Written by: Kayla Brooke
Copy-edited by: Pranav Gupta
Wow. What a time to be alive. I’m lean, mean, 19, and loving all these coffee beans. The golden age of boutique cafes and local coffee shops is upon us, ushered in by the Starbucks era of the 2010s and the exclusivity and comfortable space this chain brought and continues to bring to its customers. And in Gainesville, there is certainly no coffee drought or shortage. As the most amateur coffee connoisseur in Alachua County and someone who went to Iceland one! time! (!!) and reviewed as many coffee places there as possible, I have been to almost every major coffee shop in this area and I am ready to put them to the test in the ultimate (not really) coffee showdown. This review will serve as a guide for both uninformed and seasoned coffee lovers providing an overview of the shop based on the specific criteria defined below:
Overview/Atmosphere: Uniqueness, study-ability and homey-ness, general aura
Coffee: Three indicators (acidity, bitterness, flavor) applied to the analyzed drinks with a short description
Baked Goods: Judged on variety of options, flavor profile and it’s execution, sweetness
My only disclaimer is that I am partial to a dark, bitter roast and I do not vibe with fruity or acidic coffee. I am also a sl*t for pumpkin spice lattes so if that changes the validity of my opinion, I totally understand. With over ten locations to choose from, let’s get started!
Pascal’s Coffeehouse, 112 NW 16th St, Gainesville, FL, 8/10
Pascal’s is a campus staple. Located right across the street from Library West, this slice of heaven is a warm embrace in the chaos of midterms and the stress of jaywalking through West University to get there. From the quiet, buzzing ambiance to the open two story layout to the delightful Uppercrust bakery menu (obsessed with the Guava Toussaint), Pascal’s is the embodiment of millennial coffee culture, string lights, balconies, and all. I have never felt more safe in a public establishment than at the second home that is Pascal’s. Although I do often get harassed by wasps and the sounds of construction on the balcony, I have so many wonderful memories there and I encourage any type of coffee lover to go and make their own there.
Black Drip – delightfully mild in flavor with little to no acidity, bitterness, or citrine flavor, a full-bodied bean with chocolate undertones, regular roast. Their coffee is the perfect equalizer and could bring the world together just like those cheesy maps from grade school with hands of every color (even blue and purple) are connected and happy. This coffee lets the other components of any drink do the talking but is wonderfully and subtly gratifying on its own. Pairs well with their pastry options as it is a solid dunking coffee.
Uppercrust, a local Gainesville bakery, supplies this coffee shop with all of their baked goods, although they hold a fairly mediocre banana bread and chocolate chip cookie, their flakey puff pastry selection is well worth a try or eight.
Maude’s Cafe, 101 SE 2nd Pl, Gainesville, FL, 5/10
I think every coffee shop frequenter has had an *experience* with Maude’s. Often managed and barista-ed by only one person, this place can take its time taking and producing your order. Personally, I consider the coffee hit or miss so it may serve you well to not branch out at this one, stick to what’s popular. Solid breakfast sandwiches and dessert options. Soothing atmosphere with many nooks and crannies to hunker down and study or even play one of their many complementary board games. Gentle lighting and wonderful outdoor space to enjoy when it has not rained, so once every blue moon. This place truly embodies the idea of not judging a book by its wonderful, atmospheric cover and instead sporadically reading the interesting chapters because the plot has no direction.
Hot Almond Milk Latte – a distinct nuttiness in the bean drawn out by the plant-based milk, a very mild coffee with a more concentrated flavor, the subtlest acidity without any risk of being overwhelming, the best and only good drink I have ever had there, on one occasion, I ordered the exact same thing another time and absolutely hated it.
One of the most notable aspects of this coffee shop are their in-house baked good selection, specifically their Muffin of the Day and their cake slices. To me, muffins are the most perfect, pure baked good and must be respected as such and Maude’s does a wonderful job enhancing the simple complexities of muffins while also experimenting with their flavor profiles. If you go to Maude’s, it would be a disservice to ignore their muffins.
Concord Coffee, 1380 W University Ave, 3/10
Right off the bat I have to say that this coffee shop is one that really knows how to completely deflate any expectations for its quality and ambiance. Located right next to the Standard, it is no wonder so much about it feels constructed and stiff, with that much chaos right outside its doors, how could a soothing atmosphere ever survive beyond an idea? When you walk in, the hanging plants and spiral staircase set you up for failure in comparison to the uncomfortable seating and unsatisfactory drinks. The problem with this coffee shop is not the menu or the space itself, rather the execution of the creation of said drinks and the people who seem to clash with your personal aura, regardless of who you are. Their one saving grace are their cute glass cups shaped like little cans, the perfect size for your drink. If only they sold them so I could enjoy the design from the delightful comfort of my own home, or like, another coffee shop.
