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 six stores across two states (this one in Providence, four in New Haven, Connecticut and one in Hartford, 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.
Blue State Coffee has a community coffee shop feel, although I felt twice the age of the average customer. There used to be a second Blue State Coffee on Thayer Street, in the Brown University Bookshop (which has closed since I wrote this), and the staff described that one as drawing the college-kid crowd, so I would have felt positively ancient in there!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
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. 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|
|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||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||08:00 – 22:00||Wifi||Free|
|Sunday||08:00 – 22:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||Regional||Visits||18th February 2016|
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