The four coffee shops on the Corner have become second homes to many UVA students. Their relaxed atmospheres and chill music selections make Starbucks, Grit Coffee, Corner Joe, and Sheepdog Café the perfect places to study when you need a break from Club Clem. And, let's not forget the most crucial part: caffeine.
The Corner's coffee shops keep UVA students fueled all year round with (slightly concerning) doses of caffeine. But, which coffee shop is the all-around Corner champ? I spent a semester visiting each Corner coffee shop and ranking them on atmosphere, food, price, and, of course, their coffee.
After spending many mornings at each coffee shop, I found that each café offered something unique and special. So instead of ranking these coffee shops in a competitive fashion, I decided to holistically evaluate each shop's strengths and weaknesses.
So, after much deliberation, here is the definitive evaluation of the Corner's most popular coffee shops:
Contestant 1: Starbucks
Starbucks' coffee always satisfies, but, as a national chain, it simply cannot live up to the smaller coffee roasters here in C'ville. The coffee tends to taste burnt, but its espresso drinks are consistently rockin'. In addition, they're constantly innovating on this front and boast an extensive menu.
One of the newest additions to the menu is the Cascara latte, the perfect balance between fruity sweetness and bitterness and is a definite must-try, while the chai tea latte also has a lot of flavor and was surprisingly the best of all four coffee shops. The flavor of Starbucks' coffee doesn't live up to its opposing coffee shops, but the convenience factor makes Starbucks a reliable home base.
With both upstairs and downstairs seating, Starbucks is extremely roomy meaning you can almost always find a spot to work or chat with friends. The fireplace and big comfy leather chairs make you feel right at home, and, of course, there's free wifi.
At times, Starbucks can be a bit loud for studying, but pop some headphones in and you won't even notice. Plus, there's a separate space upstairs that's typically reserved for quiet work. The music selection can vary from day to day (be prepared for 24/7 Christmas music in December) and sometimes it gets a little repetitive, but Starbucks can definitely come in handy during exam season when they are open late-night.
I could legitimately eat at Starbucks for every meal and be a really happy camper. Starbucks offers a variety of foods, from pastries to sandwiches, and bistro boxes. My personal favorite is the breakfast sandwiches–every good morning begins with a bacon, egg, and gouda. Warm pastries and hot coffee is a definite match made in heaven.
Wondering more about Starbucks food? Check out the real DL about their new menu items here.
Starbucks is notoriously pricey, but check out these hacks to save serious money on your coffee order. Signing up for the rewards program is definitely the way to go–if you drink coffee as often as I do, you'll accumulate tons of stars in no time and earn free drinks. Paying with the Starbucks mobile app on your phone is super convenient, especially since carrying cash is a thing of the past. The app also allows you to order your drink in advance (yes, that means skipping the line. So clutch).
Contestant 2: Grit Coffee
This comfy stand-alone coffee shop definitely takes artisan coffee to the next level. But coffee newbies, be warned: the first time I went to Grit, I ordered a "macchiato" thinking I'd get a Starbucks-esque latte, but I ended up with a shot.
Don't make my mistake. Learn how to decode coffee jargon here. But seriously, once you've learned how to order at Grit, you'll be addicted.
Grit's coffee is nicely brewed and the cute mug made me feel like I was sipping on my morning coffee in my living room. The latte was a bit bitter and strong for my liking, so I ended up adding a ton of sugar and making it taste like candy. Safe to say I was buzzed for hours afterwards–definitely the strongest of the four lattes I tried. The chai latte doesn't have as much flavor as I was expecting, but man is it pretty (pictured above). Overall, Grit's coffee was solid.
Grit's bright and warm shop is set apart from the craziness of the Corner on Elliewood Ave, making it the ideal place to get away. The cozy eclectic furniture, the chalkboard mural, and the sound of whirring espresso machines provide the perfect backdrop for studying. And if you order "for here," you'll get your coffee in a cute vintage mug that'll make you feel right at home.
While Grit has both upstairs and downstairs seating, space is limited and it can be harder to find a spot than at Starbucks; but in the warm weather, there's tons of space at tables outside. The music selection is always a 10/10: Grit plays chill hipster music that won't distract you from your work. Make sure to connect to the free wifi network (the password is at the counter) because you'll definitely be coming back to Grit soon, especially during finals season.
Grit has a case of pastries and even offers a selection of tacos from Brazos Tacos. The cookies are the size of your head (literally). While the Grit location on the Corner doesn't have a huge food selection, its shop downtown has a whole food menu that makes it perfect for a casual brunch.
Like Starbucks, Grit can be pricey, but it totally depends on what you're ordering. A medium drip coffee is only $2.50, but once you start getting fancy with espresso, you're looking at $4.25 for a medium latte.
