Fine: Technically you can’t eat a coffee, but as college kids love to boast diets consisting of coffee, coffee, and maybe the occasional Pit burger (Mel sauce a la mode), we felt this would qualify in the eyes of our lovely readers. Coffee is as essential to the college student as their laptops.
CT Eats is under new management. As former column writer Olivia Banc graduated last fall, I, the Campus Times Editor-in-Chief Hailie Higgins have taken over. For this article, I’ve employed the help of Features Editor and local coffee enthusiast Melanie Earle.
There’s no “I” in team, so the two of us will be writing using “We” from this point forward, except for the coffee rankings. Hailie got a latte at each location for consistency, and Mel got a specialty drink to test the baristas. The coffee rankings will be based on our individual perspectives.
1. Ugly Duck Coffee
Ugly Duck Coffee (UDC) is a small, modern, minimalist cinder block. UDC wins best coffee, best vibes, and definitely best merchandise, given that their branding is just the word “Ugly” printed on various things. Take this flag, for example, which would make the perfectly hilarious addition to any dorm room.
UDC sits a calm 15-minute walk from the nearest shuttle drop-off. Take the Orange Line and hop off at Monroe & Alexander.
UDC had a line out the door. This wasn’t all too surprising given that it’s takeout only and has a max capacity of four customers. When they reinstate seating, UDC will be a great study space for beanie lovers, community activists, or minimalism enthusiasts.
Although UDC has a potentially gentrified aesthetic, they squeezed in a few details to remind patrons that the owners consider themselves a part of the community.
Nestled in the corner was a Little Free Library, a book-sharing project by a national nonprofit with the same name. Each Library is a small container with a glass front displaying two rows of books inside, which are emptied and replenished by the community as dictated by interest. On the table next to the Little Free Library sat several pamphlets listing local food, housing, and healthcare resources for those struggling financially.
If UDC was selling their coffee out of a shack on the corner, We’d brave 15 minutes standing in a Rochester snow day for a cup. It was that good.
Latte ranking: First place. Creamy yet not too milky. Yummy. Hot. Would cure a hangover.
Fun Drink: Spicy Eyes (Spicy Chocolate Latte). Very, very, very good and spicy chocolate. It’s rare that you’ll find a cup of spicy chocolate coffee with actual heat. Spicy chocolate is one of my favorite things in the world, and the discovery of a great one in Rochester has cemented my roots in the city a little more.
2. Fuego’s Coffee
Fuego was just a bigger version of UDC, with tables that begged you and your friends to spread out your laptop and color-coded notebooks for an hours-long study sesh. Although Fuego has the best study space, this is a food column, and therefore consumption has to hold the most weight.
Stepping off on Monroe & Alexander (Orange Line) will leave you 12 minutes away from Fuego, according to Google Maps.
Fuego also did not shy away from taking a company stance on politics. At the entrance were free pins that said “Justice for Daniel Prude,” and next to the ordering counter was a cardboard mailbox collecting customer-made valentines for the nine-year-old recently pepper-sprayed by the Rochester Police Department.
Latte ranking: Four-way tie for second place. Outside of UDC, there were literally no significant distinctions. They were all delicious. They were all about five bucks. They were all way too hot for the first sip, resulting in the burning of my mouth. Only UDC spared me this pain.
Fun Drink: The French Quarter (Cold Brew with milk, chicory, agave). I don’t usually drink cold brew with milk in it, but I would drink this one again. Cold Brew can be a tricky drink, but the best ones are flavorful and smooth. The French Quarter met both standards and shook their hands.
3 (Tie) Boulder Coffee
Boulder Coffee is a nice space to study and filled with students. The open light concept fleshed out with brick walls creates the perfect atmosphere for a productive study session. The smooth playlist fills the shop with warmth.
Take a look up at the ceiling and you’ll find colored stage lights that hint at Boulder’s night-life. There’s a small stage tucked into the corner of Boulder, with retro-dated TV sets stacked on top of one another lining the back. It insinuates that the space probably once held live music after-hours. Some of the tables are a little small for two if you’re looking to whip out a laptop, but you can make it work.
Boulder Coffee is a 3-minute walk from the Orange Line’s stop on South & Alexander, making it the most accessible. You can have a nice morning study session at Boulder with a coffee and snack. The shop might lure you out of bed on the weekends.
Latte Ranking: Still tied for second.
Fun drink: Cold Brew. T’was a solid cuppa. Not too acidic, but the flavor profile was nice. The drink was a refreshing brew.
3 (Tie) Java’s
If you go to Eastman, Java’s the place to be, but you definitely already knew that. If you’re a River Campus student looking to spend more time with your artsy cousin down the road, Java’s is a great excuse to take yourself downtown.
Java’s looks like it was designed for a college movie.The space is cool, cozy, vibrant, and you’d be hard pressed to find more than one square foot of wall not covered in artwork. The pastries are eyecandy and the coffee list is extensive. The food looks amazing and has a good price tag, too. Java’s is right next to Eastman Theatre, which is right across from Eastman’s Student Living Center.
Java’s is a solid choice — you can’t go wrong with it. The journey to Java’s can be a problem if you don’t have a car or don’t time your trip up right with the Red Line, though. Java’s is a great place to study but also perfect for a date (or a casual hangout).
Latte ranking: While still tied, it’s on the bottom of the list. I went to great lengths to let my latte cool down and still managed to burn my tongue. Additionally, the drink tasted the least like coffee and the most like milk, but this might be my fault for only ordering one espresso shot. It was more than drinkable, and the decor made up for the mediocrity.
Fun Drink: Aztec Mocha (Spicy Chocolate Latte). Not as good as Ugly Duck’s but was still decent — the presentation was amazing and overall made the drink better. The small chili pepper was very much enjoyed.
4. Equal Grounds
Equal Grounds felt like the oldest space, with a lot more wood and a lot less brick. Aptly named, the shop has a welcoming atmosphere to all, and proudly hangs a variety of LGBTQ+ pride flags behind the counter:
The store also made a point of highlighting fair trade practices. Equal Grounds is a homey beacon for local Rochestarians. Equal Grounds is a fine choice.
The coffee was good, but nothing too special. You can take advantage of the student discount. We don’t think the coffee is something you would venture out into the snow for, but the shop is a good place to meet an old friend.
Equal Grounds gets additional points for the best patrons, which included a man eating a salad while wrapped in a snuggie and a customer with a dog.
Latte Ranking: Still second place, but this one stood out for being the only coffee delivered in a reusable mug. All other locations defaulted to disposable — the most convenient given public health concerns, but not the most environmentally friendly.
Fun Drink: Peppermint Mocha Latte. The latte was good, but I wished the peppermint flavor were a little stronger. Bonus points for homemade whipped cream.
Escaping the lull of campus can be a challenge and is considerably more difficult during the pandemic. A coffee shop could be the key to salvation, and Rochester has some great ones. If you need a break or a change of pace in your study rituals, any one of these places can be the shaking-up you need — the good coffee is just a bonus.