where I get my coffee
In my kitchen, there are six types of coffee makers: a standard drip coffee maker; a French press; a pour-over; jars and filters necessary for cold brew; an espresso machine; and an ibrik, a small pot used for brewing Turkish coffee.
With all that, I can make a pretty damned good cup of coffee, but I’m happy to see a local cafe beat me out and blow my mind with earthy, rich espresso or a hot, aromatic cup of pour-over. Just as I’m always on the lookout to acquire and adopt a new method of coffee-making, I’m also on the lookout for a great new coffee shop. My search has paid off. In no particular order, here are the three best cafes in Providence.
1. Seven Stars Bakery
I’ve mentioned Seven Stars a handful of times in this column. It’s no secret that I am in love with the place. They have three locations, but the one up Hope Street, which you can easily reach by bus from the tunnel on Thayer, is the easiest to get to. With big windows, small round tables, and simple wooden chairs, the inside of the store feels like a Parisian café.
If you’re there for the baked goods, I recommend the durum round, a rustic Italian loaf. If you’re there for pastries, check out the almond croissant, the sticky bun, or any of the scones. The almond croissant is uniquely buttery and crispy; the sticky bun is yeasty, dense, and sweet; and the scones are doughy and fluffy, combining the best components of biscuit and a scone.
At the other end of the counter, not fifteen feet from the rows and stacks of pastry and bread, is the coffee bar. Seven Stars baristas will fill your order quickly with coffee brewed from locally roasted New Harvest beans. Their espresso is very good, delivering all of the concentrated richness you want out of espresso, and so is their drip coffee, which is always well-brewed and strong. So, when you’ve got a few hours to spare, or a good bit of reading to do for class, hop on the bus, ride up Hope Street, order a pastry and a coffee, and I promise you will have a great day.
2. Olga’s Cup & Saucer
Olga’s, the cozy, eclectic breakfast and lunch spot across the bridge on the west end of Wickenden is, hands-down, the best place for brunch near College Hill. Not only do they have great brunch entrées like french toast and poached eggs atop grilled cheddar cheese scones, but they’re also a scratch bakery. Their sourdough bread is one of the best baked goods I’ve ever eaten. Their sweet pastries are fantastic as well. I’m partial to their walnut-jam scone, a pretty little item that, like the scones at Seven Stars, breaks the biscuit-scone binary.
Because the brunch is so lovely, because their baking is so good, it’s easy to forget Olga’s perfect coffee. My go-to coffee order is a large iced latte, and every single one I’ve had at Olga’s has been perfect. The espresso is always smoky, savory, and nuanced—just as it should be. So, if you’re in the mood for a great brunch, a very good pastry, or one of the best lattes in town, you should pay Olga’s a visit.
3. The Shop
The Shop is a new outfit on the east end of Wickenden Street, near the intersection with Governor. It’s a small, hip place, with a stripped-down, almost industrial aesthetic and a lot of pretty wood surfaces. The menu is small; they’ve got a menu of your standard espresso drinks, and a short but sweet selection of pastries.
They offer (very good) toast from Foremost Baking Company, a local shop, with a few unique spread combinations like ricotta, honey, and cracked black pepper. If you’re a purist in the toast world, don’t worry. They have bread with cultured butter and local jam as well, and it’s excellent. There’s also a selection of sweets on the menu, including a fresh fruit mini pie that changes seasonally. The last one of these I had was plum and almond cream. The plums were sweet and juicy, like the teleological perfection of a grape, and the almond cream was a great complement: nutty, soft like ricotta cheese, and buttery.
But of course, coffee is the star at The Shop. They brew beans from one of the best roasters in the country, Stumptown, and it shows. The baristas are talented, and the espresso is complex in flavor, with a lot of strength in each cup. So, whether it comes in an itty-bitty espresso glass, a ceramic cappuccino mug, or a tall plastic cup, you can trust that The Shop’s espresso drinks will always be fantastic.
Beside the espresso machine which turns out those great drinks, there is a small metal tap protruding from the wooden counter. No, the Shop doesn’t serve beer. They serve something better: nitrogenized cold brew. It comes out of the tap looking like a Guinness. As it rests, the nitrogen bubbles slowly cascade and melt away, so you’re eventually left with a foamy head atop a cup of iced black coffee. But, even if the bubbles have faded away, the nitrogenization lends a certain mellowness to the coffee that’s hard to describe. Believe me, it’s good.
The Shop’s a little more expensive that Blue State, but it’s totally worth it. Go check it out!
Honorable Mentions Include: Dave’s Coffee on South Main Street (make sure to order their cheddar cheese jalapeño scone. It’s epic.) and Ellie’s Bakery downtown (they’re a French style scratch bakery, so be sure to get a confection or two).
Happy coffee drinking!