Illustration: Robert Neubecker

Arriving back to a barren and student-less campus in early January for practices as a member of the women’s track and field team, I found the coffee shops of Nassau summoning me each morning, drawing me away from the comforts of my upperclass dorm or the bustling post-practice locker room. With the looming presence of internship applications and junior papers (not to mention a PAW column assigned for March’s special food issue), I fully embraced being a Princeton coffee groupie over winter break. Here’s what I found.

Sophie Steidle ’25
Sophie Steidle ’25
Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Steidle ’25

Princetonians take their coffee seriously, and they have plenty of vendors to choose from, including the iconic Small World, Starbucks on Nassau Street, stylish corner shop Sakrid, and other café storefronts scattered not far from campus. They also enjoy the student-run Coffee Club on Prospect Avenue and now in a New College West location. Founded in 2019, Coffee Club employs 60-plus student baristas and offers a wide selection of specialty drinks and pastries.

Kelly Park, a junior barista from Oregon, said Coffee Club has always been her primary place to go (and not just for the employee discount). It provides high-quality coffee beans with a focus on sustainability. “We are still working on trying to incorporate more sustainability-oriented practices into our packaging, but in terms of sourcing materials, we do a good job,” Park said.

I am typically a very basic Starbucks or Small World gal. The ability to accumulate many gift cards over the holidays makes Starbucks both an affordable and practical option, and its mobile ordering adds efficiency. Especially during the semester, when you only have time for a 10-minute coffee run, Starbucks is reliable for students — though it’s far from unique and has limited seating. Small World, another well-known option, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Princeton. Radiating cozy coffee shop energy and a louder atmosphere that makes group study sessions accessible, Small World has always been my go-to for off-campus studying (when there’s an available outlet to plug in my laptop).

During the break, I broke my routine and ventured to Earth’s End, an Illy café on Spring Street, and Sakrid Coffee Roasters, toward the western end of Nassau Street. Earth’s End offered a range of options, like Small World, and its location away from the strip of storefronts along Nassau made it seem like you were in an entirely different section of town. Sakrid’s atmosphere made for an efficient workplace for extended periods. And for someone who likes their coffee on the stronger side, the brew didn’t disappoint. At Earth’s End I ordered a regular drip coffee and found it to be very bold in flavor and less watery than at other cafés off campus. At Sakrid, I ordered a regular latte with whole milk and found it also strong, with just the right amount of frothed and steamed milk.

What do students look for when making their coffee selections? Angie Challman, a junior from Naples, Florida, said, “Quality plays a huge role. Some places on campus serve coffee that is not up to Coffee Club or Small World standard, and I usually avoid ordering from these places.” Challman makes lattes with the machine at her eating club, Charter, which saves on cost. “However, I still enjoy the environment coffee shops offer,” she said.

Park, a member of Tiger Inn, said her club has its own coffee chair, who “has been especially hardworking and has even brought in a wide variety of fancy syrups to customize our drinks.”

Daphne Banino, a sophomore from Sleepy Hollow, New York, is a fan of Sakrid but noted that the most affordable option for undergraduates is right in their dining halls, where the quality of coffee ranges from OK to “just murky water.”

Taking into account atmosphere, taste, and cost, my coffee exploration showed plenty of room for debate among Princeton’s connoisseurs. And with students’ enduring love of coffee (or caffeine addiction), those debates seem destined to continue.