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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Coffee Tour of Davis

For anyone familiar with 7:30 a.m. classes, all nighters and lounging for hours on end in a cafe with a laptop, solace can be found in a steaming, iced or blended cup of joe.

Thankfully, Davis provides a number of locations to get that necessary caffeine fix. Instead of spending time and money figuring out what coffee shop is right for you, we did the heavy lifting and compiled a definitive list of the best coffee in town — there is so much more to life than Starbucks.

The cafes and coffee shops chosen in our review were within one mile of campus. We would also like to stress that different audiences want different experiences out of their daily cup. As a result, the locations were judged on a variety of categories including price, ambiance, location, speed and the overall taste and quality of black coffee to-go.

Cloud Forest Cafe

Price of a small coffee: $1.85
Coffee hotness: “Just” hot
Variety: Medium
Speed: Self-serve for black coffee
Crowd: Quiet, people studying with laptops or reading novels
Seating: Plentiful two-chaired tables indoors. Outdoor patio offers additional seating.

The naturally-lit interior is brightened up by a large, cheery chalkboard menu and picture windows. If you despise fluorescents and prefer lighting comparable to being underneath a tree, Cloud Forest is for you. To-go coffee is self-serve, and was noted as having low acidity and a smooth, mild taste.

Mishka’s Cafe

Price of a small coffee: $1.95
Coffee Hotness: Lawsuit scalding
Variety: High
Speed: 1-5 minutes, fluctuates with crowd
Crowd: A cross-section of Davis’ hip elite, all chatting and studying
Seating: Tight quarters, not the best place to spread out. Tables near the entrance are designated as “no school work” zones — great for socialization, if you’re into that.

Rotating local art hangs on the wall. French music plays over the din of people chatting. Headphones are a necessity for those who wish to study. Black coffee was so hot that our tongues were burned; noted that it may be a social experiment in order to stimulate conversation with others while the liquid fire is cooling. The coffee was made behind the counter by the always friendly baristas. Tasters appreciated the smoothness, strong flavor and aroma.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea

Price of a small coffee: $1.80
Coffee Hotness: Teetered on the precipice of hot and too hot
Variety: Low
Speed: Instantaneous over-the-counter service
Crowd: Loud classical music enthusiasts and people on laptops
Seating: Packed. At 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, there was no indoor seating available. Fortunately, an outdoor patio provides extra space.

Peet’s was the only cafe which offered soymilk at their drink station; other cafes required vegans and dairy haters to ask for soy. As our photographer put it, “It’s nice, because it means less interaction with strangers for me.” The coffee itself was given an acidity ranking of six out of 10.

Barista Brew

Price of a small coffee: $1.39
Coffee Hotness: “Perf” — not scalding, the first sip didn’t kill reviewers
Variety: High
Speed: Slow over-the-counter service, but only because a new pot was being brewed for us
Crowd: A handful of focused newspaper readers and laptoppers
Seating: Couches, lounge chairs, indoor and outdoor tables were available

Located next door to Taco Bell, Barista Brew provides a family-owned and -operated hideaway a bit farther from campus. The cafe is ideal for those who want a quiet, comfortable atmosphere in which to study, relax or read. The pace is slower than at other coffee shops — there is less hustle and bustle and more pensive sipping of coffee and nibbling at baked goods. The small coffee was huge for the price, and it took this reviewer 40 minutes to get through one cup. The coffee was strong, but did not leave a nasty throat residue.

UC Davis CoHo

Price of a small coffee: $1.50
Coffee Hotness: Five minutes to cool to drinking temperature
Variety: Medium-high
Speed: Self-serve for black coffee, 3-5 minutes for specialty drinks
Crowd: You will see every person you’ve ever known
Seating: Relatively full from 9:30 a.m. on

One of the more convenient coffee choices for students, the CoHo provides seven varieties of self-serve coffee at a modest price point, all while significantly increasing the probability of running into every person you have ever met. The CoHo’s ambiance boasts a variety of seating options in high chairs, booths or tables, but during school hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) seating is minimal. Upon sampling the House Blend, reviewers disliked the overt acidity, watery taste and the foul back-of-the-throat feeling hours after drinking it, but enjoyed the significant pick-me-up.

