Hello, Amherst first-years (and anyone else who may be reading this)! My name is Noor and what you’re about to read is a definitive guide to the coffee shops of the town of Amherst.
A quick disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee.
What??? Why should I even keep reading this stupid guide? You may ask.
I understand your hesitations but really, trust me. I spend more time in the coffee shops of Amherst than anyone else I know. If I can’t be found in my room napping or in a class somewhere, I am in either Black Sheep, Amherst Coffee, or Rao’s. When I told a friend I was writing this piece, he said “You’re already an Amherst coffee shop expert so that’s perfect.”
But don’t worry, coffee drinkers. I have taken a (very informal) survey of some avid coffee-drinkers. Some may even call them “experts.” If you disagree with any of their suggestions—take it up with them. As stated before, I don’t know anything about coffee.
So, let’s get started.
Black Sheep is my personal go-to. Amherst was the first college I ever visited. We went to Black Sheep, I got the Fowl Play, and I quickly fell in love. “If I don’t go to Amherst,” I thought “I at least want a sandwich place like this.”
A sandwich place??? You may ask. I thought this was about coffee shops.
Well, yes. But it’s so much more.
Black Sheep does have excellent sandwiches (and pastries and salads). It’s a great place to go if you like to snack while studying. I once spent a whole Saturday studying there mostly because there’s a whole day’s worth of gourmet meals right within reach. Their breakfast sammy’s are on point—my personal favorite is the Napoleon. I have also developed a legitimate and serious addiction to its toasted cheddar croissants. The Black Sheep Baguette and The Southern Comfort are my favorite sandwiches and they’re big enough to save half for a later meal.
But Black Sheep is also sneaky one of the best places in town for coffee. Jesse Pagliuca ’16 gives their “Ahab’s Revenge” blend the title of “One of the Best Coffees Ever.” Several amongst those I surveyed agreed that it was the best for a good cup of straight hot coffee. For non-coffee drinkers, Black Sheep is not my favorite beverage-wise. The chai is good, but don’t expect anything too sweet. Their drink fridge, however, does abound with good soda/tea options and a wide variety of flavored lemonades.
Black Sheep is by far the most “granola” of eating options in town. They have a cookie called the “Republican Party” and they donate a dollar from each sale to the Bernie Sanders campaign and their staff seem to fit the demographic of Western Mass liberals, but I’m all for it. Everyone who works there is super nice and the place overall has a really relaxed vibe. That’s why I prefer it for first dates, although the more typical option for first dates is Rao’s. Snag the corner booth by the drinks fridge and you’ll have some privacy to imagine running away together while also having the chance to stare out the window and “observe things” if you can’t find anything to talk about. Black Sheep is also one of the closest coffee-options near campus, making it perfect for all those snowy days in winter when you’re getting claustrophobic but don’t want to walk too far.
Overall, I’d say Black Sheep is a 10/10 would bang place to study, get to know someone, or just stuff your face. Try it out. Come say hi.
Amherst Coffee, or as the laymen refer to it “AmCo” is nothing if not controversial. It’s not everybody’s thing, but I certainly think there’s a lot to like and it’s definitely worth a visit to see if it’s your style. Located under the Amherst Cinema marquis, it’s got a “sophisticated” vibe going and turns into a bar at night. Huge windows mean a lot of natural lighting, which helps as individual light bulbs are the main source of illumination in the evening. High-top tables make it easy to look down on people while listening to the smooth-jazz soundtrack. I go to AmCo when I want to get some writing done and feel cool while doing it. Not necessarily the place for banging out a problem set, but great for, as Siraj Sindhu ’17 puts it: “feeling sexy while looking like you’re doing work.” Make sure your laptop is charged though, as outlets can be scarce.
The food selection is limited but good—I started going more often when I realized I could get a basket of toast with goat cheese, my idea of the perfect afternoon snack. They’ve got a hearty, rotating stock of croissants, cookies, meringues and the like. I’m an especially big fan of the raspberry bars.
When it comes to coffee I’ve heard some good and some indifferent. AmCo was the iced coffee go-to for caffeine aficionado Dan Adler ’14 who suggests sticking with AmCo for drinks of the latté variety. Miles Wronkovich ’17 claims that “AmCo makes a really smooth cup” and “cares about the quality of the drinks and beans.” Others “do not like AmCo coffee at all.” I am personally a fan of their not-too-sweet iced chai’s and the fact that you get a whole tea-pot if you’re ordering to stay. For the over 21 crowd, I’ve heard their drinks are pricey but quality.
AmCo is just one of those places you should try out for yourself, and its relative proximity to main campus and late hours are a definite plus. Maybe you’ll get into that smooth-jazz vibe. Maybe you won’t. See how you feel. Get back to me.
The furthest from main campus but the closest to many people’s hearts, Rao’s is located behind Amherst’s main drag near Panda East—which you’ll hear about soon if you haven’t already *wink*. Rao’s is the go-to study and date spot for many Amherst students, and for good reason. There’s a plethora of indoor and outdoor seating options and outlets abound, making it a good place for cranking out a paper or three. The music selection is good and versatile—I often don’t even wear headphones in there, which is saying something. The place feels cozy and warm in the winter but it’s also comfortably air-conditioned in the warmer months.
Although Rao’s can’t beat Black Sheep in the food arena, it comes in a close second. Their cookies are really good and come in a wide variety of flavors. Their croissants aren’t quite as buttery as their Black Sheep counterparts, but have a certain refined straightforwardness to them that I certainly enjoy. They’ve also got a fair sample of pre-made sandwiches for those who dedicate meal-time to work, and I know I’m a fan of the Caprese.
When it comes to drink selections, Rao’s has a lot going for it. They’ve got a wide array of hot teas, an impressive iced tea selection, and some damn good lemonade. However, coffee drinkers have some mixed feelings about its brews. Rao’s ranked near the bottom for most people searching out a simple cup of joe, but it does seem to dominate the espresso market. Dan Adler ’14 sums up his thoughts: “I’d find myself there when I wanted something a little more complicated. Iced coffee with an espresso shot, blended coffee (milkshake kind of deal).”
Despite qualms about its coffee quality, Rao’s still maintains its status as a study destination for Amherst College, UMass students, and locals alike. It’s open almost as late as AmCo, and its lighting never leaves me squinting to get some articles read. It’s also in prime location for people living on The Hill, which may not matter to you now, young students, but may in the future. You’ll end up there at some point. I’d say make it sooner rather than later.
Okay, so if you haven’t noticed, there are other places in town I decided not to give a full rundown. One is Starbucks. But, let’s be frank, you know what Starbucks looks like, I know what Starbucks looks like and we all know what they serve. I’d encourage you to explore the local options first—but hey, I understand that Frappucino craving more than anyone. There’s also The Works, a relatively new spot. I went in there for the first time a few days ago and rather enjoyed myself. I got the Green Machine, some green sort of smoothie which I generally hate but I’m trying to #trynewthings, and I LOVED IT. They’ve also got a decent bagel selection, and don’t tell me they’re not like New York bagels, because everyone knows that and nobody cares. They do have a more “corporate” feel to them, but as far as I know they’re a pretty small chain, and it hasn’t hurt the quality of their options.
So, that’s it. I clearly care too much about this, but maybe, now, you do too. I’ll see ya around.