So, I'm still here at Java Express, and I'm waiting for Karl and Meg to finish playing some kind of board game before we leave (I'm done all the thesis work I can do away from home). And so, I'm going to kick off what I hope will be a regular feature, my reviews of the different coffee places I lurk in. I feel justified in being able to review these places, because I'm the type of person who's always taking people "for coffee," especially in my capacity as a small-group leader, and I've begun to learn what I like. I've spent a lot of time in these places around this city, and I'm always looking for a new favourite.
The criteria: I'm always looking for places that are good for being able to engage in comfortable conversation, for as long as I need to be there, with good drinks available, and preferably a good choice of food as well. Atmosphere probably plays a larger role that quality of coffee. (I'm not that picky: for goodness sake, I also drink espresso I made myself!)
But first, let's pause for a moment in memoriam of the greatest coffee house to grace this fair city, which was cut off in its prime (or closed down just when it became everybody's favourite place to go): Magellan's on the corner of College and Broad. We had some good times together. You were my first coffee house love, and made me dissatisfied with every other place I've discovered since then.
[This moment has lasted longer than expected: I'm at home now, about an hour later.]
Okay, we're back.
First review: Java Express on Albert St. S.
The scene: less of an academic or pretentious crowd. It's not quite corporate, but it's definitely a chain. It's more the place where people's cell phones are going off, especially before dark. It's a coffee shop, but it's done a lot to get the feel of a coffee house.
Location: Easy to get to, with good (read: strip mall with no other big stores) parking.
Atmosphere: It definitely improved when it got dark and they lit candles (turning down the lights), but it's also small in there, and has the feel of a small fast food-ish restaurant. Think a step up from a trendy sub place. There are a couple of good groupings of comfortable chairs, but they're taken up first, and everyone's so close to each other that it's not really meant for private conversation. Also, there wasn't a kitchen, and the counter was quite close to us, and so it was loud. Beeping and stuff. But, the music was good (jazzy), and they did a lot with the space to make it more coffee housey. I appreciated the free wireless internet, but it's harder to work there with a computer -- all the tables are small and low, with few plug-ins nearby. I ended up with my computer on my lap the whole time! (Ouch.)
Service: Excellent. I buy a bottle of pop, they offer me a glass with ice. And they didn't bother us at all about staying there for hours.
Food and Drink: Wonderful, but kind of expensive (well, I spent over $10 -- $4 of which was on the coffee itself). I had a medium caramel macchiato, a cream soda and a chocolate espresso cheesecake. All were great! They had a bunch of other options for food and coffee. Their choices for tea were fairly slim, however.
Extras: Free wireless internet! (That will always make me love a place.) Four or five cheesecake options! Lots of games available, even though you'd only know if you were in the one group of comfortable chairs by the fake fireplace (we snagged it after a while).
Hours: 7am-midnight every day. That is fantastic -- it's usually my pet peeve that we have nowhere to go later in the evening. (Are you hearing me, Abstractions? 9pm closing time on a weekend?)
Good for: casual hanging out, but not for soul-baring conversation. So, this is the place I'd go if a couple of friends wanted to go somewhere in the evening. I'll probably only try it once for Girls' Group. And I think I'll stick with Abstractions for homework.
Grade: B- The food makes it good, but the space makes me hold off from giving it a higher mark.