coffee drink, my girlfriend did and gave it two thumbs up. 

scenic-route-bakery-coffee-des-moines
scenic-route-bakery-coffee-des-moines

MARS COFFEE BAR
address: 505 E Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309
what i ordered: small latte with almond milk and blackberry flavor
how much did it cost: $4.15
what else do they serve? various coffee drinks, tea, soda, sparkling water, breakfast and lunch (made to order)

experience? this was my third coffee shop in a row and since i had the forethought to have tea at scenic route i knew i could get down one more latte before our coffee break to go shopping.

mars coffee is connected to raygun, which if i'm being honest is one of the BEST t-shirt shops i've ever encountered. and i'm even doing it a disservice to call it a t-shirt shop; they offer so much more, but bottom line is that their products are iowa-centric, sarcastic in that 'you gotta be able to laugh at yourself' way. but i'm digressing because you're here for the coffee. mars is simple. and that's a-okay. there aren't more than 4 seats in the place so don't go here for your sit down coffee. but the flavor options? outstanding! i had to go off the beaten path and get a flavor shot of blackberry. science and research for this article demanded it. and it was GREAT. exactly what i needed to get the traditional coffee taste out of my mouth. the hint of fruit was fantastic and i only wish i lived closer so i could go back and try the raspberry flavor. 

mars-coffee-bar-des-moines
mars-coffee-bar-des-moines
mars-coffee-bar-des-moines

SMOKEY ROW COFFEE
address: 1910 Cottage Grove, Des Moines, IA 50314
what i ordered: small latte with soy milk and chocolate mint flavor
how much did it cost: $
what else do they serve? various coffee drinks, tea, breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, ice cream, malts, shakes + they have their very own throwback soda fountain!

experience: after a much needed 4 hour break from coffee drinking i was okay with getting back on the proverbial coffee horse and stopping at our second-to-last stop, smokey row coffee. as i ordered my usual small latte i was told that they don't have almond milk, only soy. without much of a choice i decided to give it a try and added a chocolate mint flavor. 

first sip...smooth! is this what soy milk tastes like? did i blindly jump on the almond milk wagon and i didn't even consider soy milk? i have some things to figure out in my dairy-free milk world, but smokey row had the best coffee of the trip.

smokey-row-coffee-des-moines
smokey-row-coffee-des-moines

ZANZIBAR'S COFFEE ADVENTURE
address: 2723 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312
what i ordered: small latte with soy milk
how much did it cost:
what else do they serve? various coffee drinks, tea, smoothies, juice, and all-day breakfast

experience? zanzibars had my least favorite atmosphere out of the five coffee shops i visited. i'm pretty big on my environment, and it just wasn't a place where i would envision myself taking my laptop to work or meeting a friend for a coffee date.

that being said, their coffee was good. feeling the need to test my 'wait, do i like soy milk better than almond milk' dilemma i ordered a latte with no flavor (i needed a break!) and soy milk. and once again, the soy milk provided a much smoother latte experience.

zanzibars was the coffee shop that placed the most emphasis on fresh coffee beans. if fresh grounds in a particular style is your thing, than zanzibars is your best bet in the area.

zanzibars-coffee-adventure-des-moines
zanzibars-coffee-adventure-des-moines

THE ROUTE

des-moines-iowa-coffee-tour-map

THE VERDICT

best coffee? after it was all said and done i have to say there wasn't a coffee that i didn't like. my favorite coffee would have to be at smokey row, however, I want to note that this was the point that i was forced to switch from almond milk to soy milk. smokey row had a great selection of items, plenty of room to sit, and the smoothest latte of the five places we went. 

best environment? west end architectural salvage. not only is it an hgtv lovers dream, but the main floor where you can sit and have coffee has a distinct and warm feeling to it. exposed brick walls combined with unique vintage decor make west end a place i would want to settle in a work.

PIN IT!

like this article? want to save this for your next trip to des moines? pin it!

best-coffee-des-moines-iowa-travel

do you have a favorite coffee shop in des moines? i'd love to hear about it for my next trip! until then, happy coffee drinking!

cheers!
heather