By Julia Grant
It was a smoky-gray, sleeting day in January when I first stepped into “lab,” a small, easily missed coffee house on Liberty St. Inside, I discovered a slightly cramped but cozy interior decorated with eclectic, mostly cream colored furniture. The place was packed, and there was a noticeable abundance of chunky glasses and oversized sweaters. Being a lover of chunky glasses and oversized sweaters myself, I took this as a good sign. Every table was taken, but there was a noticeable hush over the room. People chatted quietly or worked on their laptops. The soft music of D’Angelo could still be distinguished over the hum of the hipsters.
By the time I had soaked all of this in, the steam on my glasses had cleared up, and I could safely order my drink. On the way to the counter, I passed a small table with travel lids, coffee stirrers, and a glass dispenser of cucumber water. I was momentarily confused as I walked up to the counter and found that there were no menus posted on the large empty wall behind the cash register. There were a couple of small printed menus by the muffins though, featuring a variety of yummy items including cake, tea, and, of course, coffee.
The drink that caught my attention almost immediately was the Lavender Honey Latte, partly because it sounded like a delicious combination and partly because that was the latte advertised on the sign in front of the entrance. I quickly ordered it in a to-go cup and observed the barista’s complex process for concocting my drink. All of the fuss resulted in a fairly small cup of coffee that came without a lid, so I could admire the beautiful, milky artwork swirled into the foam. (Warning: It is very dangerous to give coffee cups, without lids, full of scalding hot, delicious lattes to over-eager coffee addicts; they will then try to immediately sip and end up spilling coffee on themselves.)
After getting some of my precious coffee on my (thankfully) black sweater, I gingerly made my way over to the quirky armchairs in the corner by the window. There, I was able to set my drink on a cool white marble coffee table and settle in to try the Lavender Honey Latte. It gave off a flowery aroma that mixed the sort of herbal scent of tea with sweet honey and really strong coffee. All of this was slightly tempered by the creamy steam rising from the cup. The fragrance did not prepare me for the flavor that awaited when I finally sipped my drink. At first, I couldn’t quite decide if I liked it. A second sip confirmed my suspicions. I definitely did not like this drink. The espresso and foam did not seem to be in balance with the extremely sweet honey that permeated the taste. I usually like things a little sweet, but the honey only served to completely mask what I’m sure was a very delicious coffee. Essentially, it was heartbreak in a cup of coffee.
Despite my disappointment with my beverage, the atmosphere of lab was so lovely that I decided to stay and do some reading for a class. The slight but not overpowering buzz of conversation made for the perfect study white noise. There was excellent natural light, and the chairs were very comfortable despite their worn, vintage appearance. As the night started to grow darker, small candles were lit and placed around the room. The flickering candlelight complementing soft interior lighting created an ethereal, dreamy atmosphere that made sitting there reading a textbook somewhat romantic, like something out of a novel.
I returned to lab a few weeks later, this time prepared with a good book and the knowledge that a plain coffee is the best way to order for my tastes. I selected the Intelligentsia Gaspard coffee from Rwanda which was described on the menu to have notes of apricot. This time I ordered it in a ceramic mug with the plan to stay for awhile. I settled into the same worn chair I had occupied last time and took a sip of my new order. It was shockingly intense and did indeed have an element of dried apricot. It was another flavor I never would have experienced had I not visited lab –– very rich, but maybe not one that I would order again. Still, I can’t wait to try another lab specialty on my next trip. I took another sip and concluded that lab has my kind of coffee chemistry.