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July 21, 2009

3CUPS, Another Reason to Check Out the Triangle's Food Scene

3CUPS owner Lex Alexander is borderline fanatical about maintaining transparent relationships with his producers--and he has photos of them on the walls to prove it.

by Mollie Chen

A couple years ago I spent a long weekend in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area, and I've been scheming to get back ever since. It had everything--friendly people, fantastic food, bountiful farmers' markets, fun shopping--and the town's culinary scene only seemed to be getting better. I'm not the only one with Carolina on my mind: Bon Appétit rated Durham the country's foodiest small town last year.

Since my visit, lots has happened to the area. I just learned about 3CUPS, a highly curated coffee, tea, and wine shop in Chapel Hill, when owner Lex Alexander stopped by the office to give me the rundown on his business. A longtime champion of Triangle-area farmers, Alexander started one of the first natural food stores there in 1981 and then went on to work for Whole Foods during the 1990s. Soon after that, the idea for 3CUPS was born. He opened in 2004 with a small, well-edited selection of products sourced directly from farmers, vintners, co-ops, and small-batch producers. "No blends," he says, "just pure roasted beans, loose-leaf teas, high-quality wines."

Stop in on a Tuesday night and you'll likely mix with local farmers. Although Alexander doesn't sell at the farmer's market, he does hang out with a lot of people who do, and he throws a mean party at the store to bring them together. One event that caught my eye: August's "Beer Drinkin', Pink Wine, and Pig Pickin,'" complete with live ukulele music and slow-cooked ribs.

Further reading:
* For those of us who can't make it down to Chapel Hill in August, there are plenty of crisp rosés, Ethiopian coffees, and Japanese green teas available on the 3CUPS Web site.
* Catch of the Day: International noshables.


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