Whether you're seeking refuge from the academic grind, or a cozy enclave to study when the library is jam-packed, coffee shops are simply part of the college experience. Luckily for you, Rochester has a ton of them. And in some ways, picking a favorite coffee shop is like buying clothes: It says something about who you are and what you like.
Are you edgy and cool? A quirky people-watcher? Are you an avid coffee drinker who also cares deeply about social justice issues? Do you prefer second wave shops, where the focus tends to be on the social experiences? Or are third wave fan who's all about the bean?
Rochester has something for all these types and more. Here's a non-exhaustive roundup – in no particular order – of city cafes, with a glimpse into their vibes and aesthetics.
Cafe Sasso | facebook.com/cafesassorochester
739 Park Avenue | 697-0235
Key mentions: $, WiFi, GF, V, 2nd wave, medium light, medium noise
This half-seafoam green, half-deep gray coffee and cocktail bar is covered head-to-toe in local artwork and antique finds. The air is filled with chatter and the grooves of Motown music. Sasso has an extensive list of food offerings, from bagel sandwiches to paninis and fresh salads. And, of course, they have coffee. The service is quick. If coffee is not your style, there also are tea, wine, and hot or cold cocktail offerings. On the day we visited, the barista was Emma, and she described Sasso's vibe as a mix: the environment attracts people young and old, studious and social.
Glen Edith | glenedithcoffee.com
23 Somerton Street | 441-9196
Key mentions: $$$, WiFi, V, 3rd wave, brightly lit, little noise
Glen Edith is one of the more minimalist coffee shops on our list. The entire space is painted white, including the walls and the espresso machine. Music plays, but it melts into the background – more an afterthought than a main factor. This coffeehouse is a good study space for people who need to be somewhere quiet to focus. The no-nonsense surroundings mean no distractions. The big windows and green plants keep the space airy and light, much more a working oasis than a note-taking prison. Glen Edith roasts their own coffee blends – which can be bought in store – and offers pour-over coffee in multiple sizes.
Coffee Connection | ourcoffeeconnection.org
Greenhouse Cafe, 2271 East Main Street | 270-8603
Key Mentions: $, WiFi, GF, 2nd wave, socially conscious, medium light, medium noise
More than a coffee shop, Coffee Connection empowers women recovering from addiction by giving them jobs. "They make coffee fun," was the unprompted quip given to us by one of Coffee Connection's customers the day we visited. There are two other seating areas inside the cafe: one that is by the register and noticeably more modern, and a section at the entrance, which is the larger and more populated area. The mismatched furniture, natural lighting, and painted baby grand piano combine for a laid-back experience. On Friday nights, the place opens up for live music.
Ugly Duck Coffee | uglyduckcoffee.com
89 Charlotte Street
Key mentions: $$$, GF, V, 3rd wave, dimly lit
Ugly Duck Coffee has plenty of natural lighting and two long wooden tables (with some counter and bench space). It's definitely a third-wave spot, with its edgy decor, spiced offerings, and branded beanies. As a multi-roasting shop, Ugly Duck's featured blends frequently change. One unusual thing: Ugly Duck has no WiFi – on purpose – though customers are welcome to use their laptops without internet. Ultimately, this is not a place for work. It's a place for drinking specialty espresso pours, reading a good book, or hanging out with a group of friends. And the countertop is built lower, decreasing the separation between barista and guest.
Pop Roc | poprochester.com
337 East Avenue | 310-2423
Key Mentions: $$, GF, V, medium light, medium noise
Pop Roc is a bit different than our other mentions. Its caffeine offerings go beyond just coffee. It sells gourmet cereal mixes and energy drink mocktails, and has a wall full of fresh-off-the-press comics and collectibles. Boxes of cereal line the main wall, which are poured into larger-than-life mugs. Almond and soy milk options are available upon request. Off the main room is a smaller area with booths, board games, and a television equipped with a Nintendo switch. It's a really cool place operated and populated by friendly, outgoing people.
