Spring Break 2018: Café Adventures in Cambridge, MA

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

One year ago, I ventured off to a different continent and spent the entirety of my spring break exploring London, Paris, and More.

What a blessing that was! I look back at those pictures and am dazzled by how much ground my two feet had covered. Little by little, one travels far.

While I would gladly hop on a plane again, take my phone off the hook, and disappear for a while, some things have changed this year.

For one thing, I am now the proud owner and caretaker of Jet Hemingway, a big black cat I adopted in early February from the Ellen Gifford Cat Shelter.

Secondly, I am very much struggling with my academics this semester. 2018 did not start out easy, and I’m still holding on only by God’s grace and provenance. Already I have been humbled multiple times, learning to lean not on my own understanding, and coming to see my wordly achievements (and lack thereof) as independent to the definition of my worth in God’s eyes.

Lastly, I am still going strong, but I am growing tired in body and spirit. I’ve been fighting my own mind for so long, both before and after I came to terms with my diagnoses, which are obstacles to my mental health. Therefore some rest, plain and old-fashioned, should do me some good.

Thanks to my sisters at Symphony Church, I had things to go to for four of the first five days of break. But I was having some real trouble getting work done. Come Monday, I decided to leave campus by myself and get into Boston.

Tatte Bakery & Café

I’ve known about this place for well over three semesters now. Having walked past several of them while wandering about Boston, and having it personally recommended to me by friends, I was eager to start my time off campus here. I went to the one near Kendall Square for convenience. (~6 min. walking time)

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Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

View their menu.

I got the MEM Moroccan Mint green tea in a pot, which set me back $4.25, opposed to $2.25 for just tea in a cup. For a refill of hot water (that’s ~four large cups of tea total!), the three hours of wi-fi, and three bathroom visits, I left feeling pretty content.

The place is also ~aesthetic~. I wanted to buy a few pastries just so I could get some pictures of them next to my tea tray, but decided against it in the end.

Lots of people came in to grab lunch or coffee with friends, but there were a few others (like me) who wanted to get work done while enjoying something nice. Three of us ended up huddling together at the same table. It got pretty noisy during lunch hour, but there were always people coming in and out before and after.

 Flour Bakery & Café

I brought some biology homework and my Moleskine along for the ride this time. Flour has multiple sites in Boston. The one I went to was just along Mass Ave, a footfall away from MIT.

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Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

View their menu.

To start, I had one of their monthly drink specials, a frothy “Mint Matcha Latte with Homemade Mint Marshmallow” ($4.25).

Since I hadn’t had anything to eat before coming, and because I’d end up camping at Flour for several turns of the clock, I went ahead and ordered their roasted lamb sandwich ($9.50) with a large chai spice latte ($3.75), and called it a brunch. I also grabbed some almond milk from their condiments bar.

People tended to come and go rapidly, and the servers always had customers to attend to. The drinks were made quickly, but the sandwich line spanned half the length of the store at the busiest time. During my ~four hours, I lost count of all the different people, young and old, who sat alone or held a conversation next to me.

There was a man who genuinely looked upset to be disturbed from his introspection when I kneeled in my chair to snap a photo of my spread. The guy previous to him shrugged and watched my bag while I went to the bathroom. There was a woman who spoke French so quickly on her phone, that even I struggled to pick out the individual words. There was an Asian couple (or friends?) who both got soup and bread. There was a tall, business-like man, who came up next to me with a tiny espresso cup and a slice of cake, and packed up immediately after his last bite. There was a gentleman who quietly read the paper while munching on salad.

An endless stream of entertainment. At a certain point, my eyes glazed over when I tried to continue doing my work, so I just sat there and took it all in.

Afterwards, I roamed the street, stopping at Boomerangs to pick out some treasures. Not only did I find four nice skirts to add to my spring and summer wardrobe, I got a hanging light bulb that I would refashion into a DIY lamp that night, with the rusting iron ring stand that I salvaged earlier in the month from the chemistry department.

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

I even gave myself a photo shoot that night, under my new lighting!

I went into Artist & Craftsman Supply for the first time. I emerged with a rekindled lust for new journals and sketchbooks, and a can of spray fixative for my charcoal doodles.

Darwin’s Ltd.

By now, I could feel myself getting into a nice rhythm. Un café par jour. Nice.

This one was just a block away from the Flour Bakery on Massachusetts Avenue. Of their three sites in Cambridge, I wanted to peek in this one because it’s next door to Abide, a promising local boba place that I would also love to visit soon.

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiemImage by Sun Requiem @sunrequiemImage by Sun Requiem @sunrequiemImage by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

View their menu.

