Mocha and merch: five of the best t-shirts from these Chattanooga coffee shops

Contributed photo / Cosi Goodman of Goodman Coffee Roasters wears the Shred Roast T-shirt on a recent trip to a coffee farm in Colombia, South America.

Yes, I'm that writer in the coffee shop. The one sunk into the papasan in the corner or hunkered down at a table tucked away in a lonely cranny. I'm pretending to be intensely focused on whatever I'm writing, but really I'm procrastinating: Searching for flights to Bora Bora that I'll probably never book, changing my laptop wallpaper to a photo of me wiping blue cheese dressing off my daughter's cheek, or listening to "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" by Pharoah Sanders, which unbeknownst to me is seeping from headphones and distracting the lady a few tables down enjoying her cafe au lait.

Since I'm not loyal to any particular coffee shop's ambiance, sofas, lamps, baristas or selection of milk alternatives, I dibble and dabble in a handful of different shops around town, appreciating something from each one. Whether I'm babysitting my cortado at Goodman Coffee Roasters or dumping more sugar than I need into Velo's espresso tonic, I notice that each shop has a collection of beautifully designed and highly curated merch that seems as intentional as the foam art on their lattes. It became apparent that just as much attention was poured into a 58% cotton/42% polyester T-shirt as was a 75% Colombian Toldapampa/25% Peruvian Los Santos blend of coffee.

Sleepyhead has a limited-edition silk eye mask to help you snooze more efficiently. Velo collaborated with Hattanooga to knit a beanie that's standard issue in any hipster's wardrobe ($5 from each beanie was donated to Hamilton County schools). Burlaep has a fanny pack in a trio of colors that are "extra roomy" and the perfect place to stash your lip balm, bear repellent, gummy worms and other miscellaneous goodies. Goodman Coffee Roasters has a matte black airtight canister that keeps their Peruvian Gajamarca beans as fresh as possible. Mad Priest has the "Matriarch" widemouth bottle with the graphic of a nun/superhero on one side and on the other, the quote from an unknown author, "Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them." All of these coffee shops have a variety of key chains, tote bags, dad hats, tumblers, bandanas, and of course ceramic mugs, but we all know, no matter how cool any of that stuff is, no piece of merch is more tried and true than the T-shirt. So, here are five of my favorite T-shirts from my favorite Chattanooga coffee shops to get caffeinated and pretend like I'm writing.

And since I love you all, I threw in a coffee recommendation, complete with tasting notes straight from the source.

Sleepyhead Coffee

— 735 Broad St.

— Pink Tee: $25.

The gorgeous models flanked in lush flora and snapped by photographer Casey Yoshida exude a boutique vibe that Sleepyhead might be a luxury pajama brand you could find at Bergdorf Goodman or anywhere else that sells Comme des Garçons cardigans. This also validates their spirited mantra of being "more than a coffee shop." The pale pink is just about the same shade as the coffee mugs, saucers and hexagon tiles at their Broad Street outpost. Eryn Garcia of the local print and design shop Neat Pony made use of the iconic Cooper Black font that will forever remind me of the "vote for Pedro" shirts from "Napoleon Dynamite" and a prime example of simplicity winning.

The coffee: Wake Up Blend.

Tasting notes: mellow, chocolatey and nutty.

Velo Coffee Roasters

— 509 E Main St.

— Swello Tee: $30.

This collaboration with Nate Harden of Philosophy Tattoo Society is a lot perkier than their previous shirts, which featured the grim reaper delivering coffee on a fix geared bicycle, designed by artist MuteOn aka JW Butts. The fuchsia, teal and orange turn up the vibrancy to the max on a 100% ring-spun cotton shirt that looks more eggshell than white. My favorite part is the vintage sun illustration on the back, which looks poised to take a sip of a French-pressed dark roast. This design is also featured on a pair of tube socks, enamel pin, magnet, bumper sticker and water bottle.

Coffee: Boneshaker espresso blend.

Tasting notes: milk chocolate, raisin, praline, sweet and creamy.

Goodman Coffee Roasters

— 1110 Market St., 3913 St. Elmo Ave.

— Shred Roast Tee: $22.

I never, ever wear black, but this shirt is so cool, it might become the lone rule to the exception. Danny Siviter of Temple Painter Tattoo is the mastermind behind this playful imagery of a cartoon coffee mug pulling off an epic handplant like he's Chad Muska (minus the boombox and those chunky Circa sneakers). The addition of the checkerboard strip, pop of pink and graffiti-style airbrushed font makes this design that much cooler, and it's also used for their stickers and skateboard deck.

Coffee: Shred Roast Blend.

Tasting notes: Sweet fruits that pop and a light citrus, which is balanced out with cocoa and nuttiness.


— 801 E 11th St.

— Thank You! Tee: $25.

This design is blatantly inspired by the to-go bag that's filled with crab Rangoon, General Tso's chicken and egg rolls from your go-to Chinese takeout restaurant. I love it because it breaks away from the outdoorsy graphics Burlaep is known for printing on their shirts like: hiking boots, cabins with smoking chimneys, mountain ranges and tents pitched on the banks of gentle rivers. Chief Operating Officer Francesca Prado assured me that this shirt was designed and printed in-house by hand with a manual press using eco-conscious methods and water soluble ink and was meant to celebrate Burlaep's second year in business.

The Coffee: Musaza Anaerobic Natural (from Black & White Roasters).

Tasting notes: Concord grape, honey-roasted almonds and pastry.

Mad Priest Coffee Roasters

— 1900 Broad St.

— Sloth Dispelling Tee: $17.99.

The premise of this quirky shirt is to let you know that this blend of coffee will miraculously transform you from the slowest mammal on the planet Earth to a well-caffeinated, highly productive busybody. There's something weirdly captivating about the image of a sloth dressed in a robe and the mitre of an Archbishop, his three claws managing to clutch a crozier. In his other set of claws, the sloth is holding a picture/logo of the Mad Priest, Abbé Faria inspired by the Alexandre Dumas novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo." The logo is also featured on the back of the shirt where "GET MAD" is emblazoned in a Dijon mustard color, from shoulder to shoulder.

Coffee: Sloth Dispelling Breakfast Blend.

Tasting notes: Smooth body, nutty character and balanced finish.

Contact Andre James at [email protected] or 423-757-6327. Sign up for his weekly newsletter, "What to Eat Next," at

  photo  Andre James