Iced Drip Coffee with Almond Milk – is it coffee or straight lemon juice? This blend is incredibly acidic and watered down, no flavor, no body, just bean juice and plant milk in the most incoherent tango I have ever experienced. I have never enjoyed a cup of coffee here and likely never will.
They have bagels but their baked goods are few and far between. Good toast. Overall disappointing.
Curia on the Drag, 2029A NW 6th St, 7/10
I had a tough time with this review because Curia had always been one of those illusory coffee shops in my mind and I realized after the second, third, fourth, etc. cup of coffee that there is an entire chasm of difference between loving the idea of something and fully seeing and knowing something intimately enough to love it in the clearest way. And I had romanticized Curia in my mind for far too long. When I walked into this shop to try their plain drip to review, the amber glow had begun to wear off; the atmosphere was less aesthetically pleasing, I realized they didn’t even have indoor seating (the more intimate seating option for coffee shops) and never did the entire time I had known them; the pastry options were mundane or generally unappealing, even if it was house-made, nothing would have hit the spot; and the coffee was just coffee, nothing especially characteristic or flavorful, it was just a good cup of coffee that paired well with baked goods. And it does not have to be anything else. Curia lets you know what it is and does not care if you like them or not. They don’t even have a seasonal menu, that’s the unabashed self expression that keeps this place at a high score for me, it’s indifferent authenticity. The best Matcha Lattes I have ever had in Gainesville though.
Hot Almond Milk Latte (I swear I will rate other drinks too) – sickly acidic, this is a coffee that really takes time to adjust in your mouth but one thing that stayed consistent was its fruity acidity that hits your tongue from every angle, the depth and fullness of the bean flavor rescues this drink and balances well with the aggression of the rest of the drink’s profile, this coffee does not go down easily and is an occasional location rather than a staple.
Absolutely enamored with their muffins, and muffins are a very important food to me. The chocolate chip muffin I had the first time I went there was like eating the most filling cloud, it was fluffy but dense, sweet but grounding, and the perfect pairing with the iced coffee I got. I would never get a drink without a pastry here but I would totally buy a baked good on its own.
Karma Cream, 607 W University Ave, 6/10
As much as this vegan joint could be considered a jack-of-all-trades, it is most known for its variety of vegan ice cream flavors and their quirky, vegan lifestyle atmosphere. But that does not dismiss the validity of their status as a coffee shop and it certainly does not spare them from this review. I love the raw vegan energy this place brings, from the baristas to the food options, this place screams *go vegan, go green* in the best, most gentrified way possible. I love the little breezeway seating they have and now that they’ve opened up their indoor seating, they have so much more to offer in ambiance. That being said, I do not go there for coffee, ever. They have a decent bitter to acidic balance with their drip but their drink-making capacity is fairly limited and unbalanced. They do have coffee ice cubes to prevent your drink from being watered down but the tastes and overall enjoyability of the coffee drinking experience are diminished by the fact that they have so many other things to try. When I go there, I’d always rather get ice cream than coffee and when I get coffee, I just think about how much I want to be eating their ice cream instead.
Iced Maple Pumpkin Spice Latte – overall fine, well rounded but very watery, wish they hit me with more bitterness and a deeper tone but it sits well in the mouth and has less of a bite than most mildly acidic coffees, it does have a surface level flavor that punches through the syrups and milk but it is not full bodied enough to leave your mouth feeling wholly embraced and supported.
Killer pastry selection that are also vegan but too small portion sizes for the price.
Wyatt’s Coffee, 202 SE 2nd Ave, 7/10
Any coffee loving friends you have probably will not stop talking about Wyatt’s with you if they’ve ever gone. This place screams New-York-hipster-cafe-from-2018, all it’s missing are the bagels and hovering desperation. Wonderful atmosphere to drop by and soak in for no more than a minute, any longer and you might get immediately overwhelmed by the number of customers breezing in and out at any given time, especially if you have a significant amount of work to do. It is still a beautifully bright and crisp environment with gorgeous windows to provide the perfect lighting for your insta story post about your latte. They also have a fairly unique drink and pastry selection; Wyatt’s is a place everyone can find something they would enjoy. However, the coffee is truly the showstopper; this, combined with my proclivity for artsy atmospheres are the only things saving this place from a 5/10 or less. Although I am not familiar with it, the parking situation is decent enough for downtown Gainesville that I am willing to get to know this place better in the coming years.
The Great Big Pumpkin Hot – essentially a more subtle, adult pumpkin spice latte with less emphasis on syrup and more on spice that blends wonderfully with the rich coffee that shines through this latte. Genuinely one of the only places I could say has a supportive
They have a very limited pastry selection that has many avant-garde flavor choices but nothing basic enough in case you don’t feel like taking a risk. The gluten free pumpkin chip muffin I had here was simply not good, not even because of the less bready texture (as I lovea dense gluten free muffin) but rather the disappointing flavor or lack thereof (absolutely nothing distinguished it as a pumpkin muffin rather than just a plain chocolate chip muffin) and the depressingly small chocolate chip population. As an amatuer baker who has made many a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin, this was genuinely a let down, especially given my love and respect for muffins.