Darwin’s specialty coffee utilizes their uniquely invented brewing method:

“For our brewed coffees, we wanted to get the pour-over flavor, without the pour-over wait.  For that we invented the Conical Brewing System.  It mimics the single-cup, conical pour-over method for precise quality & flavor extraction, but on a much larger scale.  That feature, enhanced with fresh, reverse osmosis-filtered water provides a tasty and uniquely Darwin’s, cup of coffee.  All other high-volume brew machines in the country – that we know of – have flat-bottom filters that don’t maximize flavor potential.”

Honestly, coffee is just coffee to me. I got a medium cup of Joe and rented out a space on the long table by the window. When the noon sun got to be too much, I moved further inside and ordered their Peanut Butter Mousse Cake. The barista smiled at me and told me that was his favorite dessert here.

The place felt a lot more roomy and less branded than either Tatte or Flour.  I actually had space to comfortably put all the things I needed to work with on the table. There were always a few empty chairs and tables, so I wasn’t constantly surrounded by people left and right, and there wasn’t a real lunch hour rush. People took their time here. Because of this, I felt okay with spending the early afternoon there.

I felt more at home here, because I was less overwhelmed by noise and movement. Maybe I’m just getting stronger nerves, but I felt much less judged for taking videos of the scene.

Darwin’s branding also makes it seem less of a chain and more of a local haunt. Their water was labeled “Dihydrogen Monoxide”, which made me smile out loud.

This is also the place where I planted myself down and churned out my latest post: Ha Ha, Of Course I’m A Feminist!

Taking myself out like this seems to be doing me good. I’m starting to believe I’m worth the money and the calories. I order things not for their nutritional value now, but because it’s what I want to try. The city stimulates me and allows me to practice interacting with people under low stakes.

I took a day off on Thursday and rested in my college town.

1369 Coffeehouse

Honestly, this was the best place I went to all week. Before I left that afternoon, I bought four of their stickers, which is really saying something.Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

This 1369 site is two doors down from Life Alive, which was the first Cambridge cafe I remember ever coming to, nearly two years ago. Both places are pretty bomb.

I enjoyed my experience partially because I had an entire window to myself, with this lovely street view:Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiemImage by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

I felt so much at home here, I pulled out my journal, and doodled for hours (literally).

I ordered a medium Vietnamese Coffee ($3.85), which essentially is a mix of sweetened condensed milk with dark coffee, and then later their soup of the day, a nice hearty 3 Bean Chili Bowl ($5.75), which came with homemade toast or crackers.

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiemImage by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

Image by Sun Requiem @sunrequiem

View their menu.

I really felt more like a part of the neighborhood here. Things were far more relaxed and calm, and the items were cheaper. I bobbed along to their playlist, which had Air Supply, Journey, and other oldie goldies, and once in a while, I could hear someone in the back singing along.

Across from the bathrooms, they had some local artists’ work hanging for sale. Most of the tables were for two, and nobody who came here was in a hurry, unlike many of the other places in the area.

Crema Cafe

I came to Crema with my cousin, and we ended up at a table for two on the upstairs level, doing work for nearly three hours.

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View their menu.

I got their Quinoa Salad ($8.75) with one of their specialty drinks, a medium Peaches n’ Crema Tea Latte ($3.80).

The “nice” thing about Crema is that they don’t have WiFi. This forced me to plan what kind of work to bring before arrival, and also to stay on task during my time there.

The place is pretty packed, and borderline claustrophobic. It’s popular for a reason! I do like the location, with street performers and all sorts of other shops in the heart of Harvard.

And the weather was absolutely beautiful! Saturday was the day it truly felt like the “spring” in “spring break”.

Well, now I know what I know. I didn’t have to fly off to another continent in order to experience a vast array of people and several variations on the same space.

Not that the time I spent in transit wasn’t significant either. At the most, I would have to spend two hours of the day swaying in a giant green bus, contemplating my life, listening to nearby conversations, and avoiding motion sickness, as the wheels churned over the same daily route.

But, at a time in my life when I was having trouble enjoying, or sometimes even just tolerating my own presence, these trips got the gears moving slowly again. When I was frightened by the things happening in my own little world, getting out of that helped me find freedom from those fears, at least for a little while. When I wanted nothing else but to lie in bed until nightfall, I got something to do every day.

You know, a lot of work that is important, isn’t academic. Often in that work, there’s no eureka moment. My progress is invisible, and slow, but it’s powerful. And I trust that it will bear sweet and beautiful fruit some day.

Finally, Happy Easter! May this season fill your hearts with joy and hope.

Keep adventuring!

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