Court Street provides a wide variety of places to eat and drink. Whether one visits one of the many bars or one of the several coffee shops, uptown Athens knows how to please even the pickiest of eaters. In this video I take a trip on Court Street and interview two patrons about their favorite spot uptown.
Court Street Coffee is one of the many local coffee spots that attracts students and locals. Though their menu features traditional drinks, they also serve unique items like the Court Street Mocha and a variety of organic teas. The space is big enough so that, even on a crowded day, the atmosphere is relaxed and quiet. Take a peek inside this Athens gem:
In this video I recap my conversations with a few alumni of Ohio University to see what they think about Court Street after leaving Athens, Ohio to pursue their careers. I asked them what they think about Athens’ iconic brick road and how it has changed over the years from when they were students.
If students are the heart of college, then caffeine is the life blood. And while many will jump at the chance to score a cheap cup of joe, cost isn’t the only factor. College students rank sustainable business practices as an important factor in where they buy their coffee. A 2016 study conducted by S&D Coffee & Tea Inc. found 40 percent of millennials “ think more positively of places that offer coffee with features like local, sustainable, fair-trade certified, single origin, etc.”
While some millennials are willing to pay extra to get fair trade products, that’s not realistic for everyone. Here’s five fair trade coffee brands that won’t break the bank:
- Specifications: Fair trade, organic
- Roasts: Variety, all made from Arabica beans
- Prices: $11.99 for a 12 oz. bag
Lorraine Walker founded Silver Bridge Coffee Company in 2008 after experimenting with making specialty blends in a popcorn popper. Not only is this Ohio-based business a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of American and Fair Trade USA, Walker also is a strong supporter of women in business. Silver Bridge sells Cafe Feminino blends, a foundation that “provides grants for women and their families in coffee-producing countries such as Peru, Columbia and Guatemala.”
If that’s not enough to sell you on Silver Bridge, consider this: It is the only Ohio company to offer 100 percent recyclable disposable coffee pods.
— Silver Bridge Coffee (@silverbridgecof) July 15, 2016
- Specifications: Fair trade, organic,
- Roasts: Variety
- Prices: starting at $9.95 for a 10 oz. bag
Equal Exchange co-op prioritizes small business owners. In promoting fair trade practices, it connects consumers in North America with South American growers. Their coffee is made from organic beans and comes in a variety of blends, from dark to light roasts.
All products are available at the website, and can be purchased in a variety of forms, from 10 oz. bags to environmentally-friendly pods. There’s even a wholesale option for those looking to buy in bulk. Now: Get 10 percent off and free shipping when you sign up for the mailing list.
Grounds for Change
- Specifications: Fair Trade, organic, shade grown, carbon free
- Roasts: Variety, including specialty and seasonal
- Prices: $10.95 for a 12 oz. bag
Grounds for Change is a certified organic and fair trade coffee company in the Pacific Northwest. Its mission: “To support social equity and environmental sustainability through fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee.”
Shade grown coffee beans grow under a tree canopy and are not exposed to chemical fertilizers. Grounds for Change says this helps its coffee — brewed only in small batches — be as fresh as possible. The coffee is available in dark, medium and light roasts, with limited availability for seasonal flavors. You can also join the Coffee of the Month club and receive a different blend every month for up to a year. A three-month subscription starts at $69. 96 and ships free!
Buy Grounds for Change online here.
- Specifications: Fair trade, direct trade
- Roasts: Variety, as well as seasonal
- Prices: $8.99 for 18 pods, or $6.69 for a 12 oz. bag
You already purchase many of your college essentials at Target, so why not add fair trade coffee to the list? In August 2016 Target’s Archer Farms brand launched its fair trade coffee line. Amanda Irish, VP of Target Owned Brands, said in an AOL article the company overhauled its coffee production to give customers not only better options, but more sustainable ones.
