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Posts Tagged ‘coffee shops’

pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?

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back bay church trees Hancock tower

I’m into the eighth week at my new job, and I get asked all the time: How is it? Are you settling in? Do you like it?

The answers to all these questions are mostly positive, but alongside them is another truth: adjusting to a new neighborhood has been hard.

My first job in the Boston area was at Emerson College, steps from the Common and the Boston Public Garden. My new job, at Berklee College of Music, finds me a mile or so from there, among the collection of brownstones and skyscrapers that make up the Back Bay.

I miss Harvard Square, where I’ve spent every workday for the last five years and which (as regular readers know) I adore. But there are a few things, so far, to recommend this neighborhood. Here they are, in no particular order:

Boston public library blue sky Hancock tower Boston

  • The gorgeous central Boston Public Library, above, a few blocks from my office. I often pop in during my workday or on my way to the train. Bonus: they have a good cafe.
  • The sunny, plant-filled conference room at work, where I take my laptop as often as I can.
  • The tiny Trader Joe’s down the street, which provides me with affordable flowers (when I can’t get to Brattle Square), dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and a place to grab last-minute grocery items.
  • The Copley Square farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Related: the few intrepid vendors who come out even in the rain. I miss Amanda and her tamales, but am glad for a place to pick up fresh produce.
  • The nearest Flour location, which has $5 soup, decent chai (it’s not Darwin’s but it’ll do), and friendly employees.
  • The Commonwealth Avenue mall: green and lovely and dotted with benches.
  • So many happy dogs, walking the streets with their owners or in packs shepherded by dog walkers.
  • Trident, the newly reopened bookstore down the street.
  • The midweek Eucharist service at Trinity Church: I’ve only been once so far but it was lovely.
  • Occasional walks along the Esplanade, when I have time.

What’s saving your life these days? Heaven knows we all need to take our joy where we can find it, right now.

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dahlia purple stripe

Happiness is: dahlias in the morning light (courtesy of my beloved florist, of course). And settling in for a morning at Darwin’s, my very favorite place.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

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chai skirt breathe

Back to reality today (and stacks of emails), but I stole a moment this morning to sit outside Darwin’s with my chai. Ahhhh.

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daffodils blue pitcher plums

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to make a list of what is saving my life – from the small daily things to the big, soul-affirming stuff. As we make our way through April, here’s what’s saving my life these days:

  • Daily chitchat with the folks at Darwin’s, who provide spicy chai, delicious lunches and cookies, and excellent conversation about everything from pickles to music to childhood memories.
  • Tulips from my local florist, perched on the corner of my dining-room table. (Also, daffodils on my friend Amy’s table, above.)
  • Poetry from Veronica Patterson and Naomi Shihab Nye.
  • Running into people I know in Harvard Square and realizing all over again: this is my neighborhood.
  • The Sunday #FlowerReport on Twitter, hosted by my friend Alyssa. (Photos of gorgeous spring flowers from all over the place.)

early tulips public garden boston spring

  • Sarcastic asides from my co-workers. (Sometimes a little snark can save the day.)
  • Weekly phone calls with my mom, and reports on my three-year-old nephew’s T-ball games.
  • Frosted lemon cookies, flaky Scottish scones and whatever else I feel like baking.
  • Good books. (Recent favorites include Stir, The Enchanted April and Under a Painted Sky.)
  • Budding trees and blooming flowers – many of which I photograph for the #FlowerReport.

tulip magnolia buds blooms

  • The views from my sixth-floor office in Harvard Square.
  • Striped dresses and black leggings with my favorite green coat. Rinse and repeat. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • A couple of blue-sky, open-window days.
  • Eating my lunch outside, when I can, preferably on the south porch of Mem Church.
  • Several much-needed catch-up sessions with friends: book club, lunch dates, cups of tea.
  • The dim glow of the over-the-stove light in my kitchen, which makes it look so cozy late at night.
  • Holding hands with my husband before we fall asleep.
  • Texts from my sister and a couple of dear friends.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

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darwins chai cup creamer coffee shop cambridge ma

10 a.m.: One medium chai latte, to go.

