Best Austin coffee shops near South First Street

South First Street rivals South Congress Avenue in several ways, including its comparable wealth of quality coffee shops.

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Seventh Flag Coffee Co. 1506 South First St. seventhflagcoffee.com. Open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Parking in back. Strong Wi-Fi. Teas and chai. No decaf. Music sometimes loud. Despite traffic outside, picnic area fairly quiet.

I adore this place. This, despite the fact they don’t carry decaf coffee of any kind. The owner took an old wood residence and transformed the inside with almost Scandinavian precision and lightness, then added a variety of tables and counters accompanied by amazingly comfortable molded wooden stools. One low couch sits in a niche and shaded picnic tables tempt the mostly young crowd on fine days. Perhaps to maintain quality or efficiency, the menu is quite limited. An increasing number of themed non-food-and-drink items are for sale. Three toasts have proven quite popular, and there are also a few nutrition bars, water and juices on offer. The always alert baristas — who looked like they were hired from the same talent agency — moved over recently to City of Saints coffee beans for espresso-based drinks, as well as cold and hot brews. Sometimes the musical volume is too loud for us oldsters, but they’ll turn it down if you ask. What do I order without the decaf option? Coconut green iced tea in the summer, green tea in winter, unless I’m going crazy on the caffeine. Above a mantle hangs a black flag adorned with seven white stars. It reads: “Our country of friends.” Indeed. Both my husband and I feel supremely at home here.

RELATED: Original 2007 Austin coffee shop series.

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Once Over Coffee Bar. 2009 S. First St.  512-326-9575. onceovercoffeebar.com. Open 7:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Onsite parking in front. Good Wi-Fi, no password. Decaf, teas and chai. Muted music. Serenely quiet on back creekside deck.

One of the first places in town to offer French press coffee, Once Over now uses a shiny Curtis Gold Cup machine, which a helpful barista described as “robo pour over,” to go along with espresso drinks. Recessed in a nondescript strip center, this always packed place offers a few tables out front under a big tree surrounded by untended planters, as well as a divine creekside deck out back. Now that nearby Bouldin Creek Cafe is more of a restaurant and less of a coffee shop, the mix-and-match Once Over provides the most reliable link to the neighborhood’s funky coffee house past. It’s very laid back. There’s a 10 percent discount if you use cash and another $.25 if you bring your own cup. You don’t pay at point of contact, but rather after being served. The excellent drinks aren’t extravagant or whimsical. The baristas pours four types of red wine and four types of white wine, along with Austin Beer Works varieties. The usual snacks and pastries call out to an easy mix of people working on projects together or alone. The baristas usually engage with folks sitting at the long, bar-like counter. As you could guess from the rest of this description, a good number of guests are loyal regulars, who engage in fluent banter with the staff.

RELATED: Sip from Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

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Summer Moon Coffee. 3115 S. First St. 512-804-1665. woodfiredcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-12 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri. Some onsite parking, also street parking nearby. Solid Wi-Fi with password posted on chalkboard near entrance. Decaf (Americano), teas, chai. Moderately loud music. Not too noisy on small deck out front.

This place is very popular with students. And the brand has expanded to other neighborhoods since this original shop opened in a tiny strip center on South First not far from St. Edward’s University. A good deal of emphasis is placed on the fire-roasted coffee beans — “100 percent organic, 100 percent Arabica” — and products that come with variations on the shop’s name, including Moon Milk (secret recipe). The five kinds of breakfast tacos usually sell out by 10 a.m., a Sunday barista told me, after which one can choose from three types of sandwiches or wraps, along with pastries and snacks. A few comfy chairs and meeting tables complement a fascinating staple-shaped laptop counter. I like that this place maintains a sense of humor, which is adopted without coyness by the young baristas. The stone and wood decor lend Summer Moon a sense of place, and although I can’t tell you why the fire roasting makes a difference, the coffee here is definitely superior.

 UPDATE: Fair Bean Coffee has closed.
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Starbucks. 516 W. Oltorf St. 512-534-6654. starbucks.com. Open until 11 p.m. Not too much parking, plus a drive-through ramp. Instantaneous Wi-Fi. Decaf (pour-over or Americano), teas, chai. Low music. Partially shaded outdoor seating set back from busy intersection.

