Quality of Life: Considering Cambridge Coffee Culture


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Recently at the Hark — while waiting in line for my pre-Torts pick me up – I overheard this conversation between two students. For the purposes of this column I will call them “El Gordo y El Flaco.” El Gordo y El Flaco were debating whether El Gordo should buy a latte. “Nah,” said El Gordo, “I like them, but I can’t spend that much on a coffee product.”El Flaco agreed, adding, “You know those people who drink two $4 lattes a day? There’s all these financial people on, like, Oprah, who try to tell you how much that adds up to.” “Yeah, like thousands of dollars a year,” replied El Gordo. “Those people are ridiculous,” concluded El Flaco, while buying a bottle of water. As a lover of irony and a person who has been known to spend $8 a day on “coffee product,” I was sorely tempted to point out that a bottle of water, or three, a day will add up too, and unlike the coffee here, which is only free in the mornings and in the library after 9 p.m., the water is free all the time. People do spend a lot of money on coffee, but how much did El Gordo y El Flaco blow the last time they went to Temple Bar?I’m not an $8 a day coffee fiend anymore, but I do enjoy a good cup of coffee in a setting away from the law school. Coming to Cambridge, I naively envisioned a Mecca for coffee houses, a place where the bright minds gathered to foment the revolution over steaming bowls of cappuccino. Or not. Still, I thought I could expect more than my morning dose of Pound Roast and the omnipresent Starbucks.Starbucks is not bad coffee. I don’t particularly mind its hegemonic status. I do mind running into everybody and their mother while trying to study or slowly drink a soy latte. Plus, while complicated brew mixes sound vaguely hip at other places, they feel foolish when rattled off at a Starbucks. I have heard it’s a good place to find the law professors who like interacting with the student body. Diesel in Davis Square is the ultimate in hipster coffee houses. With lots of seats, snacks, and people who look ten times cooler than I do, it’s worth the occasional visit – if only to get me to question why I own so many turtleneck sweaters. Did I mention it’s in Davis Square? Two T stops is a long trip for coffee.Simons, tucked next to Hollywood Video by Porter Square, is a chill place with good coffee and an excellent tea selection. Unfortunately, the odds of finding a seat in its narrow interior are slim. Peet’s in Harvard Square is possibly the most crowded I have ever seen a coffee house on a daily basis. Its rent at that location must be astronomical. Peet’s is my favorite chain, so I occasionally fight my way in for a coffee and a scone, but it’s not a place to relax.1369 in Inman Square captures the yuppie grunge of the neighborhood nicely. 1369 in Central Square is where I go to escape the law school. It’s a 20 minute walk so I’m trusting in the fact that law students are pressed for time and too lazy to go to Central to keep my haven safe. Toscanini’s serves an excellent cup of coffee. One guy in my section has it everyday, so he either agrees with me or it’s on his way to school. I’d stick around if they had more than three seats. I am addicted to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I must have it at least once a week or I start to feel its absence. Maybe it’s laced with pheromones because the smell makes me feel completely at ease and calm, like a warm bath. Here’s the secret to enjoying coffee on the cheap. Buy a French Press. It’s the only piece of equipment you need to make coffee. You pour in the coffee. If you’re fancy you can grind it yourself. You pour in hot water. Wait five minutes, press down, and voila you have your own pot of coffee. I get my coffee shipped from Stumptown Roasters in Portland, and it is the most amazing coffee I have ever tasted. If that seems too far, you could try Peet’s. Coffee life isn’t so bad here. At least the Hark now offers espresso in addition to its standard fare of black coffee. Decent espresso, made more decent by the fact that it allows me to drink Starbucks without being at a Starbucks. I don’t mind the pricing, either. Somehow the money doesn’t seem as real when you’re swiping a plastic card and not handing over the greenbacks. Erin Archerd, a 1L, enjoys frequent use of caffeine in its coffee and Coke Zero forms. If you’re ever in Oxford, UK, she recommends the Grand CafĂ© on High Street near the Examination Schools.