coffee shops.

Maybe I would not have started liking coffee so much if not for my roommate, who worked at the campus coffee shop. It was a very convenient gig for her, as the shop was located in the Student Union, mere steps from our dorm. And that made it very convenient for me to drop in when she was working and order something with my roommate's discount. To get the roommate discount, you have to a.) have a roommate working in the shop and b.) go around to the side to order, rather than the register. Obviously, if it's very busy or if the manager is standing right there, the roommate discount does not apply.

Even without abusing the discount, I went and got coffee there often enough. I had this magical thing called a "meal card" that I could swipe in exchange for caffeinated beverages; it was like they were free! It was at Crossroads that I got into the sweet drinks; my favorite was the Grasshopper, which is the beautiful flavor friendship of mint and chocolate, hanging out inside a latte. I was there so often that I knew who made the best drinks, because all baristas are not created equal. I had a particularly transcendent experience with a Grasshopper one Tuesday morning before my Anthropology class. It was made by an immaculately dressed man, and from that, I came to the conclusion that gay guys made the best coffee.

Jimmy's Java
Jimmy's was located on King Street, the main drag through downtown Boone. Or rather, King Street is downtown Boone. That shop was something else before that and now it's something else again, but for about a year, it was Jimmy's Java. They had a deal for a 16 ounce drip coffee for a dollar, which I would enjoy on the mornings when I hit the snooze button one less time than usual and could afford a nine minute caffeine detour on the way to class. It was there that I started to recognize the difference from one coffee to another. My favorite was the Nicaraguan. Sometimes, on those evenings when I would take myself out to the $1.50 movie after a long day of waiting on tourists, I would stop at Jimmy's on the way back. I would order decaf, which is how you know that you really, really like coffee.

Jimmy's closed just as it was starting to get regulars. Apparently, it's hard to pay your employees when you're only charging a dollar per customer. And so they just didn't, which meant that all their employees quit.

Espresso News
Espresso News is a Boone institution. It lived in a building on Howard Street that used to be a Ford dealership. There are pictures on the walls of its former life, and you can just recognize the building behind all the banners and posters for Zero Dollars Down. I started going there when Jimmy's closed. It was always good, but somehow a little too hip for me. And then I moved out to the country, so there was less downtown coffee for me.

When I lived in Winston, I enjoyed Starbucks more as an excuse than as a coffee shop. It was a Get Out of Work Free card, a way to kill half an hour with a few friends in the name of morale. There was no standing appointment, just someone would decide that right now would be a great time for some coffee that did not come from the break room. And then that someone would round up other interested parties and we'd head down to the one on Stratford Road, across from the Thruway. One thing I missed at my job in Raleigh was those impromptu trips to Starbucks. Either they weren't happening, or I wasn't in the circle.

Then another young female came to work here, and I started my own circle. We go to Starbucks on Friday afternoons, where I get a drip coffee in a travel mug, and she gets something non-fat. We talk about the weekend, music, and health care policy. We are not close, but it's still nice to be in a circle, particularly one with coffee.

There are several things you can get at Taylor's, including wine, beer, and live bait, but I like the coffee. The full name is Taylor's Wine and Bait Shop, and it's located inside a BP station. Taylor's started out with just bait, supplying people going up to Falls Lake to fish. But then North Raleigh kept expanding, so Taylor's added a biscuit grill in the morning for the people building houses and a wine shop for the people who would live in them. They also have Slim Jims and candy bars, just like any other convenience store.

It's not a true coffee shop; there are no baristas. Just like the pumps, the coffee is self-service. There is a counter full of thermal canisters, each labeled with a laminated sign. The best ones are made with Larry's Beans, a Raleigh-based company. There are usually three or four of Larry's coffees sitting out, including "Taylor's Blend." Its sign features the Taylor's logo, a worm in a tin can, drinking a glass of wine. Last Christmas, I even bought a bag of Taylor's Blend beans to drink at home.

I stop at Taylor's on Saturday mornings when my yard sale route takes me past Six Forks Road. Or maybe I plan my yard sale route so that it does.

I consider Taylor's to be "my" coffee shop, as do the old men sitting on the porch in rocking chairs and the young professionals who stop at the produce stand in the parking lot. It's close to my house and has that small town charm that seems hard to find in North Raleigh. But you can find it, and Taylor's success is proof that people are still looking for it.

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