photography by Rob Crosby

Legend has it that coffee was discovered by goats, dancing goats, in fact.
One afternoon in Ethiopia, a goat herder discovered the goats chewing on a unique fruit that kept them jumping and dancing through the night. When the goat herder recognized the “magical energy” these berries contained, he made a drink out of the plant to help local monks make it through their late-night disciplines of prayer (or so the story goes).
By the 17th century, news of the potent drink spread throughout Europe and was received with differing views. While many loved the spirited beverage, others deemed it the “bitter invention of Satan himself.” Controversy over coffee caused such a stir that the Pope was asked to intervene. As it turned out, the Pope wished to try this bitter beverage himself before issuing his opinion. After tasting the coffee, however, the Pope enjoyed it so much he wholeheartedly approved.
Soon after this papal endorsement, the coffeehouse was established. Throughout Europe, coffeehouses and cafes became places of conversation and inspiration. Artists, politicians, and writers gathered to discuss culture and philosophy while sipping a hot cup of coffee. Communities created by these English coffeehouses quickly became known as “penny universities;” at the price of a penny, a cup of coffee would stir enough stimulating conversation and liveliness to rival that of any university. (OK, well maybe not Oxford.)
While coffee certainly no longer costs a penny, it continues to offer a similar community and inspiration for us here in Lakeland. And considering the rise of coffee options in town, it’s fair to say most of us are more than willing to pay a pretty penny for a cup of coffee; we know the return will be more than worth it.
At The Lakelander, we too love coffee. It’s rare to walk into the office and not get swept up in its aroma. From morning fresh-brewed to the midafternoon reheat, we enjoy a culture that includes coffee as it simultaneously serves to enliven our brains and comfort our souls.
It just so happens to be an ideal time to be a coffee drinker in Lakeland. With the evolution of coffee also came the evolution of coffee establishments providing the opportunity for Lakeland’s coffee scene to flourish with a robust menu of options. What follows is an exploration of our city’s coffee purveyors: the dark, the sweet, the frothy, and the unique. Here are Lakeland’s coffee pros’ (and The Lakelander’s) top selections in town.
235 N. Kentucky Avenue
Mitchell, who is better known as Mitch and is the owner of Mitchell’s Coffeehouse, has been serving coffee in downtown Lakeland for nearly 20 years. It turns out that the inspiration for specializing in a coffee shop had something to do with a little show called Friends back when hanging out with a cup of joe in an eclectic space on big couches was all the rage. Inspiration didn’t solely come from the TV sitcom, however. Mitch visited coffeehouses from Florida to London to scope out just what makes a coffeehouse tick.
After signing for a location on North Kentucky Avenue, he remodeled over a weekend, and Mitchell’s Coffeehouse was up for business that following Monday. He recalls opening day as “exactly what every owner would dream of; the line was out the door.” Years later, Mitchell’s Coffeehouse is still bustling from breakfast to lunch, serving a variety of regional blends and a full menu of hot, iced, and blended beverages. Mitch’s pick: Coffee of the Day, black a steady and solid cup of coffee The Lakelander’s pick: I Dream of Jeannie A dreamy blend of mocha, hazelnut, and caramel — what more could you wish for in a cup?
Mitch’s pick: Coffee of the Day, black a steady and solid cup of coffee
The Lakelander’s pick: I Dream of Jeannie A dreamy blend of mocha, hazelnut, and caramel — what more could you wish for in a cup?
Various mobile locations throughout South Lakeland
One of the few food trucks that daily rides around town, Drica’s Favorites is a Brazilian mobile coffee experience not to be missed. Born in Brazil, Drica started her career in the coffee business in New York City, managing a Starbucks and then an independent coffee shop. Drica’s Favorites serves a wide selection of specialty coffee to Lakelanders every day, Monday through Friday. In addition to a full espresso menu, Drica’s specializes in authentic Brazilian treats baked fresh, including Brazilian cheese bread and yucca cakes (both gluten-free).
Drica’s pick: Latte steamed, frothy milk and espresso — simple but classic
The Lakelander’s pick: Mocha steamed milk and espresso flavored with a dark Ghirardelli chocolate syrup
5 Lakeland Locations
With five locations and three drive-thrus keeping Lakelanders a-buzz, we couldn’t leave out the caffeinated empire that is Starbucks. It may be the one place that needs no introduction. Starbucks serves a dependable cup of coffee as well as a steady study (or work) space for any time of the day. While their most popular daily picks vary between Caramel Macchiatos, White Mochas, and Frappuccinos, in recent months Starbucks has upped their coffee game by introducing and reintroducing classic espresso beverages, such as the cappuccino, Americano and macchiato (sorry, no caramel in that one) — simplicity at its best.
Lakeland’s Starbucks Regional Manager, Alyssia Totten’s pick: Sumatra with cream an earthy, near bitter and robust flavor, full body mellowed out with a dash of cream
The Lakelander’s pick: the Flat White (in a short) A condensed latte, this velvety beverage has equal foam and milk throughout, with a rich presence of espresso.
