chestnut hill coffee company

This was a ways off.

Specifically, it was 7.7 miles northwest from my home in northwest Philadelphia. So, this was really northwest. The Uber pool would have costed $10. The Uber X would have cost $18. The walk would have cost me my legs. Thankfully, I was still at the age where my dad was still willing to give me rides around without charging me a fare.

I came in order to meet my creative writing thesis adviser for the first time. I had never spoke to her in person before; she, among others, had been recommended to me by my major adviser. I had decided to ask this person for permission to nominate as my thesis adviser because she had taught fiction writing for over twenty years. Her only novel was about music. And, seeing as I also want to write about music in the form of a novel, I thought that the pairing would be appropriate.

Chestnut Hill Coffee Company had two stories. Beside it was a restaurant that sold pizzas at an affordable price, at least, from the prices I have been used to. I arrived at 11 am for my 2:30 PM meeting because it was the only time that had been convenient for my dad to drop me off. I ordered their house blend, which came in a thick ceramic mug. The downstairs area had been mostly filled, so I took the mug upstairs with me and sat next to the large window that faced towards the street. Through the window, I could see a local branch of Santander next to a building reminiscent of a town hall from Mother Goose tale. The sounds of cars wooshed past me. A tram track linked with concrete ran through the cobblestone roads.

There were very few people talking. The only notable conversation had been a group of three sitting two tables down from me. They were speaking in French. But, from their accents, it seems as though their French had been picked up sometime later in their lives. Their pronunciation of oui had a stringing piercing quality to it, as if the “we” dragged on a tad longer than it should have. The syllabic distributions did not seem subtle; allez sounded more like “a-lay” than “allay”. They also filled words that they did not know with English. If I were to be quite honest, it reminded me a bit of how I used to speak French in high school. Nevertheless, it was quite different from the mass of French that I had heard this past semester.

I spent the three hours before my meeting studying Case In Point, which marks the 5th day since I started studying for case interviews. It is quite a fascinating book really. I expected studying for case interviews to be like studying for the SATs. After all, both happen within my penultimate summer of education. But, in a pleasant surprise, the two do not seem similar at all. I did not want to take the SATs in the sense that I would never choose to study for the SATs given my own free will, but I don’t know if I could say the same with cases. I actively actually enjoy cases, and I would be quite grateful if I could do this for the rest of my life. But, who knows?

I did not think too much of the coffee. I have found it difficult lately paying attention to some of the subtleties of life. Perhaps it could be my stress about the upcoming recruitment cycle. Perhaps it could be my sadness spilling from my feelings of loneliness. I find little meaning in drinking coffee anymore, other than to help from succumbing to jetlag. Even water no longer has the same energy that it once had in my mind. Although I have not identified my life as “vibrant” for some time, it always seems to me that my taste for drinks would remain immune to such endogenous changes. But now, it seems as though my indifference had been a disease spreading all along, conquering one bit of my life at a time.

black sheep coffee and cocktails

I would describe the shop as “trendy but woody.” I would imagine that the majority of people who Unlike some other shops around Philadelphia such as Elixr, the interior of Black Sheep had been decorated with rather light toners of wood with colorful graffiti portraits throughout the stone walls and wooden furniture. The chairs on which I am sitting is composed of a flat wooden circle with a couple of thin metal parts propping it up.

I ordered an Arabica blend from Papa New Guinea. The initial hit had been quite bright, but after I became acquainted with the initial taste, the fruity tones settled across the sides of my mouth, leaving the aroma of blueberry and blackberry in my mouth by the time that my gulp had settled down my throat. It was the first coffee that I have had in awhile, as I have been drinking tea made in my flat for the past couple of months. It was quite a refresh of the life that I had left behind.

Some people are talking about Brexit besides me. I probably should care about Brexit since I am here in the UK during Brexit negotiations. It is also a world event that has continuous headlines in the Wall Street Journal every now and then. But, for some reason, I just don’t care, and I can’t convince myself to feel bad about that.

