Arts & Culture

Coffee at Dave’s rivals The Shop’s ambience

Students may find solace from daily grind in Providence’s bustling coffee scene

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2014

EXT. SMALL TOWN — DAY.

A girl, 21, crosses a leaf-strewn street to reach a coffee shop: Dave’s Coffee.

A Dave’s experience deserves to be written into a screenplay, for this new espresso bar is a creator’s haven. Dave’s, which opened its second location in July, is both a fresh start on sleepy South Main and an unpretentious companion to Cable Car Cinema’s retro flavor just a few doors down. With its large, graphic typography splashed across an interior brick wall, Dave’s inspires creativity. This artistry drips into its coffee, the raison d’etre amidst its minimalist decor and aspiring hipsterdom.

The technology at Dave’s demonstrates its strict attention to every espresso shot and hands-on approach to every drink — tradition reigns in this ultra-modern space. Speaking to millennials’ interest in throw-back consumerism, Dave’s crafts its coffee without the computer interfaces and digital tipping apps that direct other operations. Instead, Dave’s employs its coveted Slayer espresso machine, the first of its kind in Rhode Island. The machine allows baristas to oversee every aspect of the espresso craft. It is completely analog, lacking the push-button automation of modern coffee chains.

Though it’s an established business and retailer in Rhode Island — Dave’s All Natural Cold Brewed Coffee Syrup has been on supermarket shelves since 2012 and has been lauded by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern — its College Hill location is a welcome option for the jaded caffeine consumer or for those looking for closer alternatives than Wickenden Street’s Coffee Exchange or The Shop, which officially opened its doors Aug. 1.

Dave’s drinks menu is limited but sophisticated, and its pastry lineup appears smaller than the array at its flagship Charlestown location. The s’mores brownies and banana Nutella pockets featured on its Facebook page were missing from its sparsely filled encasement on a recent visit. But Dave’s makes up for it with its signature Honey Latte every time. Made from local honey and soy milk, even lactose lovers can enjoy the drink without compromising the latte’s taste and body. The subtly sweet honey completes the drink and enhances an authenticity typically lost among added processed sugars. Though proud of the menu, Dave’s employees also have almond milk on hand, and the baristas will happily substitute milk bases in place of soy without the scorn found at many craft cafes.

The Shop, located on Wickenden near Governor Street, also offers an almond latte — but here, soy has no home. The Shop’s sparse but meticulous offerings are only crafted with almond or whole. Hailed for its famed Stumptown Nitro Cold Brew coffee — nitrogen helps coffee on tap maintain its flavor — The Shop boasts a sophistication similar to Dave’s, but with less attention to its branding. The cold brew on tap pours similarly to a beer, sporting a frothy, Guinness-like head. The spot also rivals nearby Coffee Exchange for indoor charm. Goulding Street houses a small corner piazza, and The Shop’s wooden tables and painted iron chairs blend with the space, adding an atmosphere more successful than Blue State’s Thayer Street endeavor.

The Shop has standard craft coffee shop fare, with small quiches and chocolate chip cookies, though its homemade Larabar-inspired date and nut bars are particularly attractive for restricted eaters.

But the almond latte is rather bland on its own, and the coffee is less rich than at Dave’s. The almond milk overpowered the espresso, and the thin, dry chocolate chip cookie was not particularly special given its $3 price tag.

Despite the underwhelming tastes, the ambiance is magnetic and transports visitors away from campus consumption and into small-town patronage. If these coffee shops were in fact screenplays, The Shop would be the intelligent romcom to Dave’s beautifully designed documentary on local business ventures.