Liberal? Conservative? Anarchist? Sexually frustrated? Who cares? Blue State Coffee may have a political agenda, but the superb coffee, atmosphere, and baristi deliver a winning experience that certainly gets my vote.
Open for less than a year, Blue State Coffee charges headlong into an ever increasing crowd of cafes eager to provide Rhode Islanders with their daily caffeine. While quantity is quickly entering the stratosphere, quality... not so much. The number of cafes was going up, and thus you'd expect competition to increase quality. Sadly, it seemed that that tenet of capitalism wasn't taking hold. Owners persisted in thinking that to operate a cafe, one required nothing more than an espresso machine, cups, and some tables.
I'm sorry, but if that's all you've got, don't bother. Go home and come up with something else, because the cafe business is definitely not for you. So many a time do I go into a cafe only to be served a latte that wouldn't pass for acceptable at a Starbucks, and that's exactly the point. Starbucks IS the bar. It is average. It's never bad, but it never truly excels. If you cannot be better than average, than you have no reason to exist. There are Starbuckses...es...'s... Stars-buck everywhere. You have to provide something that they don't.
That's what I get at CofEx, what I don't get at Felicia's, and what Blue State gives in spades.
Blue State's owners have obviously gone whole-hog. The interior is well-finished, large, airy, and plenty of seating and free wi-fi. I liked the edgier, more modern look to the design, as opposed to the wooden, earthy feel of CofEx and many other traditionally designed cafes. Some parts of interior are a bit bare, and the hard interior results in harsh acoustics. Escaping outside is always an option, with the nice, but unshielded from the skies, al fresco area raised from the street. If I was to pick a favorite design, it's still Coffee Exchange or Caffe Bon Ami, but this is certainly pleasant. Blue State has an ace up its sleeves, though: a different personality. Whereas other cafes are content with being just that, Blue State wants to be a vehicle of righteous change/indignation.
Their whole shtick is that they represent the blue (democratic) states as opposed to the red (republican) states. The inside is packed with political books, CD's, shirts, and those tireless warriors of the political battlefield, bumper stickers. They push a variety of liberal points, but thankfully they don't let this intrude on the business of making great coffee. They let it supplement the atmosphere and provide a sense of interaction with the customer. You can vote with small wooden chips as to which charity you want donations to go. You can monitor the progress on an update board situated just above the sugars and creams and look at the vote containers fill with chips. Blue State also advertises, more strongly than any cafe I can think of, their use of fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee. You certainly can't accuse them of not practicing what they preach. As opposed to the comically hypocritical Cuban Revolution. But as I said, this never intrudes on the business. If you disagree, it doesn't matter, because Blue State is still first and foremost a cafe.
And I liked it because of that. I liked BS... hehe... because it's very much a cafe. It doesn't try to be some restaurant-lite. It's primary purpose is the coffee and some drinks and goodies to go along with the coffee. The selection of goodies is sourced from a variety of local producers, including Seven Stars, but the selection remains pretty thin. They also have an assortment of hand-made waist-enhancers hand-made by locals. These can get pricey, though, with some small cakes hitting $7. These are what push BS from a two-$ to a three-$. Good, for sure, but still expensive, and way too lean for the morning routine. A panoply of juices, waters, and bottled drinks round out the small display and are the exact same drinks and juices you find at every other cafe.
Still, they're just the supporting cast. The real star is a coffee. Unlike so many cafes, BS flies high instead of falling on its face. Given to me was one of the best lattes I've ever had. Again, New Harvest takes some credit -it seems that everyone is using them at this point- but the pull was perfect, the texture of the milk was perfect, and the temperature was also the closest to perfect I've encountered in a cafe, 157 degrees. It didn't have latte art per se, but it was an attractive swirl pattern that made the drink especially attractive. In the world of espresso, the stuff I had was a dead-match for the drinks I regularly get at CofEx. Simply excellent.
So why not four stars, like CofEx? Because CofEx is more than just a cafe. It's a roaster, a supply house, an experience, and let's the belt buckles fly with a wider selection of bagels, cakes, and cookies. Still, even though Blue State is just a cafe, it's a cafe that produces some of the best espresso in the state, and is also more within walking distance of the area of Providence where shit actually happens. For all this, Blue State is well above average, touches brilliance with its drinks, and is one of your best bets for the morning buzz.
Blue State Cafe: ***1/2
Price range for two: $6-$10
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300 Thayer St
Providence, RI 02906
Monday through Friday 7:00am to 11:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 8:00am 11:00pm