A couple of days later, I ordered an Ethiopian blend that supposedly had the same fruity tones, but I was unable to perceive them. It is in these moments I come to realize that there are limitations to my abilities to taste coffee. Or, perhaps, there is nothing to taste at all. It would seem that I am approaching the limits of subjective truth. Without the ability to perceive objective truth, I am at the limits of my existence as a mortal being.

While I sit here writing my essay on love, death, and violence in Romeo and Juliet, which encompasses almost all the topics in literature that I care about, I listen to the deep house track that plays in the background. Some conversations buzzed besides me. Some people in suits. The smell of cheese in the air. The window blowing from the glass door opened to my right. The loud whopping of two police sirens fading as quickly as they appeared. Life.

The counter had been littered also with a various bottles of alcohol, as the coffee shop converts into a bar at night. I appreciated the vibe — a space to serve coffee that turned into space to serve alcohol, if the integrity of the functionality of a coffee shop is maintained. I suppose it is quite a vibe — a coffee shop that turned into a bar at night. I wonder if there is anything quite the same in Philadelphia, which I have come to miss a bit by now.

Conspicuously littered across the entrance was a phrase, ‘#LEAVETHEHERD’. I suppose it really does justice to its name.

grindcore house

Heavy metal softly played in the background. It’s the same vibe as Blackbird Pizzeria, another Philadelphian, vegan, heavy metal restaurant without, of course, the pizza. I couldn’t possibly imagine myself spending significant amounts of time here; it seemed like an interesting tourist destination, but throughout my short stay, I felt a constant disconnect between the culture of the store and myself.

For one, I am not vegan. I also do not listen to metal. At least, regularly. Although I can appreciate the unique qualities of the coffee shop, to me, I feel as if I should have some sort of longing for the intricate attributes before I integrate the time I spend in my shop into my personality. But here, I cannot help but feel as if I don’t belong. Because, no matter earthy the coffee tastes or how hospitable the staff is, my yearning for some sort of solace never comes to me.

It’s a sensation I have become quite accustomed to — existing, but never quite enough. It’s the part of me I wish I could change, an irritation found deep within my being that can never be resolved, a gentle but relentless hum in an otherwise soft pattering of raindrops against my window. It’s metal and foreign, yet somehow, so real. But I continue sipping on my coffee, letting the bitterness settle in.

ultimo coffee

I missed the bus on from 34th and South Street.

I decided to skate.

Twenty feet in, I decided not to skate.

I arrived discomforted.


I ordered a dark roast.


There were no open tables.

I went outside.

I pulled out my computer.

My computer was hot.

It hadn’t slept.

Like me.

I shut it down and started sipping my coffee.

After a couple of minutes, someone inside leaves a table open.

I dart.

I set down my skateboard.

Collect my coffee.

And sit.

And sit.

After a few minutes of taking pictures, I buy a slice of lemon meringue pie.

The barista said it was good.

I believe the barista.

I went to retrieve a spoon.

My camera strap caught on to the end of the table.

And falls.



In a second.


Some people gasp.

Someone picks up my camera for me.


I don’t react.

I flipped the switch.

It doesn’t turn on.

I take out the battery and put it back in.

Turns on.

I try to take a picture.



And freeze.

rival bros coffee bar

The dark roast is labeled drip coffee on the menu.

It’s the company of the coffee that was served in the dining halls when I had first arrived at Penn. In that sense, the coffee is reminiscent of late nights studying in Craig Library, back during a time when two cups of coffee per day had been considered more than I could handle. A difficult time, for sure; I still consider MATH 114 to be one of the hardest classes I have ever taken, but it was also a time when I considered my academic and social lives to be the biggest sources of stress in my life.

Sugar on the Pill by Slowdive played on the speaker. My mind instantly drifted towards spring of this past year, when I had discovered dream pop as a genre. I wonder if my interest in going into the music industry incepted around this time as well. I wonder whether I had passed through the most formative parts of my life without quite taking in the unembellished delights of sipping on coffee with friends. I wonder if my life had passed the point where I could still appreciate the taste of coffee.

