By Elias van Emmerick ‘21
Back when I was young, naive, and blessedly free of endless reading assignments, I believed that college would entail sitting in aesthetically pleasing coffee shops and drinking tasty caffeinated beverages. As it turns out I do spend a good chunk of my time doing exactly that, albeit with a slightly more utilitarian intent than I’d originally expected. Given the increasingly large (and increasingly concerning) role caffeine is playing in my life, I decided I wanted its consumption to be as pleasant as possible. So, I set out to find the best suppliers of coffee and tea in the Inland Empire. Multiple burned tongues, a month’s worth of disposable income and at least three coffee-induced headaches later, I’m confident I came up with an at least somewhat exhaustive list of the best cafés in the wider Claremont area, reviewed in a not-so-objective manner.
This is the place for you if: you pretend to be a coffee snob but will secretly drink everything, are a Yelp power-user, and like sitting in an environment where everyone hides behind a laptop.
Ah, Augie’s. Claremont’s main third-wave coffee bar. Hidden away in the back of the Packing House, Augie’s is home to every Claremont student with a successful Instagram account and a sizeable wallet. Something about its tile floors, industrial tables, and ample outlets makes it feel like you are being the best version of yourself when you work there, even if you spend three hours aimlessly browsing social media. Is it, as the America’s Best Espresso contest proclaimed, the best coffee on the West Coast? It most certainly is not. The coffee has tasting notes of bitter and more bitter, so you’re best served by sticking with milk-heavy drinks. The tea menu is solid, seasonal drinks are inventive, and pricing is on par with chain stores.
This is the place for you if: you draw the line at snorting amphetamines but you want to get as close as possible to cardiac arrest.
Lucky’s opened up about two months ago, and technically isn’t located in Claremont. I included it because, (1) it’s only one stop away on the Metrolink and (2) there’s no other coffee place nearby that offers the same combination of workspace, charm, and risk of caffeine overdose. Their signature drink is four shots of espresso and oat milk–and these aren’t regular shots. I don’t know if it’s the beans they use or the way they roast them, but something about their coffee gives me instant heart palpitations. Don’t expect too many fancy coffee drinks here, and disregard the weird modern jukebox they’ve got set up. This is a place designed to push your body’s limits, and if you come out on top, to experience a glorious four hours of extreme productivity. Worth the 20-minute trip.
This is the place for you if: you like stalking your professors after class, want to see how a coffee shop can still operate without WiFi in 2019, and hate espresso.
Before I say anything else: Don’t get an espresso-based drink here. Just don’t. The drip, however, is excellent, and so are the pastries on offer. The space is perpetually packed (it really makes you wonder how Claremont residents never seem to be at work), has only a few rickety tables, and as mentioned above, doesn’t offer WiFi. Not a great place for doing work, but come to read a book or hang with friends. Once you enter a carb-induced coma courtesy of their excellent pastries you won’t want to work on your problem sets anyway. Good chances of spotting professors in their natural habitat (I once got to pet a history professor’s dog here: good times).
This is the place for you if: you believe coffee should only be consumed between 8:00 AM and 12:00 PM, and 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, buy into the theory that more choices are always better than fewer, and like seeing prospective investment bankers.
The CDO is a helpful resource in its own right, but for the purposes of this article I’ll only consider their dual Keurig setup. In short, it’s a delight. There’s to-go cups available for your convenience, the machines are always heated and ready to brew, and the K-cup selection is second to none. Seriously, the amount of options available consistently gives me choice anxiety. They constantly change too, so you never have to drink the same coffee twice. For the grand price of $0.00, that’s a pretty sweet deal. If it weren’t for the limited hours, this would be one of the best places on campus to get your caffeine fix. Bonus points for the generous amount of seating and the career books that instill a soft sense of existential dread in you.
- The Trader Joe’s Sampling Nook
This is the place for you if: you have a car or very strong glutes, have absolutely no money in your pocket, and like a variety of bite-sized snacks to go with your coffee.
At risk of losing any credibility I had left, I would say that the TJ’s up on Foothill Blvd. is a strong contender for best coffee bar in Claremont. It can’t be beat in terms of bang-for-your-buck (it’s free!), has a wide selection of additional snacks and beverages for purchase, and offers free hors d’oeuvres (or samplers, for the layman) in addition to its free coffee. Add the friendly staff and the gentle smell of ripe produce, and you’ve got a winner on your hands. No, there isn’t exactly ample seating, and the environment isn’t the most conducive for getting work done, but everyone needs a break every now and then! Worth the uphill walk / bike ride / drive.
- The Arco’s am/pm on Foothill
This is the place for you if: you like to get the best gas prices, regularly purchase corn dogs, and want your coffee to taste like motor oil.
Does the am/pm coffee have any redeeming factors? No. It may be cheap, and it certainly is plentiful, but that store is the only one where I genuinely believe the Proposition 65 warning.* There isn’t much in terms of flavor there either. With that being said, the fact that it is located at an Arco, the Rolls-Royce of California gas stations, more than makes up for that. That frown you make when you taste the antifreeze they put in those Bunn dispensers will be turned upside down in no time when you see the excellent price Arco’s TOP TIER™ gas goes for (not sponsored, just a big fan). If that’s not enough of an incentive to hit the am/pm, just consider that they used this mascot to promote their coffee:
If it’s good enough for Mr. Hot Dog Lip, it’s good enough for me.