Face it, this part of South Austin deserved a big, new, drive-through Starbucks. Sometimes, that’s exactly the option you need. The new one at Oltorf and South First streets takes the place of a defunct chicken joint. If you are driving there, enter via westbound Oltorf or northbound South First. Don’t try left turns across traffic into the undersized parking lot. Do try the smooth-as-latte drive-through. The interior is vast, enclosing with windows on three sides at least two dozens metal seats and two types of stools, some counter seating, also some lounge seating. The pristine wood, concrete and masonry finishes dampen the feeling of chain sameness. Partially shaded seating invites one outside, but only on the sunny west and south sides. Of course, there’s a dazzling array of espresso and cold brew selections, as well as bagged coffee beans, water, chips, juices, pastries, teas. A sign you’ll probably see more often: “Now serving almond milk”! The college-age baristas handle the traffic handily, happily. Despite all the hard surfaces, the place doesn’t sound loud and there are plenty of spots to close those laptops to chat. Of course, Starbucks is a globally recognized way of life, not just a coffee shop, which you can take or leave at will.

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10,000 Coffee Shops. In 2007, we proposed a series titled “10,000 Coffee Shops.” We found only 100 around Austin, but it felt like 10,000. Our point back then: That in the 1980s, there had only been three such spots here! We’re sure to count more than 200 during a new run in 2016-2017.

Best Texas books: You can’t miss with Bill Wittliff

This week, we’ve got a novel, a true crime tale, an investigative report, a sports chronicle and a family history among the latest Texas titles to cipher.

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“The Devil’s Sinkhole”

“The Devil’s Sinkhole.” Bill Wittliff. University of Texas Press. Wittliff appears at BookPeople on Oct. 10. We can’t wait to bury ourselves deeper into this sequel to Witliff’s highly praised first novel, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Set in a rugged slash of Central Texas, both books follow the adventures of a frontier boy, Papa, told in irresistible dialect. Although it takes the loose form of a series of folktales — illustrated with bone-dry wit by Joe Ciardiello — one can also imagine the “Devil’s” duo as a movie or a mini-series, which shouldn’t surprise us, coming as they do from the Austin screenwriter who gave us the magnificent “Lonesome Dove” mini-series. We promise more reporting on Wittliff and his spiky stories, rightly compared to Mark Twain’s and J. Frank Dobie’s.

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“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel”

“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel.” Dan Slater. Simon & Schuster. Dan Slater appears at BookPeople on Oct. 7. This is “Beyond Breaking Bad” for real. Two otherwise promising Laredo boys, along with their friends, join the Zetas drug-smuggling cartel and go deep into its hyper-violent culture on both sides of the border. The boys are tracked by a veteran detective with cultural insights into their background. A magazine reporter, Slater knows how to tell a thrilling story in long form. This book, excerpted in Texas Monthly and banned in the Texas prison system, also illuminates the inner lives of the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo hoods far from the tourist traps and NAFTA highways. Another book that screams out for dramatization.

RELATED: MORE RECENT TEXAS TITLES.

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“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas”

“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson an Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas.” Joan Mellen. Bloomsbury. LBJ attracts a certain prosecutorial style of reporting, even decades after he left positions of power. Think of the Robert Caro magnum opus. From all available indications, the late president deserved that kind of attention. If one sets aside his monumental political achievements and their subsequent shortcomings, it’s also clear he was also involved with shady characters such as Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, who shot the lover of LBJ’s unpredictable sister, Josefa, herself doubling as Wallace’s paramour. He was not only defended by LBJ’s lawyer, he went on to bypass vetting and do work for a major defense contractor. Mellen turns up a lot of previously unrevealed evidence and makes a potent case. Documentary film in the making?

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“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys”

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football, from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Nick Eatman. Dey St. The “year in the life” format is time-tested in sports, movies, law-making and the arts. Eatman, who manages and writes for DallasCowboys.com, starts with the premise that football is a year-round activity central to the lives of Texans throughout the state. So he follows the Plano Wildcats, Baylor Bears and Dallas Cowboys through the 2015 season, packed with ups and downs, and, if you were paying any attention at the time, you’d can predict some of the spectacular scandals. Eatman has been given extraordinary access to the high school, college and pro teams, in part because he has been following all three levels of the sport for a long time. (His previous two books were “Art Briles: Looking Up” and “If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys.”) There’s no attempt to get under the skin of the culture in the way of H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream,” but there’s a lot of football here and Texans can’t get enough of that.

RELATED: EVEN MORE RECENT TEXAS TITLES.