Trader Joe’s

Price of a small coffee: Free
Coffee Hotness: Hot, but not aggressively so
Variety: Low
Speed: Self-serve
Crowd: Employee eyeing you as you go back for your third cup
Seating: None

As strange as it may seem, Trader Joe’s free sample of coffee provides a practical shot of energy for shoppers or students looking for a quick buzz while nursing a shoestring budget. Coffee, half-and-half, sugar packets and tiny “shot” cups are provided in the back of the store to the left of the food samples. The coffee was surprisingly smooth and tasty, and rotates every few weeks to a new blend. The only word of warning to those hoping to take advantage of the free samples: there is an employee standing directly across the counter and awkward eye contact will be made. On the other hand, that employee is serving you a free snack.

World Market

Price of a small coffee: Free
Coffee Hotness: Around the fifth layer of hell, but it was cold out so it worked
Variety: Low
Speed: Self-serve
Crowd: Judgmental shoppers whose browsing led them to the back of the store
Seating: None

 Like Trader Joe’s, World Market offers rotating coffee samples to shoppers. Located in the very back of the store, tucked behind an aisle, it offers more privacy for coffee drinkers. Regular black coffee, flavored coffee and tea are available, as is powdered creamer and sugar packets. Reviewers enjoyed the privacy, relative quiet and the hot mouthful after mouthful of free coffee, but were turned off by the watery consistency.

Cargo Coffee

Price of a small coffee: $2.15
Coffee Hotness: You’re gonna want to wait a bit
Variety: Medium
Speed: Self-serve
Crowd: Students rushing to class
Seating: Whatever bench you find around

Cargo Coffee has a decent selection of coffee types for how small the place is, and probably offers the strongest flavor of any coffee on campus. The line gets long before and after classes, creating a trade-off between proximity to class and wait time. Luckily the wait for a regular coffee doesn’t take long at all. They offer the normal cream and sugar, as well as packets of honey for getting your coffee to your desired color and taste.

Dutch Bros. Coffee

Price of a small coffee: $1.75
Coffee Hotness: Immediately drinkable
Variety: High
Speed: 1-2 minutes for a specialty drink, though there are usually long lines
Crowd: Mostly cars
Seating: Inside your own car

Dutch Bros. Coffee is across the street from In-N-Out, and it is the shining example of selection as far as Davis coffee shops go. Their popular drinks have interesting names and flavors, but they also lack any hint of coffee taste. The cup is thick and won’t burn your hand, and the lid is smartly designed to allow a smooth flow of the tasty beverage.

Delta Of Venus

Price of a small coffee: $2.00
Coffee Hotness: Ready to drink
Variety: Low
Speed: 1-2 minutes depending on the drink
Crowd: Studying students and conversationalists
Seating: Small amount of chairs and tables indoors and plenty outdoors

You might drink coffee from a glass, and you’ll enjoy it. Delta of Venus serves Pachamama Fair Trade coffee and brews it well. The people behind the counter are welcoming and helpful. Here, you’ll find the normal selection of coffee as well as a variety of foods for all types of dietary needs (including vegan and vegetarian options). You won’t find any daring specialty drinks but the classic stuff gets the job done.


Price of a small coffee: $1.60
Coffee hotness: Warm
Variety: High
Speed: 1-2 minutes
Crowd: Students going to or leaving lab
Seating: A few indoor tables

BioBrew serves Starbucks coffee just as well as Starbucks does. The selection is similar to Starbucks, which means you can expect a good amount of variety and the same flavor of a Starbucks coffee. The employees are mostly students and mostly friendly, and the place acts as a small retreat from the sterile atmosphere of the lab.

HANNAH KRAMER and NICHOLAS FREDERICI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

Photo by Amelia Evard.


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