The 15 Greatest College Coffee Shops in America
Beyond the cafe au lait, there are many things that make a great college coffee house: outlet accessibility, the quality of the live events, the friendliness of the folks who work there (and their taste in music), and the quality of the seating, to name a few. Some, like the campus favorites on this list, have added perks: a killer vegan breakfast burrito, a cup of coffee for $1, or a hot chai latte made with Aztec chocolate bitters. Read on.
Max Grinnell is a contributor to Travel + Leisure.You can follow him on Twitter @theurbanologist.
Rohs Street Café in Cincinnati
Located in a church a few blocks from the University of Cincinnati campus, Rohs Street Café has unusual fare like the Karate Latte (toasted sesame seeds steeped in soy milk), which gets top honors. Wordsmiths will want to stop by the Queen City Poetry Slam on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
Plein Air Café in Chicago
Located next to one of the largest academic bookstores in the United States (the Seminary Co-op) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Plein Air is the perfect rest stop between. The décor is all repurposed wood, fresh flowers, and a touch of taxidermy (it’s cute, not creepy), and the Royal Pies are hearty and warm. Basically the stop has everything one needs before exploring the Windy City on a cold day.
Indie Coffee in Madison, Wisconsin
Just a few blocks away from the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium there’s Indie Coffee, where one can participate in a poetry slam, check out live music (Jason Mraz stopped by once), and eat one of the six specialty waffles. Butcher-block tables and tiny lamps provide the backdrop for planning your next trip or just catching up on email. The patio out back is a down-tempo place to relax in the warmer months.
Volta Coffee in Gainesville, Florida
People-watching from the window is a major entertainment here, one that rivals Volta Coffee’s drinking chocolates, some of which incorporate chipotle chiles, cardamom, and, on occasion, Mexican cornmeal. Regular events include weekly coffee cuppings on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and readings from writers in the University of Florida’s M.F.A. program.
Ugly Mug Café & Coffee Roasters in Seattle
Look up as you enter to see this café’s titular “ugly mug.” The low-key University of Washington favorite is a nice alternative to some of the noisier cafés along nearby University Way (known locally as the Ave), and its lavender chai and green tea latte are both exceptional options on a gray day. The Ugly Mug’s décor is basic, but in these fertile lands of coffee shops, that plainness is actually part of its charm.
Caffe Strada in Berkeley, California
With its august decorative white columns and bowers, Caffe Strada is essentially one of Berkeley’s informal classrooms—just with more pastries and coffee. Baristas here have to engage in a three-month apprenticeship behind the place’s brilliant orange espresso machines before they are allowed to take a solo run crafting your latte. Bonus: plenty of plug-ins for devices and an expansive outdoor seating area. Patrons range from folks lost in Sartre to gaggles of tourists just trying to find their way.
Bourgeois Pig in Lawrence, Kansas
In the best of both worlds, one can find a place that provides a smooth passage from coffee to cocktails. The Bourgeois Pig is just such a place, and University of Kansas students and staff spend many hours on the patio out back drinking coffee and, as the sun sets, a draft beer or well drink. Be sure to try the Soft Picasso, which is a hot chai latte made with Bärenjäger, Frangelico, and Aztec chocolate bitters.
The Sentient Bean in Savannah, Georgia
Vegans and vegetarians are well-served at The Sentient Bean, where curried tofu salad, vegan breakfast burritos, and vegan and gluten-free pastries are all on the menu. The café also has several events series, including a Psychotronic Film Night every Wednesday and urban gardening confabs.
Atticus in New Haven, Connecticut
Located on bustling Church Street near Yale, Atticus is distinguished by its sparse aesthetic and well-curated companion bookstore. Travelers will want to pick up their own copy of the Atticus Guide to New Haven, complete with a map documenting nearby sites of note. Other high points: the black bean soup, the cranberry pecan French toast, and a fine cup of coffee to-go for $1.
Java House in Iowa City
The Java House, which has six locations, has been an Iowa City institution for more than 20 years. The downtown outpost is the place to visit, as one can take in Iowa Public Radio’s “Java Blend Fridays” every week at 2 p.m., or stop by to hear a poetry reading. What’s more, in the half-hour before the radio show, the café offers a complimentary coffee tasting—with pastries. On any day, the baristas can create a blend of beans to your exact specifications and palate preferences.
Voltage Coffee & Art in Cambridge, Mass.
Located near the MIT campus, this bright spot in Cambridge’s Kendall Square features a well-curated selection of lattes. Recommended are the Plaid Jacket (cardamom and ginger) and Beyond the Sea (homemade caramel and sea salt). Take your drink into the Analogue Room, which contains typewriters, shelves of books, and a range of telephones from decades past.
Cultiva in Lincoln, Nebraska
Cultiva, a 15-minute walk from Lincoln’s raucous O Street, is distinguished by its focus on single-origin coffee—which, by the way, goes great with one of its johnnycakes. Crêpe-lovers will enjoy the sauces on offer, particularly the feta and garlic or secret aardvark habanero.
Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston
As a home away from the classroom for students at nearby Berklee College of Music and the Boston Architectural College, this Newbury Street institution is a great spot to catch up on work, peruse a fine selection of books, and pick up a journal. Trident sponsors a trivia night every Friday, and other nights visitors can check out the place’s story-slam, readings, and card-making workshops.
Hendershot’s Coffee in Athens, Georgia
Lovely large windows, an outdoor patio, and biscuit sandwiches form a perfect troika at Hendershot’s Coffee. Every Monday is open mic night, and other evenings feature Delta blues, klezmer, and jazz ensembles.
The Runcible Spoon in Bloomington, Indiana
Taking its name from a celebrated poem by Edward Lear, this Indiana University stalwart is known for its brunch, but the atmosphere lends itself to a visit anytime of day. The wait for a table can be long on a weekend, so it’s best to come early. The best option for a takeaway coffee is perhaps Blind Dave’s Mocha: fresh-roasted coffee, chocolate ice cream, and whipped cream.