Blue State Coffee, Thayer Street

The Blue State Coffee motto, "Beans to an End", from a framed drawing on the wall of the Theyer Street branch in Providence.Providence’s Blue State Coffee on Thayer Street is a curious mix of old-school second-wave coffee shop with third-wave sensibilities. In that respect it’s very similar to Washington DC’s Compass Coffee, with both serving similar markets. They also both roast their own coffee, although unlike Compass Coffee, Theyer Street doesn’t have a roaster in the back. Blue State has also been around a lot longer, having first opened its doors in 2004.

Theyer Street was the original store, although these days Blue State is based in South Windsor, Connecticut, where all the coffee is roasted, and there are eight stores across three states (two in Providence, two in Boston and four in Connecticut). Theyer Street is a bright, spacious, sunny spot, offering a traditional, espresso-based menu, bulk-brew filter and pour-over. This is supported by loose-leaf tea, a good cake selection and an extensive sandwich, salad and all-day breakfast offering.

Not to be confused with the Blue State Coffee in the Brown University Bookshop (also on Thayer Street), this branch has a community coffee shop feel. Scarily, even though I felt twice the age of the average customer, the staff described the bookshop branch as the one that draws the college-kid crowd!

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Blue State Coffee on Thayer Street, in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • It occupies the corner of a modern building, just north of the Brown University campus.
  • Here's the main entrance, by the outdoor patio. Don't let the blue skies fool you: it was cold!
  • Stepping inside, this is the view from by the door...
  • There's more seating to the right, by the counter.
  • There's a second entrance at the northern end of Blue State. This is the view from that door.
  • And there's the door itself. This is a step-free entrance, by the way.
  • There's plenty of seating down here by a large window overlooking the street.
  • This is the view back towards the main door, with the counter on the right.
  • You can, if you want, sit at the counter, which is nice and long.
  • The view of the counter seating from the main door...
  • ... and a view of the tables to the right of the counter.
  • There's more seating beyond and to the left of the end of the counter.
  • More tables to the left of the main entrance.
  • You can sit at the end of the counter itself, where you can watch the cold-brew apparatus.
  • This might be the most comfy seat in the house, along with its twin, out of frame to the left.
  • Obligatory lighting shot.
  • There's lots of interesting things on the walls, such as these pictures of latte art...
  • ... and Bue State's motto (of sorts).
  • I guess that this could best be described as a mission statement.
  • There's a neat charity donation scheme where you get to decide where the money goes.
  • So, to business. The counter is an L-shaped affair at the back of the store.
  • Blue State roasts all its own coffee, which is for sale to the left as you approach the till.
  • There's a range of blends and single-origins.
  • Two interesting single-origin coffees shared shelf space with a stereotypical blend.
  • Meanwhile, a decaf blend shares shelf space with two different single-origins from Costa Rica.
  • So, to the important business of ordering coffee.
  • The menus are helpfully chalked up behind the far end of the counter.
  • There's tea on the left, filter in the middle ('hot drinks') and espresso on the right.
  • This is followed by iced drinks, special drinks and food.
  • Talking of food, this is the cookie selection, which is to the right of where you order...
  • ... and next to the soft drinks and salads selection.
  • Good question. This is all bulk-brew by the way.
  • The twin bulk brewers and pre-brewed flasks of coffee.
  • There is, of course, espresso too.
  • However, I eschewed both these choices and went for an Aeropress, the first of my trip.
  • Reflections in my coffee. Say hello to my phone.
  • I also had a black bean and tofu wrap for lunch, which was excellent.
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Blue State Coffee occupies a large, bright space on the corner of Thayer and Cushing Streets, facing south/east where it catches the sun.  There are two doors on Thayer Street and a third on Cushing Street, with the main door near the corner. The layout is interesting, with the seating in two blocks, a third option provided by stools lining the left-hand end of an extended counter. There’s also an outside seating area, a raised patio, to the left of the main entrance, for use in warmer weather.

Entering through the main door, there are two rows of two-person square tables ahead of you. At the back, past the Cushing Street door, are a pair of comfortable armchairs. The counter, an L-shaped affair, is around the corner to the right. You approach the till, which is at the bottom of the L, with the top of the L (housing the counter-seating) to your left. Meanwhile, the rest of the seating is to your right, a mix of tables of varying shapes and sizes.

It feels, probably because it is, a typical college town coffee shop, sitting, as it does, right in the heart of Providence’s famous Brown University. Like Compass Coffee, it’s a great example of how to blend a traditional coffee shop with third-wave values, but without alienating/excluding your core customer base. For example, the wide-ranging coffee menu has drink sizes from 8oz to 16oz, while the cortado weighs in at a hefty 7oz (although I appreciate that the menu spells these things out). There are various blends, both for espresso and the obligatory bulk-brew filter, with descriptions such as “dark roast” or “our darkest roast”. And yet, sitting on a shelf near the till, there are several micro-lots from Costa Rica and a single-origin Rwandan, all described on the packaging as “light roast” (this is very important, since I’ve been to a few promising college town coffee shops where the single-origins have been roasted to within an inch of being black… I could have cried).

The menu also offers pour-over (Kalita Wave) and, for the first time on my trip, Aeropress. Well, that was my decision made. There was a choice of the last of a bag of a single-origin Bali or the aforementioned Rwandan. I selected the Bali, spending a few minutes at the counter (which I think threw the barista a little) watching it being made. Count me impressed! The recipe (15g of coffee, 30g of water for a 30-second bloom, 225g total with a two-minute brew time using the inverted method) was as third-wave as it comes, while the Kalita Wave recipe, for those who are interested, is 23g in and a rather large 340g out, equivalent to 12oz.

The resulting Aeropress was one of the best filter coffees I had on my entire trip, vying with a pour-over which I’d had at Pushcart [coming soon to the Coffee Spot] the previous week. Sweet and subtle, it was the perfect temperature to start with and evolved as it cooled in the cup. By the time I took the last mouthful, it was almost cold and just as good as (but different from) the first mouthful. I followed this with a fantastic black bean and tofu wrap for lunch. This was really tasty, with a great bean salad on the side.

300 THAYER STREET • PROVIDENCE • RI 02906 • USA
http://bluestatecoffee.com +1 401-383-8393
Monday 07:00 – 22:00 Roaster Blue State Coffee (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 22:00 Seating Tables, Counter, Armchairs
Wednesday 07:00 – 22:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 22:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 22:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 22:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 08:00 – 22:00 Power Yes
Chain Regional Visits 18th February 2016

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