A klatch of coffee

Adam Buhck, [email protected]

Being a college student is hard. With 8 a.m. lectures, group projects, and assignments that keep you working into the moonlit hours when you’d much rather be sleeping, sometimes the only motivation to get out of bed in the morning is found at the bottom of a strong cup of coffee. If you’re new to Iowa City, new to drinking coffee, or simply looking for a spot to study, this look at four of Iowa City’s local coffeehouses will hopefully put you on the right path.

T.Spoons — Old Capitol Town Center
T. Spoons is a quaint, small storefront located in the Old Capitol Town Center offering a nice variety of hot and cold drinks supported by the occasional seasonal options, such as its current Pumpkin Spice Latte. It also has muffins, Danishes, and doughnuts baked daily by Daylight Donuts. I usually order a doughnut and one of the standard house blends.
The doughnuts are moist and flavorful, not so sugary to leave you feeling guilty all day, a combination that could prove dangerous to those trying to watch their weight. The coffee is even better, with a pleasant aroma and an earthy taste that is both warm and agreeable. It goes down smoothly even without cream or sugar (my preferred method of consumption). The layout mimics that of a charming urban café with most of the seating outside the store itself and visible through arch windows. T.Spoons is a great place to meet friends and plan your day, but the high foot traffic inherent in its location makes it a bit problematic for studying.

High Ground — 301 E. Market St.
High Ground is a modern, artisan coffee shop located a few blocks northeast of the Pentacrest in North Side near other local favorites, including Hamburg Inn No. 2 and the Bluebird Diner. It has become the coffeehouse of choice for many students living off campus. High Ground specializes in artisan coffee and organic teas. Its drink menu is supplemented by a wide range of lunch fare including paninis, soups, and salads, all made in-house. If coffee and tea aren’t your thing, High Ground also offers a modest selection of beers and wines you can enjoy on the patio after a long day. Its coffee drinks are made with organic, fair-trade Kickapoo Coffee, which is sourced from small farmers in and around Viroqua, Wis. The 16-ounce drip coffee I ordered was modestly priced and very flavorful, with a rich, fresh aroma and a body that was heavy but not overpowering. The variety of the food and drinks available coupled with the spread-out floor plan and great natural lighting coming through the huge windows makes High Ground an ideal place to meet friends for lunch or hit the books for an afternoon.

The Java House — 211 1/2 E. Washington St.
The first Java House popped up in Iowa City in April 1994. It was the passion project of Tara Cronbaugh, a UI alum who wanted to recreate the West Coast coffeehouse experience in Iowa City. The Washington Street location is the closest to campus and offers a wide array of hot and cold drinks and fresh-baked goods. Organic brews are on a daily rotation, and house blends are always available. I ordered a shot of espresso on my latest visit. The flavor was good and not overly bitter, and it provided the kick I was looking for, although it was a little gritty for my tastes. The Java House has become a popular place for students to study, with plenty of antique tables to sit at and portraits of great minds lining the walls. If you like to work in silence, though, Java House might not be your best bet; it tends to be pretty busy most of the day.

Fair Grounds Coffeehouse — 316 S. Dubuque St.
Fair Grounds is a small, narrow coffee house located just off the beaten path in south of downtown. Situated about a block south of the Sheraton Hotel and next to the Court Street Transportation Center, Fair Grounds avoids the brunt of the foot traffic passing through downtown to get to campus. Fair Grounds has an unusual layout reminiscent of a neighborhood coffee shop in a big city. The lighting is dim, and the kitchen is located in the middle of the restaurant, with an open window offering a view of its inner workings. Fair Grounds makes the space work, though, and there’s no shortage of places to sit. It is also the base of operations for Howling Dogs Bakery, which provides a variety of fresh items daily and also accommodates advance orders. It offers a variety of organic coffee blends sourced from all over the place. I opted to try the Honduras blend, which was one of the best smelling cups of coffee I’ve had to date. The brew smelled sweet, with occasional hints of caramel or toffee, and it tasted fresh and smoky the whole way through, leaving me with a pleasant aftertaste. Fair Grounds’ laid-back atmosphere and great coffee makes it a great place to do some quiet reading or writing or simply to hide from the bustle of downtown for a while.

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