browntown beans & brews

roasting the wickenden coffee shops

Sprightly Brown campus tour guides love to spew one particular fact when trying to convince prospective students that Providence, Rhode Island, is the place to be: Providence, they contend, has the most coffee and donut shops (per capita) of any city in the country. While this “fact” may be more Rhode Island folklore than peer-reviewed research, it wouldn’t be surprising if Providence indeed held the title for Coffee Capital of the United States. On Wickenden Street alone there are three great spots ideal for working, drinking a cup with friends, or reading a nice book. All three are true beatnik shops, where one can easily imagine some brilliant MFA attempting to write the N.G.A.N. (Next Great American Novel). Each shop has a distinct character, so choose your player or test all three!

the granola liberal – wifi: NotTonightHoneyImSavingMyself

Just east of Hope Street and west of Ives Street, past the piercing and tattoo shops and right before the carpet store, is The Shop, a trendy establishment that Google Maps deems “an eco-conscious spot for coffee & pastries.” If “eco-conscious” alludes to the health-focused, granola lovin’, yoga-and-bullet-journaling-are-my-life vibe of the place, then Google definitely nails it.

Complete with a standing desk area and $8.50 avocado toast, The Shop feels like a hybrid venue—half cafe at a Whole Foods, half “hygge” Danish coffee shop. The coffee is fairly priced and tastes decent to some and delicious to others, depending on who you ask. Choices are limited—the menu lacks the seemingly infinite variety you find at Starbucks. The few meals on the menu look of acceptable serving size but remain overpriced for what they are (toast, granola, yogurt, roasted veggies).

The atmosphere is relaxed—soft jazz and bossa play in the background. A repeating wallpaper pattern of an old water tower and an adorable painting of a red fox, a nod to Fox Point, the neighborhood where The Shop is located, give the shop a whimsical, quintessentially Providence flare. The Shop’s windows are large, letting in lots of light for the seasonally depressed, and if one can spare $3.50 for a generous slice of bread with jam and butter, which is served on a rustic wooden block and brought to the long, shared, Euro-style table by the server, who probably rocks gauges, then of course, one can have an excellent, cozy, and delicious meal.


the nonconforming artiste  – best blend name: Kind of Blue

If you ever manage to find a table at Coffee Exchange, located just a few blocks west of The Shop, I suggest you buy yourself a lotto scratcher. Coffee Exchange is always packed, and for good reason.

For starters, the coffee is delicious, the baristas are friendly, and there are so many kinds of drinks to choose from that Coffee Exchange gives Starbucks a run for its money. I once asked for a drink that wasn’t on the menu, and the baristas insisted on making it for me, demanded that I let them know if it wasn’t tasty, and then proceeded to make me the yummiest Iced London Fog a girl could ask for—even though they were very busy that day.

Something sweet about Coffee Exchange is that they roast their coffee themselves, and the aroma of the process adds to the already cozy (though perhaps spatially claustrophobic) atmosphere. They boast five distinct roasts and beans from several countries, roasts and beans which you can buy yourself by the pound on location or online. In addition to the coffee, Exchange is brimming with coffee-making contraptions so technical and intimidating that one might assume they are used for making chemical weapons in an evil scientist’s lab. They also sell the more typical, pragmatic contraptions, like French roast presses.

As if their coffee savvy weren’t enough, their pastries are always tempting, especially now that they sell the best donuts in the world, aka Knead Donuts.

The vibe at Exchange is homey and welcoming with a side of sobriety—it seems like the place for the serious coffee drinker who is here to discuss real issues, like this year’s recipient of the National Book Award or the benefits of non-monogamy. But while this may seem like “a scene,” Exchange never borders on pretension. When you see a couple drawing in individual sketchbooks in complete silence next to one another, and then carrying out a full-on artistic critique right in that public space, you don’t roll your eyes. You smile and quickly go back to working on your screenplay, or your CS project, or whatever you’re there to do. You get it.

Coffee Exchange feels like a place where customers can truly feel at home in the Providence community. As they work, chat, read, or type, they are surrounded by pin boards covered in posters that advertise local events and workshops, lectures and concerts, invitations to gallery openings and bake sales. If you don’t want to feel alone in your coffee shop-going experience, this is the place for you.

the bohemian flowerchild – best-alliterated drink: Capricorn Concoction

Cafe Zog easily goes unnoticed when you’re walking down Wickenden. Smack dab in the middle of an antique store and a BYOB Japanese restaurant, you’d miss Zog if you blinked—so don’t bat an eyelash.

While I’m no expert on beans and brews, I firmly believe that Cafe Zog is home to the best Americano in the Northeast. Moreover, it is home to the best pancakes on Wickenden Street, far better than Amy’s or Brickway’s. Moreover, it is home to the best coffee shop playlist (sorry, Brown Bookstore Blue State) within a three-mile radius—think small-font artists at Coachella with a decent mix of mid-2000s feel-good pop, albeit sometimes too much Coldplay. This coffee shop is fairly small, and it’s kind of hit or miss as to when all seven tables will be packed (or empty). When there’s room, it is so worth it.

There is no particular ambiance to Zog—it could be any coffee shop anywhere in the United States of America—and maybe that’s what makes it so comfortable. Zog, however, certainly maintains a unique personality.  By personality, I mean that, whereas Exchange’s space flaunts a quirky pseudo-genius vibe and The Shop a polished aesthetic, Zog eccentrically advertises (read as: writes in chalk) its smoothie menu, which just so happens to be tailored by astrological sign (shoutout to Sagittarius Rising). It also hosts various other menus including Sandwiches, Kids, Coffee & Beverages, Build Your Own Omelette, plus both a Specialty Drink and a Signature Drink menu. I’m convinced if Zog were a real person they’d read their horoscope religiously, wholeheartedly believe in the healing power of crystals, and let’s face it, would 100 percent attend Brown University.

Which is why, with a heavy and anxious heart, I suggest you go to Zog immediately. Particularly if you want to do work, and especially now that they actually have wifi—because in past years, the cafe has had absolutely no signal of its own and no other wifi to freeload off, so only the brave few who actually print out their readings would go to do work. Now that Cafe Zog wifi is at full speed, there’s no reason to not make the trip down. When you do, you really should get the Americano. With a short stack on the side.