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“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty

“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty.” Ellen Walker Rienstra and Jo Ann Stiles. Tower Books. I have long wanted this story told. After cotton and before oil, for the most part, there was Texas timber and the family fortunes associated with it. One formidable tribe dominated the field for a long time. The dynastic enterprise was founded by Henry Jacob “H.J.” Lutcher, then was vastly expanded by his son-in-law, William Henry “H.W.” Stark. Profits from Lutcher-Stark investments were devoted to philanthropy by Henry Jacob Lutcher “Lutcher” Stark, creator of the Stark Foundation of Orange, which was followed much later by the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. The Foundation commissioned Ellen Walker Rienstra, a contract historian, and Jo Ann Stiles, who taught history at Lamar University, to write this richly researched this in-house family biography, published as an imprint of UT Press.

Best Texas rivers: Navasota River

We first did the Navasota River by canoe. A blue, plastic canoe. We embarked below the dam at Lake Mexia, navigated several weirs, explored the elaborate Confederate Reunion Grounds, then disembarked at Fort Parker Lake (also known as Springfield Lake after a tiny town that formerly served as Limestone County seat). Must have parked the Suburban at Fort Parker State Parker in advance, because this was well before mobile phones.

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The Navasota River near its source.

The Navasota, perhaps taken from an Indian word for “muddy river,” lives up to its name. It’s a prairie stream from beginning to end, wriggling its narrow way through clay and sandy loams. It rises near Mount Calm in Hill County and pours into the Brazos River at Washington-on-the-Brazos just southwest of the town of Navasota in Grimes County. The river and its tributaries spill into several dammed lakes: This time, we checked out Lake Mexia, Fort Parker Lake and the largest, Lake Limestone.

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Clouds became the stars of many images this day.

We first found the river flowing off FM 73 between Prairie Hill and Coolidge. Menacing skies threatened rain, but held off until the end of our day. Here, the land was ravaged, probably by cotton farming and overgrazing. We steered out onto eastbound U.S. 84, which crosses an upper arm of Lake Mexia. We stopped first at Booker T. Washington Park, site of Juneteenth celebrations and other reunions for African-Americans from the area. Then we stopped briefly to see the sadly untended house where my parents lived during the 1980s and ’90s.

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Booker T. Washington Park on Lake Mexia.

Down FM 2705, we stopped by the Confederate Reunion Grounds again, which looked tidier than during our past visits. Here, the river, replenished by a tamed spring, is still quite narrow. Only a few people fished or picnicked.

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The Colonel’s Spring in the Confederate Reunion Grounds.

We took a wrong turn but found our way to Texas 14, leading directly to Fort Parker State Park. Nearby is a replica of Fort Parker, the frontier settlement from which Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Comanche chief Quanah Parker, was kidnapped. (That year pass for Texas state parks is really coming in handy.) The lake here is pretty and not very wide. I can remember family reunion campouts here above the lake’s low banks.

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Fort Parker Lake.

Back out on Texas 14, we headed to Groesbeck, tidy courthouse town, the right onto Texas 164 and another right on FM 3371, which crosses a fat arm of Lake Limestone, which is big enough for sailing, but attracted this Labor Day only motorboats, and not many of them. Still, a little lakeside county park was pretty hopping with holiday guests.

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Lake Limestone.

We turned right at FM937 in Old Union, passed through Oletha before reaching Texas 7, where we encountered the Navasota again. We had hoped for lunch in Marquez, but we found no cafes or even barbecue joints open there, or in any of the small towns we visited. U.S. 79 took us back to the river, which had thickened and earned a fringe of hardwood forests along its banks.

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Navasota River near Marques.

A series of beautiful, winding roads pushed us past Hilltop Lakes. In my youth, I had won an overly easy phone contest for a weekend with my family there. It was, of course, a real estate scam, but we enjoyed the pool and restaurant and any excuse to get out of town back then. This day, we passed through Normagee and North Zulch before hitting Texas 6 in Bryan. Now Bryan-College Station is a city, but you hardly tell on 6, which is wide and often free of traffic.

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If you look closely, you can see the banks of the Navasota on private land not far from its mouth at the Brazos River.

A few miles down the road, we tooled around Navasota, which had been a booming railroad town at one point. Outside town near Texas 105 we got close to the river one last time. We could see the banks, but the river stays on private land here. On a previous trip, we had recorded the mouth of the Navasota and Joe captured the mix of colors as it joined the Brazos.