Not Your Average Cup of Joe
On most days, if you were to walk into the kitchen inside Harkness at 8:30 a.m., you would find me hovering around an odd metal contraption that sits on the stovetop, waiting in expectation for the fountain of espresso soon to issue forth from its depths.
When I came to Oberlin last fall, I brought with me a fledgling coffee addiction that, with late nights and final exams, has begun to thrive. My taste is rather selective. It was cultivated in one of the small coffee shops in my hometown of Granville, Ohio, where descriptions of espresso drinks line the walls, each laid out on its own 8x10 piece of paper.
Despite the ridiculous abundance of choices provided to me, whenever I was able to splurge and go out to buy coffee I consistently came back to relative simplicity: the house mocha. But I did not often go out for coffee. Usually, I made my own.
Here in Oberlin, I have been scoping out the coffee scene for several months now. Here are my conclusions:
For regular black coffee, the best place to go is Black River Café. This popular breakfast spot is often packed and waiting for a table is almost a guarantee on the weekends.
However, the coffee more than compensates for the delay. It is brought out in satisfyingly chunky mugs that insulate well enough that those who like to linger need not worry.
In addition, it is accompanied by a miniature pitcher of cream and sugar is always available. The brew is strong enough to accommodate your typical caffeine addict, but not so much that the casual coffee drinker will not enjoy it too. The flavor is smooth and almost a little nutty.
A close second for plain coffee is Oberlin College’s own DeCafé, where they serve multiple flavors of the same brand, Crooked River Coffee Company, at a convenient self-serve station. My favorite is the organic Good Morning Blend, which has a simple full coffee flavor and is not trying to be anything else.
Guilty of this crime is the French Vanilla, which has a strange tint of something that might be vanilla but ruins the general composition of the drink. Although I am not vegan, I appreciate the soymilk option in place of regular milk — it creates a smoother texture. For the environmentally and economically conscientious, there is a 50 cent discount for bringing your own mug.
The Oberlin Market, a small organic foods store/bakery in downtown Oberlin, sells the same brand of coffee as DeCafé, but brews it stronger. It is perfect for the serious coffee drinker, but beware if you are at all faint at heart when it comes to caffeine. The comfortable, small town community feel of the store makes it worth a visit.
The one place in town that exists primarily to sell coffee, The Java Zone, has a decent house blend; however, I do not have anything special to say about it. In general, it is the right strength but its taste is not unique. If you want the universal cup of coffee, one that will satisfy the same needs as those you can find in hundreds of other coffee shops and diners across the United States, come here.
Sometimes, just plain coffee does not do it for you. You were up until four last night, the exam in your 9 a.m. Spanish class took longer than the 50 minutes allotted and now you have to read 60 pages before your politics class after lunch. This is when you head over to DeCafé and grab a mocha. The only thing that could possibly make coffee better is chocolate.
The few times that I have gone all out, DeCafé has always done it right, adding just enough chocolate syrup so that the taste is present, but not so much that it smothers the flavor of the espresso.
The drink reminds me of those chocolate-covered espresso beans that you can buy at Gibson’s, except in liquid form.
However, if you find yourself in need of extravagant coffee, do not expect to be pampered by Java Zone. Their espresso is fine, but somewhat bitter. When I ordered a mocha, the milk tasted slightly burnt, and the chocolate seemed overwhelmed by the espresso.
I once had bought a latte for a friend, along with a mocha for myself, and had a hard time figuring out which one was which once I had gotten back to the dorm.
The concoction is too thin — it is not as thick as one would expect a drink like this to be. It seems more like every man’s coffee: plain, with no frills.
As for iced coffee, the burrito restaurant, Agave, can serve a chilled
Mexican version that beats any of those already mentioned. But for that, we have
to wait for spring to come.