Coffee Exchange

Bins of roasted coffee beans for sale in Providence's Coffee Exchange.Although small, Providence, Rhode Island, has a pretty decent coffee scene. That I discovered it is entirely down to Allison, who with fiance Chris, runs Broke and Travelling. Having enticed me down from Boston on a day-trip, Allison acted as my guide, introducing me to Dave’s Coffee, The Shop and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Coffee Exchange.

Coffee Exchange is an old-hand when it comes to Providence’s growing speciality coffee scene. Founded in 1984, it can be said to have inspired a generation (at least) of Providence coffee-drinkers. Coffee shop, roaster and retailer all in one, Coffee Exchange operates out of its busy store on Wickenden Street, roasting all its own coffee using a pair of Deirich roasters conveniently located at the back of the store.

In look and feel, as well as in the coffee it roasts, Coffee Exchange seems a little old school. Dark roasts and blends predominate, although single-origins and lighter roasts are there for those who look. Coffee Exchange is also a pioneer, having championed strong ties between roasters, green bean importers and coffee growers long before it became fashionable. Indeed, Coffee Exchange co-owner Bill Fishbein founded both Coffee Kids and The Coffee Trust.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • On leafy Wickenden Street, on Providence's East Side, you'll find Coffee Exchange.
  • From the street, you head inside by the front door of the house...
  • You can also use this door on the deck. You can sit out here when it's not raining.
  • Using the front door pitches you up down there, near the window...
  • ... while coming in via the deck, you end up here (you can see the door on the right).
  • Using the deck means that you also arrive at the end of the queue to order...
  • ... whereas using the front door gets you here (once you've got past the seating).
  • The counter in all its glory, drinks to the left, beans to the right.
  • There are some cracking lights hanging above the counter.
  • There are two of my favourites...
  • ... while this one's pretty impressive too.
  • Elsewhere the lighting is more practical.
  • At the far end of the counter, you can buy lots of coffee beans and coffee kit.
  • There are rows and rows of coffee kit on the wall.
  • More kit.
  • There are also bins and bins of coffee beans for sale.
  • There's a handy set of panels above the beans, explaining the various roasts.
  • Some of the beans in detail. There are a lot of blends, plus some single-origins.
  • Coffee bagged up and ready to go.
  • Coffee Exchange is very big on fighting coffee rust, a major threat to coffee growing regions.
  • If you are hungry, there's cake, although it was much depleted by the time I got there.
  • If you want a drink, what about cold brew? It's made here, on the front of the counter.
  • Alternatively, there's bulk-brew. Lots of it.
  • Finally, how about something from the espresso machine?
  • I love watching coffee extract using bottomless portafilters.
  • The three streams coalesce into one.
  • Almost done.
  • Coffee Exchange only uses takeaway cups, so bring your own! This is my Uppercup.
  • But where does all that coffee come from? Well, step behind the counter and you'll find out!
  • While I was there, this beauty was roasting away.
  • Another sight I never tire of: freshly-roasted coffee beans cooling in the pan.
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Coffee Exchange occupies a wonderful location on the ground floor of an old town house on Wickenden Street, on Providence’s East Side (the top floor hosts a chiropractor). The front entrance, up a small flight of steps, is the front door of the house. This leads into a small, square entrance lobby, with doors left, right and straight ahead. Personally, I recommend going right, since the door to the left doesn’t open and the other heads up to the chiropractors! Alternatively there’s a lovely deck/porch on the left (when it’s not raining all day, as it was during my visit), which provides a second (more convenient) entrance.

Coffee Exchange is shaped like a lower-case n, although the right-hand leg is about twice the width of the one on the left. The two legs, which are given over to seating, are connected by a counter running across the top. The left-hand leg has five or six round, two-person tables, arranged around the edges, with another couple in the middle. On the other side, there are fifteen or so of these tables, arranged in three rows, one against each wall, the third down the middle.

Coffee Exchange was really busy during my visit, and, from talking to Allison and others, I get the impression that’s pretty normal. At weekends, it’s so busy that the Wifi is turned off!

Entering via the deck, you arrive at the top of the left-hand leg, right where the queue for the counter starts. However, if you enter via the front door, you’ll find yourself in the bottom of the right-hand leg. Making your way past the seating, you end up at the wrong end of the counter (unless you’ve come to buy some beans), finding yourself with all those waiting to collect their coffee. You then have to get past them, plus anyone waiting to order, before you get to the end of the queue…

The counter itself is split in two, with the drinks on the left and the retail coffee beans and equipment on the right. In a really neat feature, all the coffee is roasted in a small room behind the retail area. Indeed, if you need to go to the restrooms, you’ll actually walk right past the roasting room, so you can linger and watch the coffee roasting if you like.

Coffee Exchange tends to roast really dark, with a house blend and decaf on espresso, plus multiple options, covering a wider range of roasting profiles, on bulk brew (no pour-over). I ordered an espresso and was caught out when I was handed a paper cup, Coffee Exchange serving all its coffee in takeaway cups. I hastily transferred the contents to my Upper Cup and, despite this rocky start, I really enjoyed it. Not exactly one for the third-wave aficionado, it was dark and strong, with a good body, but without being too bitter.

I followed this up with a decaf cortado, this time taking Upper Cup with me to the counter. As is often the case in American coffee shops, my cortado was flat-white sized, but none the worse for that. It was also surprisingly tasty, the decaf going really well with the milk, feeling slightly lighter in roast and less bitter than the espresso. Definitely something I would have again.

You can see what Allison made of my visit on Broke and Travelling.

207 WICKENDEN STREET • PROVIDENCE • RI 02903 • USA +1 401-273-1198
Monday 06:30 – 22:00 Roaster In-house (espresso + bulk-brew)
Tuesday 06:30 – 22:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 06:30 – 22:00 Food Cakes
Thursday 06:30 – 22:00 Service Counter
Friday 06:30 – 22:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 06:30 – 22:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 06:30 – 22:00 Power Limited
Chain No Visits 2nd June 2015

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10 thoughts on “Coffee Exchange

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  2. sweet. although you missed a few – seven stars, white electric, north bakery, and what is easily the best shop in pvd – bolt coffee

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