12:30 p.m.: Half a Longfellow sandwich (ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sliced Granny Smith apples and spicy Dijon mustard) on sourdough. With salt and vinegar chips in a bright turquoise bag, if they’re available.

3:30 p.m.: One chocolate-dipped butter cookie, shaped like a heart, shamrock, Easter egg or autumn leaf, as the season dictates.

These are my usual orders at Darwin’s, the cafe down the street from my office. Sometimes the particulars vary a bit: I’ll add a buttery scone to my morning order, or splurge on a chocolate-glazed peanut butter cookie in the afternoon. If I’m feeling healthy I’ll swap the chips at lunch for a fruit salad, and on frigid days, I’ll often order a bowl of the daily soup, with a hunk of baguette for dipping.

I’ve worked in the same neighborhood for three years, and been an occasional visitor to Darwin’s for most of that time. But over the last year, I’ve become a regular. And it has brought me more pleasure than I could have dreamed.

I’m over at Art House America today waxing rhapsodic about my love for Darwin’s, and what it means to be a regular. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

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chai journal pencil case darwins

For one reason and another, I have spent a lot of time working in libraries and coffee shops over the last few months. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my copious photos of the chai lattes at Darwin’s.)

I love both settings, for different moods and often different kinds of work. But it occurred to me recently that both places offer a way to strike a balance between privacy and being in public.

farnsworth reading room lamont library harvard

In a library, it is of course generally expected that you won’t – or don’t have to – talk to anyone. Though many libraries now offer group study spaces, you can also settle in quite comfortably with your laptop at a table or in a deep armchair.

I spent an hour in Lamont Library (at Harvard) one recent afternoon with about fifteen other people – all of us tucked up in different corners of the Farnsworth Room, typing contentedly away at our computers or scribbling in notebooks. We weren’t oblivious of each other’s presence, but we didn’t have to acknowledge it, either.

The collective presence in the room formed a kind of reassuring cushion for me. Introvert that I am, I still like to know that there are other people out there in the world (or right next to me), working on their own projects, doing their thing. I like knowing I’m part of that collective, without having to talk to anyone.

darwins cafe cup

In a coffee shop, the boundaries are more porous. There’s food and drink, for one thing, and generally also music. (The music at Darwin’s ranges delightfully and eclectically from classic rock to indie folk to the occasional country song.) I’ve learned the names of a couple of baristas, and I know most of the other ones by sight – and I’m sure I surprise no one, any more, when I order a medium chai latte.

At Darwin’s, you still don’t have to talk to anyone – but the general volume is a little louder, the vibe chummier. People do sometimes ask if they can share tables, borrow a chair, or make use of a power strip or outlet. I know a few of the other regulars by sight, and occasionally I bump into a friend or colleague. I listen with pleasure to the baristas’ banter as they sling drinks behind the counter or bring new supplies up from the basement. (It reminds me of my days as a barista at the Ground Floor, long ago.)

Here, too, the background noise forms a sort of comforting baseline: the small noises of footsteps and chatter, the whirr and hum of the espresso machine, blend into a pleasing buzz. I can (usually) detach my brain from following individual noises, letting it rest in the general hum, as I jot down notes (or a to-do list) or type away on my computer. Around me, there’s usually a mix of fellow workers on their laptops, elderly men perusing the newspaper, the guy who brings in his pastels to sketch, and chattering pairs of friends.

I love my solitude, however I can get it: a solo lunch in Harvard Yard, a quiet evening at home alone, even disappearing into a book on a crowded subway train. But I also love this contradictory mix of privacy in public. I like being part of the rhythm of a place, even if – sometimes especially if – my thoughts and words can remain all my own.

Do you like hanging in out libraries and coffee shops?

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