Grit usually has deals on the Hooked app, so you can save a dollar or two on your morning coffee. You can also get Grit delivered right to you via OrderUp if you're too lazy to try to make your Keurig coffee taste gourmet.
Contestant 3: Corner Joe
Even if you haven't visited its Corner location, you've probably tried Shenandoah Joe coffee before; it sells wholesale to tons of other locations on the Corner. If you get seriously addicted, you can even buy Shenandoah Joe coffee, tea and merchandise online.
Wow. Just wow. The regular coffee is so flavorful on its own that I didn't feel the need to load it up with sugar. The espresso in my latte floated to the top so my first sip was a bit of a shock, but it mixed more with the milk after that to make it a balanced beverage. While Shenandoah Joe is best known for its coffee, I'm a sucker for its chai latte. It's wonderfully creamy and cinammon-y. If you're going to stay for a while, get your beverage "for here" and it'll come in a cozy mug just like it does at Grit.
#SpoonTip: if you love chai lattes but need a study boost, try a dirty chai, which has a shot of espresso in it.
Corner Joe is probably my favorite Corner coffeeshop to study in. It's quieter than the other two and, although it's a bit smaller, I've never had a problem finding a seat since Corner Joe gets less traffic. It also feels like being in a warm, nice-smelling library. The wooden tables are comfortable and perfect for working, and you may just be lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar.
Corner Joe probably has the smallest food selection of the four coffeeshops. It offers a selection of croissants, muffins, and cookies, but I'd rather visit its neighbor Arch's for a snack. The food that Corner Joe does offer is pretty great–next time you visit, try a pumpkin muffin with your coffee.
This is one of the least expensive Corner coffee shops, with draft coffee for just $1.75 and lattes for $3.10. Like Grit, you can find deals on Hooked and a stamp card that'll earn you free coffee if you're a regular customer.
Contestant 4: Sheepdog Café
The new and improved Sheepdog Café at the Graduate Hotel is just about everything I could want in a coffee shop. This haven is a little removed from the Corner just past Mellow Mushroom, so it's a perfect place to get away. And as an added perk, I have seen many actual dogs at Sheepdog Café.
The regular coffee and latte were both very flavorful and balanced. I'd definitely order them again, but the chai latte was disappointing. It had the weakest flavor of all four chais and was served lukewarm. The coffee was pretty good, but not as great as some other Corner shops.#SpoonTip: if you're trying to get #turnt after your study session, Sheepdog serves a variety of drinks on draft and specialty cocktails.
Sheepdog Café is as new and sleek as it gets. Not only is the atmosphere simply beautiful, but they've got two super long tables where students can study. Sheepdog also has the advantage of being nestled in one of Charlottesville's nicest hotels.
If Sheepdog's downstairs space is full, try the outdoor patio seating (which has live music some nights!) or the gorgeous upstairs game room complete with eclectic decor and ping pong tables. And this space isn't just for studying–at night, check out the Graduate's rooftop bar for killer cocktails.
Three words: homemade little donuts. I knew I was in for a treat when I walked into this cafe and smelled fried dough and powdered sugar, but I had no clue that mini donuts would become my go-to study snack. Sheepdog fries them to order behind the counter and tops them with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar, and you can even upgrade your little donuts with Nutella.
Trying to find more luxurious donuts in Charlottesville? Check out Duck Donuts' maple and bacon donut.
Mini donuts aren't the only food that Sheepdog offers. Its hearty sandwiches are also very popular, as well as its avocado toast. Talk about the perfect study snacks. Stay into the night and eat dinner at Heirloom Restaurant upstairs, which is a restaurant nice enough to take your parents to when they're in town.
The prices at Sheepdog totally depend on what you're ordering. I paid $2.77 for an earl grey tea. I could've gotten a small coffee for that much money. A small drip coffee is $2.25 and a small latte is $3.25, so the coffee is reasonably priced. And a whiskey shot is only $3? Talk about a deal. Sheepdog also opens super early, 6:30 am, to be exact, so it's the perfect place for day-of exam cramming.
The conclusion? They're all great for different reasons. Here are some of my superlatives:
Best place to grab your morning joe when you're already 10 minutes late to class: Starbucks
Best place to meet your next hipster boyfriend and bond over your mutual admiration for indie music: Grit Coffee
Best place to actually study: Corner Joe
Best place to pretend to study while actually admiring the tasteful decor and eating mini donuts and watching puppies walk by: Sheepdog Café
So, there you have it, a definitive ranking of the Corner's four beloved coffee shops. Next time you need to escape the depths of Clem, try studying at one of these unique locations. Now go get your caffeine on.