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(Photo credit: Nicole Smith)

There is a desperate feeling that a serious coffee drinker gets when they are in a new place without knowing where to get an excellent cuppa. This concern extends well beyond the need for a daily fix, which can reliably be met at a Starbucks or Dunkin these days. A true coffee lover, though, wants to know that the baristas pulling shots know what they’re doing; that an order of beans ground for Chemex will not be met with a blank stare; that the baristas take their coffee at least as seriously as you do. GoogleMaps helps, of course, but the stranger in a strange land is always grateful for word-of-mouth tips from a fellow java junkie. Here is a list that promises to not disappoint, and to hopefully delight. These are all worth a small detour on your travels through the South Fork. And if you are lucky enough to be spending time close to one of them, you might even become a regular. 

Hampton Coffee Company, locations in Water Mill (869 Montauk Highway, Water Mill), Westhampton Beach, Southampton, Montauk, 631-726-2633

(Photo credit: Vera Chinese)

Hampton Coffee Company gets props for being one of the early roasters on the South Fork, opening in 1994 (same year as Java Nation) when the Third Wave coffee movement was spreading through America, landing early on this end of Long Island. (For those keeping score, Portland pioneer Stumptown was founded several years later in 1999 and NYC standby Joe Coffee in 2003.) Beans are roasted daily at the Southampton location. Owner Jason Belkin worked for the original founder of Hampton Coffee Company when he was in college and ultimately took the business over with his wife, Theresa, and have expanded to be the demitase de rigeur in six towns (there are also outposts in Aquebogue on the North Fork and Center Moriches). Hampton Coffee Company offers a full menu of hot breakfast and lunch items as well as locally made pantry stuffers, like dog treats, matcha powder and other teas from Southampton’s own Plain T. “It’s part of our mission to be a true part of our communities,” says Belkin, “so supporting other local businesses and groups is very important to us.” Hours: Open year-round except Christmas, from 6 a.m.-5 p.m..

Java Nation,112 Maple Ln, Bridgehampton, 631-725-0500

It was a sad day in Sag Harbor when Java Nation moved out of town. The smell of roasting coffee beans that spread from Main Street to fragrance the whole village was no more. Fortunately, Java Nation decamped to Bridgehampton, adjacent to the train station, where loyal fans followed it and it developed a new audience of devotees. Founders Andrew and Cheryl Bedini, two lawyers turned coffee buyers and roasters, originally opened on Labor Day 1994 when there were not yet many espresso seekers in this old whaling town. Business grew with the national wave of coffee literacy and there were soon lines snaking out of the shop and spilling down the steps to Main Street in summer. True to its origins, Java Nation still roasts an impressive, rotating array of beans from origins like Mexico, Indonesia and Ethiopia. Offering a light and dark roast brewed daily, Java Nation is still a working-person’s coffee shop, and a favorite for buying beans for home. Hours: Mon-Sat, 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun, 7 a.m.-5 p.m..

(Photo credit: Amy Zavatto)

Grindstone, 7 Main St, Sag Harbor, 631-808-3370

When Grindstone Coffee and Donuts opened its doors next to the Corner Bar on Sag Harbor’s Main Street in 2016, it felt a little bit like the circus had come to town. While there isn’t as much scientific evidence supporting the salubrious effects of daily donuts as there is for the neuro-enhancing powers of java juice, their “It’s time to make the donuts” ethic saw to it that fresh, from-scratch donuts were cranked out every damn day. The bakers arrive at 3am each morning, and you’ll see their light on if you happen to be on Main Street at the witching hour. In summer, they get in at midnight and don’t stop baking until 2 p.m. the following day. But the genesis of this employee-owned shop, whose aesthetic has evolved from punk to Americana vintage (its walls decorated with Ladies Village Improvement Society finds and custom artwork mashing up horror comic strips and Long Island history) is mainly around coffee, with donuts being a classic pairing device for the cortados, lattes and straight-up espressos the meticulous baristas churn out. Grindstone’s beans come from Patchogue-based roaster and cold brew-maker, Ace Coffee Co. On weekends, there are apple fritters and heavenly chocolate chip cookies to go with the selection of dunkers (Maple, Old Fashioned, Boston Cream, Strawberry Sprinkle). Sandwiches (bacon, egg and cheese; turkey club with bacon, fontina, pickled red onions and tomato aioli and part Cuban-part Ploughman’s variation with ham, cheese and pickle) made on unsweetened brioche buns. Hours: Open every day 7:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m..

Jack’s146 Montauk Hwy, Amagansett, 631-267-5555

Like so many East End residents, Jack’s was a transplant from NYC. Having built fame and following with its patented flavor-extracting stir-brew technique in Greenwich Village in 2003, founder Jack Mazzola now has four locations in Manhattan, one in Connecticut, one in Amagansett and one in Sag Harbor. The Amagansett shop is a hive of coffee seekers, cuing up against the white-washed nautical interior and jockeying for the same specialty drinks served in the city (Farmer Dan, Half Lou, Mad Max, Happy Jack). True to form, Jack’s offers eco-healthy grocery essentials (Hudson Valley milk, pastured hen eggs) as well as breakfast and lunch comestibles. Hours: Daily, 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m..

Left Hand, 83 S Elmwood Ave, Montauk, 631-238-5434

Catering to the barefoot and bikini set, Left Hand is Montauk’s coffee joint on the same stretch that includes beloved Joni’s Cafe, just down from the community garden and around the corner from Happy Bowls. “At the time, we felt that Montauk needed a more elevated coffee experience than what was offered in town,” says owner Yannis Papagianni, who opened his doors in 2015. “And it turns out we were right.” Today surfers, hedge funders and lighthouse peepers line up shoulder to shoulder for its Lighthouse, Camp Hero and Sinister blends (from light to dark), which are currently roasted in Queens; a Montauk roaster is in the works for 2023. The shop’s name pays homage to the town’s wave-riding psychology and its unconventional reputation, and for those needing other sustenance with their cold brew, cardamom latte or Freddo Espresso, its shelves are stocked with items that appeal to both the health-conscious and party-going crowd, from Doughnut Plant donuts to Spindrift soda, kombuchas, turmeric tonics and carbon- neutral snacks. Hours: Open April through December, in season every day 7am-4pm, off-season Friday-Monday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m..

Sagtown Coffee, 78 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY, 631-725-8696

Tucked into the alleyway off Main Street, SagTown has created a welcoming spot to meet for coffee or camp out while working. Extra points for opening at 6am every day. Shane Dyckman first opened the shop in 2012 and expanded it in 2017 following the now-famous wintertime fire that destroyed the adjoining Sag Harbor Cinema. In summer, the line of patrons stretches into the road. Beyond coffee (La Colombe beans are the Joe of the day)—and the popular draft lattes—SagTown cranks out a full menu of acai bowls, breakfast sandwiches and smoothies. Don’t be intimidated by the various local coffee claches that gather regularly at SagTown; they won’t bite and, better yet, are more often than not welcoming to new faces.