I plop down in the sturdy wooden chair, prop my head up in the my arms and let out a long sigh. Week two was finally coming to an end and this was exactly where I wanted to be. Strings of tiny lights twinkle overhead and soft jazz songs play in the background. Donkey Coffee and Espresso is one of my favorite places to be to get the best coffee and live music.
My friends and I ask each other about the first days of class. We laugh and joke, complain and rave about new professors and fall into the old routine. We haven’t seen each other since before winter break and the spur-of-the-moment meetup is a welcome relief.
After a moment I go and order my drink. Since its already 7:30 in the evening I decide on a vanilla chai latte, in a glass mug of course. I treat myself to a vanilla almond biscotti as well. After a bit of small talk with the cashier, I return to my friends, mug in hand. One of them is making flashcards, flipping them over and over again. Another is flipping pages in a textbook, skimming and jotting down anything that might be important. A girl at the table next to me unravels her scarf and grasps her cup of tea, warming her fingers.
The sounds surround me and replace the thoughts of lectures and homework. I pull a glossy magazine from my bag and open it to one of the dogeared articles and start to read. Eight o’clock rolls around and someone steps up onto the small stage at the back of the room. A few notes sing out from the piano, one is misplaced and the player begins again. He falls into a perfect rhythm and begins to sing, quietly, hesitantly. All at once, he is both afraid of being heard and afraid that no one is listening.
I hear him sing the first few lines and turn in my chair, the words are familiar and I match them to the tune of the piano. I recently heard this song, in the movie theater. “City of Stars,” I remember the name and hum along. The song is about dreams and the melody is equally dreamy.
He finishes his set of songs and another person hops up on stage with a guitar. Open stage night is the best at Donkey. It’s the perfect time to relax and allow your focus to stray from the stress of school. I love listening to the original pieces that people have written and chosen to play here. It’s always lively and full of people, sometimes it’s hard to find a spot to sit and you end up in a cozy little corner with a tiny table barely big enough to hold a laptop.
Around 10 p.m. I begin to pack up my things and finish the last bite of biscotti. As I push through the door and onto the rainy streets of Athens, a little bell signals my exits. The smell of brewed coffee clings to my hair and clothes. I’m already planning when I will return.
Athens locals and Ohio University students alike turn to Donkey Coffee and Espresso to not only get into a caffeinated overdrive, but also for a strong sense of a diverse community in Appalachia’s favorite college town.
On a mission to find some of the best coffee in Athens, Ohio, I stopped by all the major coffee shops in the early afternoon and asked the barista to make me their favorite drink, to get a taste – pun intended – of each shop’s style.
Donkey Coffee and Espresso
First stop was Donkey. Located at 17 1/2 W. Washington Street, it is noticeably dedicated to culture and the arts, sporting many paintings and photographs on the walls. The barista chose to make a havana latte with cinnamon, and was skilled enough to design a leaf in the coffee with the milk. Giving it to me on the house, this would normally be around a $4 purchase. The drink itself was very well mixed, with the cinnamon adding the perfect subtle twist. Feeling rather cluttered, it was somewhat difficult to get around with the high volume of people satisfying their caffeine needs. Dimly lit, most people there seemed to be students working alone on their computers or Athens residents chatting quietly with a friend. Most tables and chairs were wooden, with lounge chairs and couches off to the sides. There was a very large back room, and a few small rooms upstairs, with a few tables out on the balcony upstairs and right out the front door. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet to work with great coffee and friendly baristas, Donkey is the place to go.
The next stop was Fluff, located at 8 N. Court Street. Fluff gave off a very different feel from Donkey, with a very bright, fun, and lighthearted atmosphere. Sporting a delicious bakery, and rather overpriced alcohol, Fluff is also known for a great selection of coffee. The barista chose to make a mocha with lavender for $4.50. The drink was delicious, but the foam contained most of the chocolate flavor and the lavender dominated the rest of the drink. The bakery only had a few other patrons at the time, but they all appeared to be college students out with their friends. None of them were working on schoolwork. If you’re looking for some variety or are craving a baked good, Fluff is the place to be.
Brenen’s Coffee Cafe
Brenen’s, located at 38 S. Court Street, was a good place to stop at about midway through my expedition. Immediately after walking in, it was obvious how busy of a place Brenen’s is. After waiting in a lengthy line to order, the guest is given a ticket to give to the barista at the end of another line. This barista chose to make a milky way for $3.90. The milky way was a fairly basic concoction perfect for those with a sweet tooth. With plenty of whipped cream, a vast amount of chocolate and caramel are added to sweeten up the coffee. Brenen’s is best known for pairing coffee with their stellar sandwiches, however. Sporting more of a lunch vibe similar to Panera Bread, this cafe was packed full of students grabbing a bite to eat before heading home after their classes. Very few students were working on homework, as most were simply trying to relax and spend a half hour eating with their friends. Only a couple students were alone. If you’re looking to get reenergized after class, Brenen’s is the place to bring your friends.
Court Street Cafe
Court Street, located at 67 S. Court Street, seems to be one of the lesser-known coffee shops on campus. A seemingly very ordinary coffee shop, Court Street had a brighter feel like Fluff. The barista made their signature drink, aptly titled the Court Street mocha for $3.50. It was very small and incredibly sweet. For someone like myself who needs coffee diluted, this was one of my favorite drinks. For someone who needs a great deal of caffeine, this may not be what they are looking for. The interior was spacious, with several different rooms to relax with friends. Like Donkey, most of the patrons were students sitting by themselves working on schoolwork. The majority of people at Court Street, however, seemed to walk in, get their coffee, and abruptly leave. This doesn’t seem to be the place to linger. If you’re looking for a quick coffee to go, or a quiet place to study in the back, it seems like Court Street Cafe is the place to go.
The Front Room
The Front Room, conveniently located on campus on the fourth floor of Baker Student Center, is the busiest coffee shop I have ever been to. The barista chose to make a caramel macchiato for $4.45, and it was incredibly strong, warranting the high price. Being in the student center, Front Room caters exclusively to students and knows they need a lot of caffeine. The Front Room was made up of both students working on assignments and groups of friends hanging out together. The atmosphere was reasonably bright and happy, with an abundance of both comfy chairs and wooden chairs around tables. It had a very modern vibe, and was very loud and hectic. Most of the students working on assignments had headphones in as to not be distracted. The Front Room has a variety of events going on throughout the week, like open stage Wednesday afternoons. Front Room is a part of campus, so they accept a variety of payment forms including flex points and bobcat cash. If you’re a student who needs a pick-me-up in between classes, this is the coffee shop for you.
South Side Espresso Bar
The last coffee shop I went to was South Side, located right inside Nelson Dining Hall. The barista chose to make a white dolce with cinnamon for $3.45, claiming that it would taste like a cinnamon roll. For the most part, she succeeded. This was also a very sweet drink. South Side can either be incredibly busy, or incredibly slow. There is no in between. When the dining hall is open, the coffee shop tends to see a lot more business. It’s a reasonably small area with only a handful of tables and seats along the counter, but generally it doesn’t need more than that. South Side is also a campus-affiliated coffee shop, so they will also take flex points and bobcat cash as a method of payment. Students looking to relax before or after lunch are more than likely to enjoy a cup at South Side.
College campuses have a great need for caffeine, and Ohio University paired with uptown Athens do not disappoint. Additional coffee shops are located in Alden Library, the Academic and Research Center, and the West Union Street Office Center. These are all a part of campus, so they are likely to be very similar to South Side in Nelson. With such a great variety on campus, students need not worry about their caffeinated needs.