Java's Cafe | javascafe.com
16 Gibbs Street | 232-4820
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 2nd wave, dimly lit, medium noise
Java's is right next to the Eastman School of Music, making it a prime location and a social hub. There are long tables and couches that make it easy to land next to someone and socialize, but it's usually not hard to find a solitary corner when you want one. The place is also dripping with art on every wall – and even on the ceiling. The baristas serve with a smile. The desserts are to die for, and they change pretty much every day.
SPoT Coffee | spotcoffee.com
200 East Avenue | 613-4600
Key mentions: $$, GF, V, 2nd wave, brightly lit, little to medium noise
SPoT is close to lots of attractions, such as The Little Theatre, the Strong Museum of Play, restaurants and nightclubs. The cafe is a good place to work, whether you're a people person or you like to keep your distance. It's also a good place to have group sessions, or get brunch if you want to feel fancy on a student budget. The food is reasonably priced and you get a decent bang for your buck. Last thing: the temperature runs pretty chilly, so pack a sweater if you're cold-blooded.
Boulder Cafe and Lounge | bouldercoffeeroaster.com
100 Alexander Street | 454-7140
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 2nd wave, medium light, little noise
Malcolm, a Boulder barista, described the spot as an "engine" of the South Wedge community. "I consider us a central hub of the neighborhood," he said. Boulder is structured for all types of hangouts. An assortment of couches and chairs and bar stools mean you can decide whether you're here to work, lounge, socialize, or snooze. The cafe hosts knitting groups on the weekends, and acoustic and jazz performers regularly frequent the small stage. The baristas can whip up any number of things: coffee, cocktails, beer, wine, brunch – whatever floats your boat.
Equal Grounds | equalgrounds.com
750 South Avenue | 256-2362
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 2nd wave, medium light, medium noise, socially conscious
There are many ways to discover Equal Grounds. You might happen upon it while exploring the South Wedge neighborhood. Perhaps someone will invite you to New Ground Poetry Night, an open mic on the first Tuesday of every month. Co-owner John White "wanted a place for the LGBTQ community to be able to come that didn't involve alcohol," our barista Jennifer said. The store is inviting; you feel you could talk to anyone. The music is soft and conducive for studying, and there are plenty of electrical sockets. Students can take advantage of a 10 percent discount daily, and a 20 percent discount every Tuesday for college night.
1872 Cafe | facebook.com/1872cafe
431 West Main Street | 323-1872
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 2nd wave, brightly lit, little noise, socially conscious
The 1872 cafe is a shrine to the legendary women's suffragist, Susan B. Anthony. 1872 is the year that Anthony and 14 other women voted for the first time. And 1872 Cafe takes this further by honoring great women throughout history. You can have an Ella Fitzgerald or Eleanor Roosevelt specialty latte. The cafe also has pastries, soups, and sandwiches, and pizza.
Starry Nites Cafe | starrynitescafe.com
696 University Avenue | 271-2630
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 2nd wave, medium lit, little noise
Starry Nites is something of a Van Gogh shrine, with several renditions of his masterpieces dotting the walls, but the cafe also dedicates its wall space to local artists. Upon entering you can see a display case of that day's pastry selection – although some sort of croissant is a consistent choice – and the dark wood bar that is essential to this shop. Starry Nites offers an array of themed drinks – a vanilla and peppermint latte dubbed The University, for instance – food choices, and even wine and cocktail options. The cafe is, of course, made magical by the back wall mural, becoming a dreamy study space by day, and a romantic coffeehouse by night.
Fuego Coffee Roasters | fuegocoffee.com
1 Woodbury Boulevard | 369-4141
Key mentions: $, GF, V, 3rd wave, brightly lit, little to medium noise
In some ways, Fuego is reminiscent of other third wave cafes we scoped out, with minimalist design and lots of natural light. But it also mixes pastel-colored murals with its off-white walls, and metal and wooden seating with low, comfy couches. It's basically a two and a half-wave coffee shop – edgy and comforting all at once. There are few food options, but there is a decent gluten-free selection among what they do have, and the coffee is worthy of a connoisseur. And there are also outlets everywhere, as if to say, "We understand your struggle. Stay here; work on that paper as long as you need to."