If you’re trying to branch out from Starbucks but still need to fuel late-night study sessions, Riverside has a surprisingly large selection of independent coffee shops. Whether your taste is a bit more on the sweeter side or whether you just need a different place to study now that everything is opening up, there are plenty of options around UCR that will keep all caffeine addicts satiated.
Closest to campus is Arcade Coffee Roasters, a white minimalistic shop on Chicago Avenue. Housed in a former video store, Arcade is located on a pretty busy intersection, and parking is all but nonexistent. There is a small parking lot with space for a maximum of four or five cars alongside the coffee shop, but otherwise, it is all street parking. It might be a better idea to walk from campus, but don’t fret — it is only 15 minutes away. There are a few hefty wooden tables outside and limited seating inside. Small touches of decor, like green plants scattered around and big sacks of coffee bags, give it a curated feel. However, it might be a bit too loud to study well unless you’re immune to constant chatter and lots of movement; headphones are definitely a must.
The coffee itself is delicious. Although they only have two sizes, a 12 ounce and a 16 ounce cup, they hit the spot with their nutty, sweet and perfectly balanced coffee taste. One thing is for sure: this is not Starbucks coffee, where you can super-size a coffee that may be bitter or too sweet on any given day. Arcade Coffee Roasters roasts their own coffee every week, and you can taste the difference in their coffee. I tried the iced vanilla latte with oat milk and the butterscotch latte. I could still taste the coffee, but I could also taste the sweetness of the oatmilk and the syrup; although it was simple, it was delicious. The butterscotch latte, on the other hand, was a bit too dull. It was so similar to the vanilla latte that it was hard to tell a difference between the two.
The only downside of Arcade Coffee right now is that due to COVID, their hours are extremely limited. They are only open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but their normal hours of operation are generally also limited. The prices are comparable to other independent coffee shops; a 12 ounce vanilla latte with oat milk came out to $5.75, and their seasonal butterscotch came out to the same price.
The next great coffee shop is only a few blocks away from Arcade Coffee. Lift Coffee Roasters is also on Chicago Avenue, but while Arcade is right on the street, Lift is a bit more concealed in an industrial-looking complex. This makes parking plentiful, although it is a bit further from campus and marks 34 minutes of walking time. Because of its location, Lift is dark, and most of the light it gets is from its huge open entrance. Its decor is plain but cute, as there is a mural near the entrance with a pair of coffee lovers and another displaying the name of the shop. There is more than enough seating, with tables and chairs populating the floor of the shop and a couple smaller tables outside in the parking lot. This could be a perfect studying location were it not for its lack of light. And because they also roast their coffee beans, the noise could also be a disturbance.
Their coffee beans are directly partnered and sourced from unique places, something that can’t be said for corporate coffee places like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Fourth-year media and cultural studies major Adriana Mandujano Angel ordered an iced green tea and said, “To be honest I was not expecting much out of this drink but was pleasantly surprised once I had my drink on hand … Some teas are often too sweet or not sweet enough but this was a perfect balance between the two. It was refreshing and light with hints of orange.” Lift comes out with new beverages all the time if you’d like to give other drinks a try; I tried the lavender lemonade, which was super refreshing during this hot California spring.
Mi Cafecito, situated inside the Riverside Food Lab, has a new cultural take on coffee. Mi Cafecito is Latinx family owned, and according to the Food Lab website, their drinks are inspired by their culture, and they use in-house sauces and syrups. It has flavors on their menu like mocha mexicano, tres leches, horchata, cappuccino mexicano, mazapan and cajeta. In addition to the usual drink choices, their cold brew coffee features cafe de olla, while their tea has strawberry kiwi jamaica tea.
Mi Cafecito is definitely not a good place to study, as it is right in the middle of the Food Lab. There is no seating inside, and the outdoor seating was taken by families and other individuals eating and chatting. Either way, Mi Cafecito made their small space their own with an iconic coffee cup as their insignia and a white workplace with some cute wooden pieces throughout.
UCR student and second-year political science major Madison Rheins commented that the dulce the leche latte was her personal favorite because it was “smooth and you could really taste the cinnamon.” I thought both were too subtle and not sweet enough for my taste. However, Mandujano Angel thought her iced mazapan latte’s candy pieces made the drink taste like the famous Mexican peanut candy. She added that the flavors “remind me of home.” Their prices were on par with other coffee shops in the area, both drinks coming up to $6 with a dollar upcharge for milk alternatives.
Molino’s, which is located in the heart of downtown Riverside, had pretty great coffee and an ideal studying environment. It had nice wooden tables that were placed so everyone had enough space, and amazingly, it also had charging ports! Interestingly, it was the only coffee shop that seemed to have them. Rheins stated, “The vanilla chai latte from Molino’s is the best chai latte I’ve ever had; it was so creamy and the vanilla added a nice after taste.” Mandujano Angel, on the other hand, would have prefered a stronger flavor.
Back to the Grind deserves an honorable mention, despite not being a dedicated coffeehouse. It has a larger menu if you’re in the mood to have lunch. It’s huge location is filled with eclectic decor and plenty of seats, so despite the lack of greatness from their coffee, they definitely deserve a visit.
Unfortunately, both Molino’s and Back to the Grind are a 10 minute car ride and a 20 minute bus ride away, making it virtually impossible to walk there for students who have no mode of transportation.
UCR has a Starbucks or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on nearly every corner, but for the students who want to branch out and find a new study spot with spectacular coffee, the Riverside area will not disappoint.