— Ingo (@IngoRingeling) February 4, 2017
Pura Vida Create Good
- Specifications: Fair trade, organic, shade grown
- Roasts: Variety, from bold to mild (also decaf)
- Prices: $10.95 for a 12 oz. bag
Available both for individual and wholesale purchase, Pura Vida Create Good coffee is locally roasted in small batches to guarantee freshness. The company is also doing its part to educate consumers about the fair trade process. Its Create Good Foundation is a public charity that funds projects for at-risk children in coffee-producing countries.
Pura Vida’s unique coffee blends range from spicy and full-bodied to delicate and sweet. With flavors and names from all around the world, these roasts are sure to please.
College Coffee Fix is a weekly newsletter that seeks to educate and connect college students about fair trade products.
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.
For seasoned Athenians, Donkey Coffee probably isn’t a major revelation. For many of us, the locally owned café, tucked just off of Court St., is just as prominent as the ever ubiquitous Starbucks, perhaps even more so, and for good reason.
While the difference in coffee quality is negligible for most anyone who doesn’t consider themselves a connoisseur, the atmosphere most certainly is not.
Sure, the baristas are just as young and hipster-esque as the ones in your favorite national coffee franchise but with them, you get a sense of authenticity that is immediately apparent. At Donkey you never feel as though the people behind the counter were chosen to fulfill some sort of preordained corporate diversity mandate. As the kilt-laden latte-ist elegantly prepares your coffee with a four-inch fixed blade sheathed at his waist, you get the feeling that the coffee shop you’ve found yourself in is in fact the antithesis of corporate coffee. You get the impression that even while they have a featured flavored concoction every month, a pumpkin spiced latte is as welcome in here as the bubonic plague.
The atmosphere of the sitting room is equally foreign to those of us who have grown accustomed to the predictable minimalism of big-name chains. Instead of carefully designed matching seats and stone-tiled fireplaces, there is a mismatched melange of tables and chairs seemingly scavenged from the attics of a hundred grandparents. There are old boardgames on every shelf, murals of 1960’s music legends on the walls, and a dim sort of lighting that makes one feel oddly philosophical. It’s the kind of place where you could feel welcome to sit for many hours studying for a big exam or else locked in spirited political debate without fear of having overstayed your welcome.
The fun doesn’t stop at coffee and good atmosphere, though. Donkey has that beautiful sense of “why not?” that one can only ever seem to find at a local joint. Twice a week, for instance, they host an open stage, one a slam poetry night in which willing wordsmiths gather to bare their beatnik souls and snap each other their praises; the other an open mic for amateur and expert musicians alike to spend some time practicing in front of a supportive audience. They also host a wide variety of concerts and performance art shows, a full list of which can be found on their site. I challenge you to find any of these things at your local Starbucks.
Donkey’s sense of its customers’ needs is never more clear, though than during exam week. During finals, Donkey is open 24 hours a day so that students can come and get their caffeine fix even into the wee hours of the night to fuel their marathon study sessions.
In short, Donkey is a fantastic coffee shop, but what sets it apart from all the rest is everything else that it is. So next time you’re thinking of stopping in at Front Room for your daily dose of java, consider walking a bit further down the road for an experience that’s a little bit different.
“Would you like a side of politics with that?”
Athens, Ohio is abundant in businesses that mix their service to customers with political discourse. From Avalanche Pizza’s caricatures of presidential candidates to Little Fish’s “No Fracking Way” beer brewed with all Ohio ingredients, Southeast Ohioans are accustomed to seeing politics on the menu.
A politically-minded Athens business that stands out to me is Donkey Coffee, who stirs a little social justice into your otherwise average cup of fair-trade joe. Donkey continues to be a leading coffee joint in Athens not only for their comfy couches and cozy ambiance, but because of their devotion to community outreach and promotion of political discourse.
Their website bares a list of organizations who they support that “fundamentally positively influence people.” The list includes groups such as Amnesty International, Fair Trade USA, Pregnancy Resource Center and My Sisters Place.
“We are committed to promoting social justice and the arts in our community and throughout the world through public awareness, serving, and financial giving. This is the heart of what Donkey is about.”
They took their loyalty to the enrichment of the community one step further this week by having customers rattle off their favorite part of the Constitution in trade for a drink on the house.
