A definitive ranking of Pioneer Valley coffee spots

Let this comprehensive review inspire your next coffee run

Zacharias+Korsalka%2C+Wikimedia+Commons

Zacharias Korsalka, Wikimedia Commons

By Ella Adams and Max Schwartz

It takes true coffee lovers to weather the western mass winter for a cup of joe. As natives from two coffee-driven cities, we put our self-proclaimed expertise to the test and sampled five great coffee spots around the University of Massachusetts. Four primary factors determined our rankings on a scale of 1 to 10: Taste, Price, Ambiance and Distance from campus. The two of us alternated between a small drip coffee and an oat milk latte to ensure we diversified our taste testing. Our rankings begin below from our lowest-ranked spots to our highest.

 

5. Black Sheep Deli & Bakery (6/10)

Taste: 4

Price: 8.15

Ambiance: 5

Distance: 7

Max’s review: For what looks like the quintessential college cafe, the Black Sheep sure does disappoint. The north-facing windows lend themselves to the perfect flow of sunlight, that is if you come before they close at 2 p.m. My 8 ounce drip coffee was more than affordable at $2.50 but the Black Sheep Blend did not agree with my tastebuds. My glorified cup of diner coffee was lackluster at best but with bargain pricing and only a little more than a mile from campus, you get what you pay for.

Ella’s review: While the Black Sheep’s natural lighting and interesting vintage framed photos surely stood out, its music hurt my head and the somewhat uncomfortable and sparse seating left the place feeling a bit empty. My oat milk latte was subpar; it leaned on the milky side and left a somewhat sweet aftertaste, but due to how little I could taste the espresso, there was no classic bitterness. A decent latte for non-coffee lovers who want to save some cash.

4. The Roost (6.8/10)

Taste: 8.3

Price: 7

Ambiance: 6.6

Distance: 5.5

Max’s review: Aptly named for a bird’s evening rest, this down-to-earth coffee shop was nothing out of the ordinary. Perched under a historic-looking building, the open-air atmosphere made for a spacious yet cozy drinking experience. A small oat milk latte will run you $4.50 but rest assured you’ll be served the divine coalescence of froth and coffee. Parking is scant and a bus from campus will take roughly 40 minutes but it’s worth a stop if you’re in Northampton for the afternoon.

Ella’s review: Some nice plants and friendly staff made The Roost a decent experience. My latte foam, however, disintegrated somewhat rapidly and the necessary espresso taste was not completely there, especially considering the music blasting throughout the cafe gave me yet another headache. The lightbulbs were another interesting choice on The Roost’s part, and the somewhat bare walls made it feel almost unfinished. A smooth latte, for sure, with a full taste for a pretty decent price of $5. For its distance (17-minute drive from campus), I’m not sure I would qualify a trip here specifically.

 

3. Cushman Market and Cafe (7.7/10)

Taste: 7.5

Price: 9

Ambiance: 8.5

Distance: 6.5

Max’s review: It’s hard to pass up on a cream cheese bagel and latte for just $7. This little taste of Amherst is imbued with the fresh smell of coffee, a welcoming scent after your fight for parking out back. Cushman’s is bucolic at its core; its wood-paneled walls and eclectic artwork will not try to convince you otherwise. Attracting both pajama-clad students and camo-covered trappers, this cafe brings all its patrons together with its unequivocal commitment to quality service. For an inexpensive fill and a welcoming ambiance, Cushman’s is nothing short of satisfactory.

Ella’s review: For a drip coffee, Cushman’s delivered at the lovely cost of under $3. Perfectly hot, with a slight bitterness and no burnt aftertaste. The service felt personal and the vibe of the cafe was enhanced by extremely unique art on both the walls and the tables. Being on the PVTA bus route only makes Cushman’s that much more of a destination, along with the large variety of breakfast and lunch options. All I will say: hash browns in a breakfast sandwich? Game-changer.

 

2. Amherst Coffee + Bar (7.9/10)

Taste: 8.25

Price: 5.5

Ambiance: 8.5

Distance: 9

Max’s review: Sitting quiet and close to Amherst’s busiest intersection, Amherst Coffee is what Share wishes it was. The high ceilings and large windows provide visitors with the perfect setting to taste Amherst’s best coffee. The coffee house delivers with its drinks but the pompous vibe is not so welcoming. Other than the high school, this feels like the only place in Amherst you might get dress coded. AmCo offers an exceptional latte, however its exceptionally high cost-to-size ratio distracts from their nonexistent food selection. Go here if you want a quality cup of coffee, and before you ask, no, they don’t have wi-fi here.

Ella’s review: This is coffee for the coffee lover. The light roast drip coffee I tasted at AmCo was a very strong cup with a pretty fruity initial flavor but zero bitter aftertaste. This is no diner drip coffee, and that is fully apparent in the relaxing music, high ceilings and Edison bulbs artfully decorating the bar area. The juxtaposition between the dark wood and bright green plants placed all around the cafe pair well with the exposed brick and quiet chatter from guests sitting at the high tables and booths. The price of a small coffee was not terrible at $2.41, but I do believe you get what you pay for. There’s no mistake: AmCo feels preppy and pretentious, though if it was regularly populated with anyone besides what seems to be Amherst College students, the atmosphere might shift.

 

1. Woodstar Cafe (8.1/10)

Taste: 9

Price: 7.7

Ambiance: 9

Distance: 7

Max’s review: This is where good coffee steeps. The exceptionally quick service and willingness to accept credit even though my purchase was less than $10 is a testament to Woodstar’s excellence. This animated cafe is broken up into three seating areas, each as unique and friendly as the other. I had my coffee black, and for a cup that typically jolts me awake in the morning, this warm hug of caffeine left me longing for more. Woodstar would be near perfect if it weren’t a 20-minute drive from campus. Parking is abundant, however, and it sits only a few minutes down the road from The Roost.

Ella’s review: Ah, Woodstar. My love, my life. To quote myself after my first sip of latte, “This is what coffee is supposed to taste like.” The drive to Woodstar, while lengthier than most of the places on this list, is worth what you get once you arrive: A perfect balance of espresso and milk, with substantial foam that does not disintegrate after the first few sips. The tanginess of the espresso comes through while being nicely tempered by the creaminess of the milk, all while being served in compostable to-go cups. This place feels local. Its bustle, color scheme and tiling compliments its exposed brick and impeccable lighting that comes through the large picture windows in the central part of the cafe. It is true that Woodstar only takes cash for orders under $10, but my 9.95-ranked latte cost me under $5. I’ll gleefully carry around a fiver for that.

 

Max Schwartz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @maxwschwartz. Ella Adams can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ella_adams15.