Finding a Cambridge coffee home
An inner journey in pursuit of good coffee
* Writer’s Note (September 2020): Wow, how things have changed. Re-reading this piece, which as written pre-COVID, makes me feel as if I’m now in my late seventies, looking back fondly upon the simpler times of my youth. Ironically, I write this note while drinking jasmine tea, alone in my garden, which evinces of just how drastically life has changed since I wrote these words on coffee and community. While I deeply miss being around people in my coffee home, the times called for new realities and new ways of journeying. I hope readers are staying safe and remembering to support their local businesses, restaurants, and coffeeshops as much as possible so that they may remain fixtures in our communities into the future.
Many things in this life bring me immense joy.
Some of them are experiences—discovering a new song that will come to mark a phase of my life; wandering museums with my headphones on, getting to set the soundtrack to some of humanity’s most beautiful creations; waking up to the soft, pastel morning light of my childhood bedroom. I’ve wandered the world and, still, never found a light quite like the light of that particular latitude and longitude in the morning.
Some joy comes as a feeling—the feeling of a plane touching down in a new land that your little feet have never traversed, as if life were unfurling there on the runway, calling you to follow; the glorious feeling evoked by the afternoon sky of Madrid and its pure, vibrant blue the color of a 16th century Italian fresco. I’d swear that sky is the pool Narcissus found, except that instead of enchanting you to love yourself reflected, it draws you into something else, into a deeper love for all the magnificent life occurring beneath it and within you.
And other times, my joy is a material thing—model ships, cloisters, microscopes, mismatched pottery sets, or the perfect shade of red lipstick.
One of my favorite things, though, encapsulates all of these dimensions of goodness—an experience, a feeling, a something. It is a divine nectar, an ambrosia for students, a beverage that makes me feel lucky to exist and be able to partake of it. It can have different meanings for different people, but most of us know it as our reliable friend… a good, warm, frothy cup of coffee. Whether taken by morning or by evening, my quotidian cup of coffee is the climactic moment of my day. It is nuclear—all moments are drawn to it and anticipate it. And once it arrives, a peaceful sense of completion to my day ensues.
However, in the past few years, my love of coffee has extended beyond the beverage itself and into the culture surrounding it. Coffeehouses have become an essential part of my life and vital routines. They have turned into my places of study, my meeting points with friends, my chapels of solace and introspection, often the places I feel most at home, especially when my physical home is faraway, unfixed, or temporary. Nowadays, the places I go to drink coffee have come to be nearly as important as the drink itself. In a way, I collect cafés. I use them to understand the cities in which I live, my relationship to them, and myself. By comparing your café set with someone else’s, I think you can know a lot about one another, like the old adage goes about knowing someone by the company that they keep. Substitute “company” for “café,” and a whole worldview is articulated.
So, after moving to Cambridge in the fall, I knew I needed to seek out cafés to add to my roster. I needed to find coffee spots through which to understand Cambridge and my own identity and meaning therein. Also, perhaps most pressingly, I needed places to escape the intensity of libraries and the cage-like sensation I began to associate with home and campus. I needed sanctuaries to which I could make daily pilgrimages for the relaxed, removed environment for studying that I began to require for productivity as well as a general sense of relief. For some reason, I came to crave being surrounded by the moderate bustle of people going about their days in coffeehouses. Something in this bustle blanketed me with calm, a sense that everything was going to be okay, even when the chaos of my first MIT semester screamed to the contrary.
On the move to Boston last year, I remember thoughts surfacing like “which coffee houses in Cambridge will end up as my regular haunts?” or “Which places will have the best playlists? My favorite cappuccino?” In a way, I was questioning how my identity would merge with the city’s and how I would find “home” in the unknown. After an exorbitant number of hours (and dollars) spent in coffeehouses this fall, I’m happy to report that I’ve found my Cambridge coffee home
1369 Coffeehouse appeared on my preliminary Google search for “best coffee Cambridge, MA” a few days after arriving, and I went that very afternoon to check it out. I adored 1369 from the moment I pulled open the door, heard the little bell hung above it sound to mark the pilgrim’s entrance, and saw four clocks on the wall keeping time across various time zones of the world. Having just moved back to the U.S. from Madrid, this evidence of the part of my consciousness that was still six hours ahead made me feel less split up across continents, less severed in two.
Those clocks instantly enamored me of 1369, but in the coming months I would find there was so much more to love. I loved the way the mid-afternoon light shone through the front windows, casting steady, golden halos on the scene that faded gradually into an afterglow as the four clocks ticked on. Moreover, there was something special in its mix of patrons—some older people were pulled up to the window seats reading the paper or doing crosswords, some pairs chatted casually while sipping their drinks, others wore headphones and bent over thick textbooks laced with post-its, clearly hard at work accumulating knowledge, while still others sat alone typing steadily away at their computers, their faces illuminated by the blue-lit glow of the screen. The young people humming away behind computers were my favorite. They had the kind of focus and glint in their eye that made me think maybe they were writing the next great American novel or hacking our modern-day Evil Corps, Mr. Robot-style. I loved the cross-section of life before me—people together, people alone; some immersed in studying, some decompressing; some chatting, some intent in their silence.
This rich, expansive sense of community came to be my favorite part about 1369. It felt like regardless of what you wanted or needed to get done or of where you found yourself in life, 1369 would welcome you under their roof as part of their social fabric. This made me realize that finding and forming a community—not just escaping isolation but rather actively seeking belonging—is a core value of mine, something that I will continue to practice wherever I wander.
In the end, I probably spent about half my semester sipping something in this café. I also came to appreciate the variety of drinks they offer (think the best London fog you’ve ever had, chai lattes, Mexican hot chocolate, mulled cider in the fall), their cute holiday décor featuring twinkle lights and stockings for each barista hung below the drink board, and their monthly art displays featuring local artists. And with some of the best late-night hours around (open until 9pm Sunday-Thursday and 10pm Friday and Saturday), you can study contentedly into the night in warmth, in good company, and with a tasty drink in hand.
Maybe you are new to Cambridge, or maybe you already have a few years here under your belt. Wherever these words find you on your journey, I encourage you to find your Cambridge coffee home. Find that place that will witness and support the highest and lowest moments of your grad school journey. Find your community. Find your belonging. For the search for a coffee home has to do with more than just coffee. It has to do with taking the time to search for a deeper sense of self and a connection to the place you inhabit, which might just be the greatest joy of all.
(Below) A love note to 1369 Coffeehouse. (images my own)
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