The Underground Coffee Shop: A review

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The third cup of coffee ever sold at the Underground.

It’s hardly surprising that a beverage with such a storied intellectual history–something something Enlightenment coffee shops exchange of ideas AP European history–should be so popular at Brown. Coffee, and with the businesses it fosters, is an integral part of College Hill, from the shops that dot Thayer and Wickenden to the syrupy coffee-milk that is a unique staple of the beautifully strange state of we live in.

And yet there’s much to suggest that the coffee scene here isn’t quite as unified as it could be; witness the trek necessary to get to Dave’s Coffee and/or Coffee Exchange, the lackluster options at Starbucks and Blue State, and the plainly mediocre stuff they serve at campus establishments (RIP Bear Buzz).

Most campus establishments, that is. The Underground, which opened Monday, appears to be the coffee shop that College Hill both deserves and needs. It combines the geographic centrality of the Blue Room, the expertise of Dave’s Coffee (which supplies the roasts themselves), and the enthusiasm of the Brown/RISD Coffee Society (who were consulted for proper brewing methods).

The brainchild of founders Katie Murphy ’16, Yousef Hilmy ’16, and Viktor Gavrielov ’15, and constructed in collaboration with Brown Student Agencies and Dining Services, The Underground was envisioned as a gathering space for students. Filled with comfortable couches and student artwork on the walls, the Underground has the potential to reclaim the lost vibes of the days when the space used to be an actual bar (no word yet on whether they’re planning to serve the Narragansett-Autocrat collaborative ‘Coffee Milk Stout’).

It makes sense that the Underground’s origin story should–as is often the case of so many other startups–involve filling an as-yet-unfilled niche. This it does simply and admirably, and it’s easy to see how the space could transform over time into a comfortable hub of student life.

The coffee is even better. The house roast is an Ethiopian blend–something something Kaldi the highland goatherd agitated goats the discovery of coffee–and comes in medium or large (they evidently learned from the absurdly tiny ‘small’ cup sold upstairs at the Blue Room, which has doubtless inspired countless ‘what is this?! a coffee for ants?!’ jokes throughout the eatery’s existence). While other brews are yet to be sold, the plain Ethiopian blend is tasty and, at $1.75 for a medium cup, cheaper than most other options on campus.

There’s a moral appeal to the Underground as well: most of their materials are fully compostable and they offer 25¢ discount if you bring your own mug for coffee or Farmacy teas. Moreover, they have made no indication that they will be writing #racetogether on your cup before proceeding to engage you in a conversation about race relations in America at the till.

The takeaway? Stop by the Underground in order to support fellow students and enjoy coffee that is tasty, convenient, and environmentally friendly. The Underground will be open from 9-2 on most days, but will be throwing an opening party from 7-10 PM today. Stop by to find out more, or check out their Facebook page.

Image via Liam Trotzuk ’16.

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