Opus, 800 SW 2nd Ave (Innovation), 1600 SW Archer Rd (UF Health), 409 SW 4th Ave (Airstream), 7/10
If you like coffee and you live in Gainesville, you’ve been to at least one of the Opus locations. Opus is a UF staple and everyone seems to have their opinions on it. One of the most notable things about this local chain is their expansive drink menu, even if you don’t drink coffee, you can find a well made tea or matcha that you likely won’t find anywhere else. Opus is THE coffee shop of Gainesville and embodies the hustle and bustle of this university and the driven people that make it up. That being said, because of its popularity Opus at Innovation will rarely have open seating; this plus the fact that there are only FOUR outlets in the entire vicinity equals stressed vibes. I recommend going to Opus for get-to-know-you coffee dates as the buzzing energy will be a good boost for conversation or just picking up a drink and enjoying it on the long walk back to the rest of campus because it is far as hell from everything else and Lord knows there is no safe parking there. Opus as Shands has no atmosphere and Opus at Airstream has delightful outdoor seating but I had the worst drink experience there so go at your own risk.
Iced Almond Milk Latte – more watery than a cup of…water, a bit too acidic to be entirely enjoyable, just enough of a bubbly bean taste to punch through any type of drink combination so your feel like you’re drinking something with coffee in it, pairs well with a flavorful milk or syrup, I come here for the sugary lattes and their extensive matcha selection.
Their bakery selection is absolutely fantastic, they have the perfect balance of sweet and dense with their muffins (one time I got a blueberry muffin here for free because they were throwing them out and I still think about it to this day!) and their lemon loaf. On Sundays they have a savory pastry menu that I adore.
CYM Coffee Co/Cymplify, 5404 NW 8th Ave, 8/10
CYM or Cymplify is a hidden Gainesville Gem, a place for seasoned coffee lovers and Alachua County natives and I hold it near and dear to my heart because of the memories I’ve made and the joy that the atmosphere brings. CYM is the perfect balance of quirky and sophisticated with a very welcoming feel from the kind closeness of the baristas to the stories of the local artists hung on their walls. Their drink menu is all year round but all inclusive so you can get a PSL anytime of the year. They also have a unique syrup provider so their flavors will be different than anything you’ve likely tried before. A very well balanced cup of coffee sustains well within any milk and sugar combination but stands firm on its own too. The quiet bustle provides the perfect environment for finishing that assignment that you put off to the last minute but also a wonderful place to have a deep conversation with a close friend. Delightful outdoor spaces that do not try too hard to be artsy but naturally fill the space they were given.
Iced Coffee with Almond Milk – a dark medium roast with a well rounded strength and welcome dryness that stays on your tongue for just the right amount of time, the almond milk in this drink pairs well with the nuttiness of the coffee, a bit basic in its taste but a beautiful accompaniment with any syrup or milk.
CYM has a lovely muffin selection, same provider as Opus, but their morning buns and cookies really steal the show.
Coffee Culture, 2020 NW 13th St, 5/10
What is Coffee Culture? What is the Culture of Coffee? These are the questions this cafe seeks to answer in an ambitious attempt to bridge the gap between coffee and culture. The answer, however, is a bit too ambiguous and nuanced to be embodied by one shop and unfortunately the quality of their coffee is not strong enough to support them. Overall, a delightfully chaotic environment that gave me the space to express myself in the most genuine and emotional ways because it felt like a judgement-free zone. This place may not have the best or even remotely interesting coffee flavor but it is the effort to be a comforting space with fun drinks and baked goods that ranks this place higher for me. A smiling face and a muffin that reminds me of home makes me want to sit in there and drink my lackluster cup of coffee because they tried to give me that space and they aim to be that homebase for anyone who walks through those doors. The dripping ceiling and dingy lighting is a part of that charm and I would go back just to feel like a drop of water in a warm swirling ocean again. I would recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of coffee more than the taste itself.
Black Americano – I loved the lack of acidity in this coffee, a bitter, smooth ride with a genuine lack of support from the flavor of the bean, which was essentially nonexistent, a very wobbly cup of coffee that is barely saved by the addition of a baked good, like dipping a muffin in water, I also got a Pumpkin Spice latte that tasted more like a cup of milk with syrup (and they have a fantastic syrup selection with titillating flavors) with a drop of coffee, the perfect amount of foam with a very nuanced flavor profile but not a strong enough coffee.
Amazing Elvis Presley Muffin (gluten free chocolate chip, peanut butter, and banana muffin) that was not too sweet and could have been killer with a solid cup of coffee. Honestly the muffin saved this place from anything below a 5/10. Reminded me of the Kookaburra in St. Augustine.