For students seeking sustainable and delicious coffee, look no further than Larry’s Coffee. Only a nine-minute drive from campus, the Gavin Street storefront features not only bags upon bags of their slow-roasted coffee beans, but also brewed coffee to taste alongside a courtyard for students to work and study.
Larry’s Coffee originated in 1994, right here in Raleigh. It began as the passion project of owner Larry Larson, who had recently dropped out of graduate school at NC State. As the first employee to roast coffee for Cup A Joe, another beloved coffee shop on Hillsborough Street, Larson was interested in roasting coffee and selling it, too.
“Back in 1994, when you thought coffee, you thought Maxwell House and you thought about going to the Waffle House,” Larson said. “That was where you got coffee. The idea of going to a Starbucks, which didn’t really exist on the East Coast at all… people didn’t know what that was. And I thought, fundamentally, people are going to seek out really good coffee.”
Larson was right, even if it took 25 years for him to get there. Despite the ever-popular business model of fast-food chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin’, where the drinks can feel much more like a sugary shake than a coffee, Larson was confident that the consumer would eventually land upon good coffee on their own.
Larry’s Coffee is a certified Fair Trade Organization, with a special emphasis on long-term fair trade relationships with coffee farmers. Too often, coffee can become an exploitative business that puts farmers around the globe at risk. Larson sought to change that.
“It’s the really important thing to us here, to promote people,” Larson said. “People and places where the average consumer is so disconnected from where their stuff comes from. ... The more you know about where your things and stuff come from, the more you’re going to require the distributor or the grower to follow good principles.”
Despite the wide variety of blends — over 25 in total — the typical coffee drinker shouldn’t be driven away by the seemingly endless choices. Larson looks to appeal to coffee connoisseurs of all types, regardless of palate.
“You’re not gonna find Maxwell House-type of coffee that I can find chock-full of nuts, type of coffee,” Larson said. “Everything is top end. That said, now we have some stuff that is really just a good basic cup of coffee to drink all day long. Because, a lot of people, that’s all they want.”
For coffee connoisseurs, there are plenty of more nuanced options, as well.
“We have other stuff that’s really fairly esoteric in its flavors since that gets really refined,” Larson said. “For example, 90% cacao, high-end chocolate flavors coming through bittersweet chocolate, combined with a little bit of grape. So it’s like drinking a fine wine.”
For the especially fancy coffee folks, 42 & Lawrence is Larson’s flagship cafe, located in the heart of downtown Raleigh. There, more high-end coffee exists to allow cafe-goers an opportunity to try some amazing coffee in the form of a morning pick-me-up or a latte drink.
Although the heart of Larson’s business operations is right here in Raleigh, Larry’s Coffee stretches far across the country when it comes to whole-bean coffee sales.
“If we’re talking the end user who’s buying online, we ship all over the country,” Larson said. “We ship to Alaska, we ship to California, Washington state. But most of it, though, is — put a pin in the map, draw a 500-mile circle. And that’s the bulk of our clients.”
Interested consumers can find the closest place to buy Larry’s Coffee on the website’s map, which boasts over 100 locations in the Raleigh-Durham area alone. Students may be surprised to find Larry’s Coffee at the ever-popular Rush Bowls and at College Beverage 1, both of which are located on Hillsborough Street.
But for the freshest brew, look no further than the Larry’s Coffee storefront itself.
“You can do coffee by here — it’s really fresh,” Larson said. “Everything has been roasted within a few days, we rotate the shelves once a week. It’s a place to sit down and get on Wi-Fi, we got a nice courtyard out there. ... If you’re off the beaten path and you want some quiet and solitude, it’s great.”
Above all else, Larson pushes Larry’s Coffee for beginners and advanced coffee drinkers, for the old and the young. With over 25 quality, fair trade blends to choose from, there’s a coffee for every consumer.
“I’d say coffee is a journey, just like everything else in life,” Larson said. “Allow yourself the willingness and ability to think, explore whatever path suits you at this moment and today. There is never a right or wrong — it’s the journey.”