The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Uncommonly classy coffee at Uncommon Grounds

By Aaron Brown

I think it’s fair to argue that we college students are particularly hip to coffee shop culture. Coffee shops give us a place to relax with our friends on an uneventful evening, study all night with the aid of caffeine, or conclude a perfect date.

Mac students are graced with the presence of a handful of coffee shops within our immediate vicinity. They range from the corporate conglomerate Caribou Coffee, the regional chain Dunn Brothers, and the local favorite Coffee News—all within spitting distance of the Campus Center.

With so many options, why would students want to leave the Macalester bubble for a caffeine fix?
The answer is simple. There are some freaking sweet coffee shops a little ways from campus that make for the perfect study destination, away from all of the temptations and distractions of life on campus.

This review is the first of an occasional series on coffee shops in the Twin Cities that are within relative proximity to Macalester, or those further away which deserve special attention.

I begin with Uncommon Grounds, the Victorian house-turned-bourgeois coffee shop in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. If you’ve ever wandered Hennepin Avenue, you may have noticed its banner proudly claiming to have the Twin Cities’ best mocha and chai.

I’m always impressed by the general ambience of the house. The mood lighting is relaxing, subdued, and dare I say romantic? However, the dark downstairs may prevent you from getting any real work done on that Poli Sci reading.

At Grounds, you may not see the interesting characters that you find at grungier coffee shops (to which, I must admit, I am partial). Rather, the patrons look like what my parents would have turned out to be had they not had children.

The prices for coffee definitely reflect the fact this is our parents’ sort of coffee shop.

The coffee comes in small sizes but with exorbitant prices. Four bucks for a ten ounce cup of chai? I recommend buying the large size of any drink; for most drinks, the large costs only fifty cents more but appears to be nearly twice the size.

Snide comments aside, Uncommon Grounds makes uncommonly refined coffee.

I tend to be dismissive of absurdly sweetened frou-frou drinks, but those at Uncommon Grounds are damn good. Perhaps the cups are small because your teeth would rot if you had any more.

On my most recent visit, I chose the Vietnamese Coffee, and I’m fairly certain that this sugary concoction could have come from the streets of Hanoi. A friend ordered a White Hot Chocolate, which could have been the remains of a melted candy bar.

On a previous visit I tried their chai and found it to be deliciously unique. Among the chais I’ve tasted, their’s was definitely worthy of its “Twin Cities’ Best” label.
It’s worth noting that Uncommon Grounds has gotten substantial criticism from reviewers on Citysearch for its abrupt customer service.

I found the staff to be only mildly stiff (why wouldn’t the barista make me a drink in my own mug?), but some reviewers have labeled the employees as downright rude, snobby and unfriendly. More than one reviewer warned of a strictly-enforced one-hour stay limit, and “icy” looks to anyone who wore out their welcome.

My experiences with the coffee shop have been sanguine and I’ve never been asked to leave, but I wouldn’t put it past the place to be a unfriendly to raggedy Macalester students.

In short, this upscale coffee shop may be a great place to take a pretty date after a movie on Hennepin Avenue, but most Mac students aren’t quite in that socioeconomic demographic. Most of us would feel blatantly cheated paying almost $5 for a ten ounce drink after a 45-minute bus ride up Lake Street. That being said, the sugary frou-frou drinks are delicious, and for a posh evening of sophistication in the city, Uncommon Grounds might make for a great place to occasionally indulge and feign being a classy member of high society.

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