Consuming the Culture of Kent’s Coffee

Nov 28, 2017

Words and Video by Marissa Nichol

As American coffee consumption continues to grow, the local cafe culture in downtown Kent creates an experience that is about more than just caffeine. 

People go to local cafes for shorter lines and drinks made with more time and effort.

We are surrounded by what some call the “third wave coffee movement” without even noticing it. The movement means people are paying attention to where coffee beans come from, how they are roasted and how coffee is brewed to create a premium product.

As prominent as coffee is in our culture, the charm in locally owned shops goes beyond the original drinks.

Although every coffee shop in Kent is centered around the same thing, each is unique. The difference in values, music and interior designs create specific communities for both regular and new customers.

Tree City Coffee & Pastry

Signature drink: Maple Latte

Tree City Coffee & Pastry is the medium between a hipster-filled coffee shop and a go-to for business meetings. A fireplace and wall of wine create a comfortable vibe throughout the space in the center of downtown Kent.

An earthy, modern feel is the exact middle-ground owners Mike Beder and Evan Bailey aimed for. Before opening, they investigated the “nuanced needs” of the town and university, and tried to embody a true community coffeehouse experience.

“That comes to life in a lot of different ways,” Bailey says. “A lot of it is just the space itself and trying to make a variety of different groups feel welcome. Basically, everybody is welcome here.”

Tree City’s “robust food offering” and drive-through is what Bailey thinks sets it apart from other local coffee shops. Unlike the thaw-and-serve style of other places, the baking takes place in-house for desserts, all-day breakfast items and a gourmet peanut butter and jelly menu for vegetarians.

The “classic peanut butter sandwiches” menu features six options, including the “Fluffernutter” with marshmallow fluff and “The Stelvis” with sliced bananas, bacon and honey. Other additions to the freshly ground peanut butter include trail mix and Nutella.

Aside from the edible perks of stopping in Tree City, Bailey expressed the importance of charitable giving. Each month, they choose a handful of requests to give as much as they can back to different groups. The groups include Kent City schools, the university, and police, military and fire personnel.

“We’re just really thankful that we get to be a part of this community because it really feels that way,” Bailey says. “I’ll drive by at night or something and I see it crowded in here. It always kind of still has that magic that it did when we first opened.”

Last Exit Books & Coffee House

Signature drink: The dollar mug of coffee

Last Exit is a used book store with its very own coffee house inside. The bookshelves blend into its coffee shop through the connecting doorway, creating a quiet atmosphere in downtown Kent.

Students, parents and Kent residents who have visited the store for years come in to shop for used books while enjoying some of the cheapest coffee options.

The menu offers a dollar mug of coffee with 50 cent refills and a rotation of coffee roasters, including Akron Coffee Roasters and Gray Duck Coffee. Miranda Greathouse, Last Exit Coffee House manager and Kent State junior, says not roasting in-house gives the community the opportunity to try new coffee.

“When you’re throwing back six cups of coffee in the morning it’s nice to have a cheaper refill,” she says with light laughter.

Even when the cafe is full, a quieter population of people is drawn to the space. Whether it’s because of the expectations of bookstore etiquette or its lasting reputation, people come here to read, write, work and be alone.

Once a semester, noise fills the shop with three bands for an acoustic night in partnership with Black Squirrel Radio. There are also other acoustic and jazz artists who come in and play for a couple of hours randomly.

Greathouse says the best part about Last Exit is its customers and their genuine contribution to shopping local.

“It’s nice because I feel like when you’re working at a more corporate place you don’t get to really connect with people and you don’t really get to know your regular customers, and I’ve gotten to do that,” she says.

Scribbles Coffee Co.

Signature drink: Turmeric Junior Bolt

Scribbles Coffee Co. is known around town as the coffee shop where you can draw on paper-covered tables with provided crayons. However, more identifiable characteristics of the shop are its emphasis on the locale’s support for local artists and musicians, and the baristas’ freedom to play their choice of music during shifts.

Customers are invited to sit in a variety of chairs and couches surrounded by artwork that rotates monthly from Kent artists. 

One particularly unique piece hanging is a large design of tree branches with what resembles pointed colored pencils at the end. The piece is titled “Five Points of View” by Marsha J. Keith.

Alyse Nelson, a Scribbles barista and Kent State junior, was drawn to finding out why coffee shops are a place people want to spend their time. She found the answer when she became a regular customer at Scribbles her freshman year and spent as much time in the shop as she did at home.

“It has a piece of home to it. It has some wear and tear and it’s cozy,” she says. “I think that makes it feel like a place that’s comfortable to come to.”

Nelson thinks the small, close-knit feeling of Scribbles sets it apart from the rest of the Kent coffee shops. She looks past the scribbling on coffee tables and sees room for people to work and spend a good amount of time and interact with each other.

Nelson sees a range of people from parents to students to come in but notices more gluten-free and vegan customers in the community. She says Scribbles is a go-to for people expecting those products. The menu provides all organic, health-conscious drinks and food items with time and thought put into each one.

Marissa Nichol is a reporter, contact her at mnicho34@kent.edu.