By Rianna Huertas
I love coffee. Totaling at least 3 cups a day, I would rather spend money on coffee than almost anything else. I crave the bitter taste, regardless of the jitters; I’m obsessed with it. Any latte, cappuccino, macchiato, or whatever drink you love is only as good as the coffee beans and baristas' attention to their coffee craft. I will travel miles for a good cup of coffee, as I know it can only improve the quality of my day, but when it's only a short drive (or walk) away, there’s really nothing stopping me from getting my daily fix.
After spending my summer in Durham studying for the LSAT and avoiding the variable coffee from around campus (they really need to clean their machines more frequently), I have compiled a list of the best local coffee shops around Durham. I rank them out of 5 🐣 in terms of the coffee quality (obvi), the “studiability” of said location, and the vibes, which are just as important as any of the other factors.
Whether you read through this once or use it as a reference for all your future coffee escapades, I hope you learn a little bit more about the coffee scene in Durham and possibly find inspiration to begin your own quest for your favorite cup of joe.
Foster Street Coffee
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣
Foster’s was one of the first local coffee shops I discovered in Durham, making it a place near and dear to my heart. I remember countless moments during Spring semester of sophomore year when I made the trek from West Campus all the way to downtown Durham, right up to the big glass doors of Foster Street Coffee for a study session with my friends. It has an ideal study ambiance, however, the rest of Duke knows this too. If you try to go anytime after 1 pm, you won’t be able to find a seat, as each table is packed with students working on a paper, project, or exam. The massive windows, spacious tables, ample outlets, and soft music make an early start worth it, allowing you to grab a table in the sunlight, munch on a warm, freshly made pastry and enjoy a seasonal fall drink as you stare at your computer all day.
My drink recommendation is the Fall & Oats latte; not only does the maple flavor combine well with the creamy and chocolatey espresso blend, but the pun is fantastic. And if you’re hungry, the pesto-based mock bruschetta is an inventive midday snack, packed with vitamins to get you through the final slides of the PowerPoint or policy memo. Ultimately, if you’re looking to hardcore grind, then this is your spot, but there’s better coffee and fewer afternoon crowds just around the corner.
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣
Located inside the Durham Food Hall, Liturgy isn’t necessarily the first place you would think of for studying, especially with Foster’s right up the street. However, their seasonal coffee specials make the little bit of extra noise worth it, especially if you work better with a soundtrack of human movement.
A week hasn’t passed by that I haven’t gotten their Autumn Leaves latte on draft which is legitimately perfect. It uses a soft, mellow espresso paired with frothy oat milk, a drizzle of angostura simple syrup, and a dash of nutmeg; I could have 6 of them in one sitting, but I would probably give myself a heart attack.
At Liturgy, there’s always ample space to sit allowing you to get some work done and avoid the afternoon rush at Foster's. The high ceilings, open floor plan, and opportunity for a fun snack from one of the many vendors – the shrimp dumplings from Marco’s 530 or a fresh bagel with miso butter from Everything Bagels are – at any point of the day make Liturgy one of my favorite spots in Durham.
Triangle Coffee House (UHill)
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣
The vibes aren’t fantastic, but that is precisely what makes it the perfect study spot – it’s quiet, brightly lit, and has spacious tables for you to spread out all your work. The only people coming in and out of Triangle Coffee House are grad students, post-gym caffeine addicts, and the occasional single mom, which makes it the ideal place to grind without interruption. The baristas are some of the brightest and kindest people and will give you great recommendations about their specialty drinks. And, go there as much as I do, they’ll start making your drink before you reach the counter.
My go-to is the turmeric latte, which is a gorgeous sepia color with a strong spiced flavor. It’s delicious with their intense coffee blend, and the only thing that got me through hours of LSAT logic games practice. What’s more? A Happy+Hale, BB’s Chicken, Alpaca, and CookOut are within walking distance, making that post-study meal easy to satisfy.
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣 (One of my personal favorites)
Located in the industrial buildings near East campus, the tucked-away secret garden makes Cloche Coffee one of my favorite spots. Cloche ranks the lowest on my studiability metric due to the small indoor seating area and the rickety outdoor tables making it difficult to work on your laptop. Yet, I still love the ambiance of Cloche. Each table is surrounded by real plants and paintings from local Durham artists, giving you the opportunity to just sit down and breathe for a minute as the aromas from their incredible coffee tickle your nose as you wait for the barista to call out your order.
Cloche’s coffee is truly OUT OF THIS WORLD. I don’t know what magic powder they mix in with their espresso beans, but I have never tasted coffee so perfectly brewed with just the right amount of bitterness and mouth-watering vanilla accents. The espresso drips from the machine into perfectly chilled milk, which they always make sure to shake before giving it to you, ensuring the coffee is the ideal temperature for the first sip. To put it simply, I would die for Cloche Coffee. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the best cups of coffee I have had in the great state of North Carolina.