Yesterday, Donkey Coffee started the work week by observing an all-American event that took place on September 17, 1787. Baristas celebrated the signing of the Constitution by trading a customer’s favorite constitutional right for a free coffee drink.
This was a part of Donkey’s recent “Free Drink Monday” event. After I recited Article 1 Section 3 of the Constitution (which provides some much-needed accountability to Congress), Michael, one of the baristas, told me the story of the couple that inspired the weekly freebie.
You can thank two Donkey frequenters Steve and Janet for your free power chai latte each Monday. Michael said the couple were such loyal customers that they accrued upwards of 4,000 points on their Donkey Coffee rewards card. Each drink equals one point (and after 10 points, you receive a free drink) so you can definitely say they were regulars.
They never spent their points and eventually moved out of town, so they donated the thousands of points to the customers of Donkey. So each week, Donkey asks their customers to recite a poem about Donkey Coffee, or dance for 10 seconds or like yesterday, share their favorite constitutional right of theirs, to use Steve and Janet’s donation.
Donkey continues to be my go-to spot to sip on an iced latte over statistics homework, not only for their plentitude of power outlets and couches, but because you might get into an interesting discussion over the patriarchy or systemic racism with your barista.
And has anyone else thought about the fact that the name of their coffee shop just so happens to be the symbol of a major political party? Maybe it’s just me.
Regardless of political preference, Athenians will continue to get their coffee fix from Donkey for years to come.
You’ve heard the rumors. Everyone in college is totally hooked. They can’t live without it. They drink and drink just to keep going. Drink coffee that is. If the stuff hasn’t found a permanent home in your routine right now, there’s a good chance long class days and late nights of studying and recreation alike will drive you to the warm embrace of the all powerful bean sooner or later.
Unfortunately for most, the act of caffeination is distressingly utilitarian. Whether it’s lousy dark roast that’s been sitting in the same canister for 4 hours or an espresso drink that’s been cream and sugared beyond recognition, there’s a whole beautiful world of coffee most are missing.
It’s long been my philosophy that if you’re looking for a good time in Athens, you’re either eating or drinking. When it comes to coffee options, you can kind of do both! That’s right; Athens is full of eateries that have wonderful coffee confections that can give you that much needed buzz in style.
For the less intrepid, The Affogato from Whit’s Frozen Custard is the perfect toe tester into the waters of caffeinated confections. The treat features a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of Whit’s smooth vanilla custard. The temperature difference highlights the best parts of both. The warm richness of dark espresso marries wonderfully with the lightness of the custard. It’s simple enough to be scarfed down in a pinch or savored as an after lunch pick-me-up and the best part is, if it melts before you’re finished, it basically just becomes a mocha milkshake.
For the coffee committed, there are few power-packed snacks better than Java Drops at Donkey Coffee. At the center of each of these rich dark chocolate beads is a whole roasted espresso bean. Each candy is a textured morsel. The chocolate coating is dense and soft before the satisfying crunch of the crisp beans. A bag of them is a good snack for incremental energy throughout the day, though there is a danger in devouring the whole bag in one sitting which will probably leave you with the jitters for the rest of the day.
Finally, for the bravest of brave, without any fear in their hearts, there is the coffee bar from the Petru Chocolate Truck. The food truck that often occupies sidewalk space between Schoonover Center and College Green specializes in all things decadent. The coffee bar at first looks like any unassuming chocolate bar, although it is actually a blend of pure Ridge Runner ground coffee pressed with cocoa butter. The result is a potent treat with a hint of smoothness that compliments the intense granola-like grit of the grounds.
This one is potent. I ate half of one bar and was afraid I would vibrate out of my body. To cut down on the intensity, I also paired it with a lemon white chocolate bar also sold by Petru. The mix felt a lot more balanced, the light softness of the white chocolate reigning in the darkness of the coffee bar.
These are by no means the only unique treats Athens has to offer but they are a good start for anyone trying to get out of the sterile routine of mud from the dining halls or cafes. Athens is a place that rewards exploration. There’s always a new spot to find and a new treat to eat, you just have to go looking for it.
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.