Coffee shops, however popular they may be, are still uncharted treasures. Most people don’t realize just how multipurpose these places can be – they are meeting spots, date locations, work spaces, shelter from the elements, and, quite obviously, a source for food and drink. Chapel Hill is home to unique independent coffee shops that manage to be all of these things at once. Not only that, but some of these coffee shops are equipped with fast free WiFi for working use, perfect for students and workers alike. Here are three shops to be sure to try for a change of scenery, a cool new place to work, and, most of all, a great cup of coffee.


Exterior of Joe Van Gogh. Photo by Amy Hanna

Joe Van Gogh 

Joe Van Gogh’s Chapel Hill shop is located in Timberlyne Shopping Center. Other Joe Van Gogh shops scattered about around Durham and Hillsborough. Joe Van Gogh’s pride and joy is its artisan coffee, made by baristas who are “true to their craft.” The Chapel Hill location is bustling with life, but maintains a welcoming, bright atmosphere, with lots of seating and table space, ample light fixtures, and floor-to-ceiling windows lining the front of the shop.

“This is a very friendly place. People coming in knowing each other, knowing the baristas, too – a lot of people know each other here,” says Alex Craig, a manager and barista at Joe Van Gogh. It is clear that everyone is welcome to eat, drink, and work at Joe Van Gogh, from all ages and all walks of life. The abundant tabletop seating makes this a great place for group work, while corners with two-seaters tucked away are perfect for the (hopeful) productive introvert.

However, as it should be, the best part about Joe Van Gogh is the coffee. “We take pride in having a good product, and also being welcoming about it,” says Craig. “Our lattes are really popular; people can customize them however they want. We also serve cold brew iced coffee on tap. We’re one of the only shops in the area that does this.” As for food, Joe Van Gogh serves delicious fresh baked goods – their Danishes are about as perfect as a Danish can get. Joe Van Gogh is fast-paced yet friendly, unique yet welcoming. Drop in for some of the best artisan coffee in Chapel Hill, and stay for the unmatched warmth and camaraderie.
Where’s the WiFi password?: In front of the cash register
Where you can find them: 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd AD, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Exterior of Market Street Coffeehouse. Photo by Amy Hanna.

Market Street Coffeehouse

The unassuming Market Street Coffeehouse dwells in an equally unassuming shopping center on South Elliott Road, but don’t let location fool you: Market Street Coffeehouse is a cozy, laidback junction of peace, laden with space and rich with color and personality. The aesthetic of the place is two-parts industrial, one-part earthy. Plucky bluegrass plays at a soft volume in the background, and unlike most independent coffee shops, the sounds of coffee-making machines are minimal. When asked to describe Market Street Coffeehouse in a few words, manager Jon Ackley says, “Laid-back, friendly, and most importantly, full of good coffee.”

Market Street Coffeehouse strives to create a unique, all-purpose environment centered on great coffee. The lattes here are a hit all year round, while their sharp iced coffees fly off counters most in the summertime. Great coffee is not the only on the menu at Market Street Coffeehouse. The Chapel Hill location displays a beautiful assortment of NC specialty foods, chocolates, and cocktail mixers as well. Market Street Coffeehouse further sets itself apart with its recreational offerings. The back corners of the shop house a board game collection (“We have fifty-five board games back there to play,” says Ackley) as well as a lending library stocked with books for customers to read.

“The atmosphere of this place really drew me in,” Ackley says, reminiscing about how he began working at Market Street Coffeehouse. “I’ve worked at other coffee shops, and this is the only one that broke that snobby specialty coffee shop stereotype.” Looking around the place, at the extensive menu and upscale layout, it’s possible to mistake a place like Market Street Coffeehouse for another pretentious artisan coffee trap. However, as in all aspects of this place, looks are deceiving. Market Street Coffeehouse has far too much goodness and too calming an atmosphere to overlook.
Where’s the WiFi password?: In front of the cash register
Where you can find them: 227 S Elliott Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Interior of La Vita Dolce. Photo by Amy Hanna

La Vita Dolce

La Vita Dolce is quite unlike any other coffee shop in Chapel Hill or beyond, and this is known as well to customers as it is to those who work there. La Vita Dolce fits right in to the warm, polished environment that Chapel Hill’s Southern Village offers. The shop’s main attraction is its delicious gelato, but this shop also sells arrayed coffees and beverages as well. The crowd-pleaser? “Our nitrogen tap coffee,” says Erin Farmer, manager at La Vita Dolce. “We cold brew our coffee by soaking grounds for sixteen hours. This makes the coffee less acidic and a bit frothier and creamier.” Decadence is the name of the game with this drink, and just about every other option at La Vita Dolce.

La Vita Dolce is fairly small in size, and seating can be minimal, but since the shop is so unique and a bit further tucked away from students’ usual shops in Carrboro, for the most part, it’s perfectly possible to find a seat here. The shop operates at a slightly higher volume than the average coffee shop, with a fair dose of chatter in the busy hours and the constant of pop music playing at mid-level in the background. Still, this mostly just acts as white noise; plenty of customers at La Vita Dolce can work productively without issue.

Sweetness is the inimitable draw to La Vita Dolce. “I love working here because I love the customers,” says Farmer. “Everyone is so friendly, and I love that I’m able to experiment with flavors and be part of a team that creates.” The concoctions La Vita Dolce serves are nothing short of decadent wonder. Also, there’s nothing quite like pouring over a book with a cup of gelato in hand. From its sweet offerings to its sweet atmosphere, just about everything in La Vita Dolce is worth a try.
Where’s the WiFi password?: Ask a barista
Where you can find them: 610 Market St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Coffee shops, especially those in Chapel Hill, have far more to offer than just a caffeine fix. As summer draws to a close and work kicks into high gear once again, plan a visit to one of these independent gems.