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Who wants to cook? Let’s go out to eat. See where News-Herald staff members dined and where they go to unwind in our area. You might just find a new treasure in your own neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Introducing "Hold the Coffee"

Photo and coffee thermos by Devon Turchan
Simon Husted posing in front of the indie coffee shop 
Loop in Tremont.
For the last two years, I’ve grown obsessed scoping out “indie coffee shops”—those special places that define the world’s best cities, villages and neighborhoods. After some pressure from colleagues, I have launched a new crusade to visit and review each and every “indie coffee shop” I can drive to without needlessly killing half a tank. I’ve visited more than two dozen on my own since moving to the area in February and I encourage readers to suggest some of their favorite spots to feed my thirst and this blog. Feel free to send me any suggestions on twitter at @SimonSaysNH or through e-mail at, or in the comments below.

Notice I put quotation marks around “indie coffee shops.” That’s because all sorts of people have different expectations of what an “indie coffee shop” looks like. Some people reserve the term for establishments that hand-pick their own coffee beans. Others might consider a Starbucks with couches, second floor seating and no frontal parking lot an indie coffee shop. My definition falls on the loose side of things. As long as the shop is not publicly traded and lacks locations in 10 states or four Canadian provinces, it almost always wins my support as an indie coffee shop.

This isn’t to say I’m never a patron at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or Tim Horton’s. In fact, I even enjoy McDonald’s McCafes. (Although I’m sometimes perplexed whenever the clerk behind the counter refuses to mix non-fat milk into my ice coffee.)

Indie coffee shops are an entirely different beast though. They are not places to grab a quick dose of espresso before heading to work. They’re meant to be places to get work done, catch up with friends and escape from a busy week.

I don’t plan on issuing any sort of star rating; partly because I don’t want to be blacklisted by an owner, but mostly because there are better, fairer ways to review a coffee destination. I plan to divide my review into three important key areas: location, food and beverage and space.

Location: Is the coffee shop near a hoity toity mall, a shady neighborhood, an up-and-coming urban destination or a rural town square? Does the architecture of the building blend with its surroundings or does it stick out? How often is the coffee shop open? Is it easily accessible by transit, bike or car, and most importantly, does the shop insist on having frontal parking? (That’s a deal breaker if so.)

Food and Beverage: I hate when a coffee shop only carries coffee. What kind of selection does it offer non-coffee drinkers? What about the pastries? Does it have any rich, diabetes-inducing cookies or muffins? How are the food and beverages presented? Does the staff use huge mugs and squared, glass plates? But most importantly, does the shop offer real food, or is it a place to fill your stomach with caffeine and sugar?

Space: This is by far the most important category! Does the shop combine elements of another business like a café, comic store, record store or book store? Is it a place where someone can work from their computer? If so, does the establishment provide stable Wi-Fi and sufficient electrical outlets? Is the shop an optimal place for a group of friends to hang out, or does it lack seating? Is it comfortable, colorful and quiet? Does it have live bands playing, for the musical connoisseurs? (Not that I care for live entertainment unless it’s sad, Christian girl music.) Does it have a a highlighted piece of interior like a brick fireplace?

Notice that I am not reviewing the taste of any coffee beverage in this blog. That’s because taste is completely subjective, and I am definitely not one to judge. Some of the best coffee I enjoy is not always freshly brewed, but is actually an hour past lukewarm and diluted with milk and sugar-free sweetener. Besides, fresh coffee is not what makes a great coffee shop great.  It’s everything else, and that’s why I am calling this series of blog posts “Hold the Coffee.”

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