Triangle Coffee House (Ninth Street)
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣
To preface, this isn’t my favorite coffee shop in Durham, but it is worth a mention due to its close proximity to East Campus. Triangle Coffee House sits conveniently on Ninth Street, making it a relaxing place to meet up with friends for a quick break. The coffee is a smoother blend, generally a medium-roast, but it doesn’t have any unique notes that make it crave-worthy. With specialty drinks like the Berry White Mocha and the Bull City Turtle, which incorporate novelty syrups and spices, and traditional coffee drinks that are easy on the palette, TCH can appease those friends with a major sweet tooth or the coffee aficionado who would rather just have a shot of espresso.
As a freshman, I loved walking over to TCH and sitting down with some friends to “study”, people-watch, and enjoy Durham while still seeing friends from the Duke bubble. While the loose outlets and dim basement don’t make it the ideal study place, and the character doesn’t live up to the other locations on this list, it’s still a great escape from campus any day of the week.
The Oak House
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣
Although I haven’t been to Oak House in a long time because parking in downtown Durham is a nightmare, I reminisce about the trendy and relaxing space they have cultivated in the heart of the city On a typical afternoon, everyone is quietly working, with the occasional passerby coming in to purchase craft beer, artisanal coffee, or other local products. Their freshly brewed coffee is incredibly creative, using just the right amount of different spices or flavors to make a drink that is perfect for writing an essay on a chilly fall day. The machines are always clean, creating a strong espresso with the perfect level of bitterness. What makes the vibes so impeccable is when the clock strikes 6 pm, laptops and books are quickly shoved into bags and replaced with craft cocktails and draft ales. The quaint coffee house transforms into a lively bar, urging you to take a well-deserved study break.
Cocoa Cinnamon (Chapel Hill Rd.)
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣
If you want to drink truly sustainable and humanitarian coffee, Cocoa Cinnamon is the place for you. Their coffee comes from Little Waves Coffee Roasters, which directly tradesparticipates in direct trade with coffee growers across the world, cutting out the middle man to support small-scale growers and ensure sustainably sourced coffee beans. Plus, the coffee is incredible. I’ve watched them pull the espresso shots from their machines, espresso pulls from their machines, and it's a godly caramel color. The coffee has depth and intensity, their milk-to-coffee ratio is ideal, and they offer a variety of nut milk including macadamia milk, which is surprisingly delicious.
I’ve successfully done work here before, but with limited indoor seating and Hillsborough Road running right along the shaded patio, it’s a bit challenging to be productive. Yet, it’s the perfect spot for breaking down the events of the weekend on a Sunday afternoon, grabbing a pick-me-up before starting a group project, or writing this article on a sunny Friday.
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣
While we’re all familiar with the campus location, Beyu Blue, the OG Beyu Caffe is truly top tier. They have the same specialty drinks as the Bryan Center location, but the dirty chai is the epitome of what dirty chai should be: freshly brewed chai blended perfectly with the flavors of an impressively pulled espresso. My father, a self-appointed coffee connoisseur, and restaurateur said it was “one of the best espresso shots he’d ever had on the North American continent”; high praise from a man who lives and breathes good food and even better coffee.
Their brunch options are spectacular, the outlets are ample, and the sounds of soft R&B drip out of the speakers making it the perfect place to mindlessly work, If you don’t mind the brunch-goers around you. The interior decorations are reminiscent of a speakeasy, with dark wood and upholstery, but the floor-to-ceiling windows let in enough light to ensure you get your daily dose of vitamin D. Overall, 10/10 recommend going here at least once during your time at Duke because the coffee and food are definitely worth it.
Sir Walter Coffee (Raleigh)
Coffee Quality: 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣
Vibes: 🐣🐣🐣🐣🐣(literally impeccable vibes)
Ever feel the need to escape Durham? I did this fall break. I wanted to have a “hot girl day” with my roommate in the nearest metropolitan area while still getting some work done. We stumbled upon a tastefully Halloween-decorated, brightly colored, ground-floor coffee shop blasting Marvin Gay – the vibes could not have been better. Not only was it amazing to do work without the possibility of getting distracted by fellow Duke students, but it was a new and inspiring environment with some good, strong coffee to induce productivity.
The roast was different from a lot of the coffee I’ve had in Durham. It had a smooth bitterness that lingered in your nasal cavity for a little longer than usual; unexpected, but absolutely divine. My roomie opted for English Breakfast tea in place of coffee, pointing out that the loose-leaf tea in the glass pot was “truly spectacular.” Just like The Oak House, Sir Walter’s transforms into a bar at night, serving not only specialty and seasonal cocktails but a variety of coffee-based alcoholic drinks, which adds a whole new dynamic to the already unconventional location. I opted to try the Tiramisu Latte, which was an almond latte with Frangelico, Oak City Amaretto, mocha, heavy cream, and noir bitters. I could spend all day here studying, catching up with friends, and enjoying the relaxed bar scene before a night out.
A note to my lactose-intolerant and caffeine-averse friends: All of the places mentioned above have a variety of milk substitutes as well as good non-coffee drinks for those of you who prefer teas or refresher-style beverages. Triangle coffee house (UHill) has some healthy and delicious smoothie options, the chai at the various Cocoa Cinnamon locations is delightful, and Foster’s makes a yummy guava refresher in the summer. Happy studying!