1000 Longfellow Boulevard
Portico Coffeehouse at Southeastern University is an archaic yet modern study space. Though the decor is minimalist and monochromatic, the coffee selection, supplied from Lineage Orlando roasters, is anything but. Joey, manager of Southeastern University’s campus coffeehouse sees to it that Portico focuses on making each cup a fine experience. The key is starting at the foundation — the espresso. Portico’s espresso machine, a La Marzocco, was handmade in Italy and is considered one of the best in the world. They are semi-automatic (which means baristas have more control over each shot, creating better quality). The machine also allows for top-notch control over the steamers, allowing for perfectly steamed and sweetened milk. Also, it’s a workhorse; it can handle a massive volume of drinks and won’t give out.
Considering all of the student and professors stopping in for their afternoon lift, a great espresso machine is a good thing. But don’t let the coffee-connoisseur chat lead you to believe this coffeehouse to be stuffy. With options like the Ron Burgundy, a sweet blend of milk and espresso sweetened with brown sugar and butterscotch, this chill shop is anything but pretentious. On a liberal arts campus surrounded by students and professors, this shop is sure to keep you and your taste buds young at heart.
Joey’s pick: The Cortado Larger than a macchiato, but shorter than a latte, this espresso “cut” with steamed milk is a sweet change from a solo or doppio espresso shot but still packs a punch.
The Lakelander’s pick: a Chemex of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Adado A classy, pour-over style glass coffee maker designed in 1941, this method of brewing is making a major comeback. The brew is floral-like with blueberry notes and a red wine finish.
S. Florida Avenue
This craft coffee company, set to make its debut in Lakeland’s Historic Dixieland area this spring, is sure to teach us all a thing or two about the coffee experience. Concord Coffee will feature a variety of exclusive roast selections, from the West Coast to the East, to order in store or take home. Concord Coffee will not only enliven your taste buds to flavors you never imagined for coffee, but it will also impart to you knowledge of brewing techniques that are sure to enrich your at-home coffee experience.
Naida’s (Concord’s Senior House Manager / brewing wiz) pick: a Chemex of Bold! Bean: Finca El Alto a deep and rich fruity blend that finishes off clean
The Lakelander’s pick: an Aeropress of Supersonic Coffee: Concorde Espresso a blend of Kenyan, Guatemalan, and Ethiopian coffee, with a fine balance of cocoa and cherry notes
BLACK AND BREW 205 E. Main Street
Lakeland-born and -raised brothers Chris and Mike McArthur opened Black and Brew to create “a place where anyone could come, at any time, for any reason, and reconnect to the most important things in life,” co-owner Chris shared with us. “With a culture that has become increasingly disconnected and superficial, it was important for us to create a warm space for genuine community and excellent coffee.” Creating a space not only for their business, but for local entrepreneurs, musicians, and college students, Black and Brew’s downtown location has certainly become the space for the community to reconnect, and surely their tasty coffee has had something to do with that success.
Chris’ pick: Cold Brew of 205 blend an unheated special brew
The Lakelander’s pick: Caramel Frappe a creamy, coffee-based beverage, blended with ice and topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle. This tasty treat just might rival any ice cream shop in town.
4632 Cleveland Heights Boulevard
At Tea Largo, a tea and coffee shop nestled inside PicassoZ Art Cafe, the drink selections are just as whimsical the space itself. Though the duo recently moved to a new location on Cleveland Heights, Tea Largo hasn’t altered much of its current menu. They have, however, certainly built upon it. In fact, one could say that Tea Largo has been a bit ahead of the coffee game, offering cold-brew coffee in all of its iced beverages for years. Owner Kristin Miller chose the cold-brewing method for its qualities of low acidity and overall more flavorful body long before cold-brew became trendy. Tea Largo is popular for its robust selection of Boba beverages as well as its imaginative and inspiring coffee drinks. Located in the heart of an art studio, it’s an ideal place to give one’s imagination a caffeine rush.
Kristin’s pick: Iced Toddy a cold-brewed and smooth blend of iced coffee with cream and a surprise of cool coffee jellies at the bottom — a coffee drinker’s candyland
The Lakelander’s pick: Frozen Oreo Mocha a coffee-based (cold-brew again) ice-blended beverage with mocha, Oreos, topped high with whipped cream and an Oreo cookie. Need we say more?
128 E. Main Street 5327 S. Florida Avenue
Owned by Yohansi Santana, Divicious may be best known for their Cuban sandwiches, but they sure do know how to serve up a classic cup of Cuban coffee. Yohansi, who runs two locations in Lakeland (one in South Lakeland, the other downtown) can be seen at both locations on any given day. She keeps both stores in tip-top shape and is always ready to serve you her own version of her all-time favorite, cafe con leche. It’s much like the trusty latte, only a whole lot sweeter.
Yohansi’s pick: Cafe Con Leche, half the sugar a Spanish white latte, on the sweet side The Lakelander’s pick: Colada a few shots of espresso, syrup-y sweet, served in a cup along with small, plastic demitasses. Small, but packs a punch. Meant to be shared among two or more people.