It’s funny how things change. But, here I am, still sipping the same dark roast.

peddler coffee


Quaint. Quiet. Quixotic.

Located around the corner from the Barnes Foundation, I found a corner store in the midst of a series of high-end row homes. I got off the bus at 21st and Market Street before skating a couple minutes north. A couple of charming row-houses lined the hill up to Spring Street. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same architectural firm designed the houses next to Rittenhouse Square, or any other part of Philadelphia built for the people who work next door in the skyscrapers of large corporations and banks.

The interior was small. The tables were clean. The customers were wearing suits.

I ordered a dark roast, but there didn’t exist a dark roast. All of their drinks were either espresso-based or pour-overs. I took the Brazilian blend because it was the cheapest option on the menu at the price of $3. It had a more of an earthy tone than the coffee I usually drink on a regular basis (mostly from Wawa), but it was also the feeling that I needed at the moment. A sense of stability in a tumultuous world filled with uncertainty. It also felt wrong paying $3 for coffee that did not end in -ino.

Next to the counter rested a flavor chart.

united by blue

It’s a sustainable clothing shop before a coffee shop. But, to someone like me who had never bought clothing from there, it had always been a coffee shop before a clothing shop.

It’s in University City, otherwise known as West Philadelphia before it had been renamed for rebranding and gentrification purposes. After all, I cannot imagine the administrators of Penn and Drexel to want to be associated with Philadelphia, the city where the median family income is not $100,000 a year. My friend once said, “People who go to Penn identify more with being a student in an Ivy League school than a citizen of Philadelphia.” What a sad thought.

United By Blue is next to a food court known as Franklin’s table, a series of expensive fast-food chains that had previously replaced the Taco Bell that was there my freshman year. The cheapest thing from is a falafel sandwich for $7. They do not accept cash. But I suppose the Penn students who frequent there wouldn’t really mind. After all, cash is much less convenient than a credit card paid by parents.

I wonder what shop was there before United By Blue. Perhaps it was a clothing shop that preferred to sell cheaper clothing before ethical practices. Perhaps it was a restaurant that sold a hamburger for the price of a cup of dark roasted coffee. Perhaps it was just empty. Whatever the case, the expansion of three times its previous size within the past year makes me wonder whether there could exist stores in University City that did not cater towards college students.

But here I am, sipping a cup of coffee and thus implicitly supporting the structural changes to this area of West Philadelphia. I suppose I am a bit of hypocrite.

the lucky goat coffee house

The cafe is somewhere near the Philadelphia Art Museum. I knew not because I saw the iconic ionic columns on the way over but because I saw the location on my Google Maps app. After a skating a short distance, I found myself stopping in a quaint corner shop. The greyish column located immediately outside the door seemed decorative without a distinct function and did not seem to fit within my three known archetypes of columns.

I opened the glass door to the sound of Yellow Submarine by the Beatles playing on the loudspeaker. I instinctively ordered a dark roast and picked the seat nearest to the window. I had that luxury since the shop didn’t seem to be filled to the brink. The mug I received was white, soothing, and round. It was quite unlike the dark, heavy, and rigid mugs that I have received from countless other coffee shops. I appreciated the sentiment.

The front had been lit with the most amount of natural light, but there seemed to be quite an ephemeral environment about the shop as a whole. Paired with the lack of people, the air seems to carry the impression of a dream, similar to the last scene in Taxi Driver. The corridors of my mind contained quite many unresolved problems, but the manifestation through my external perception seemed quite jazzy. Until, of course, like Betsy, I leave.

menagerie coffee


The dark roast costs two dollars exactly.

Located around Independence Hall, I took Septa Route 44 to 5th Street before skating a short distance small enclosure where “chill vibes” supposedly exist. I had forgotten to pull the string for my stop, but I ended up without needing to because it was the last stop. The Delaware River could be seen in the distance. A couple other coffee shops seemed to exist around the area as well.

The most scenic area of the shop with the most intense natural light and the most complex furniture could be seen immediately on the left-hand side. Being near the entrance, it is also the most crowded area of the entire shop. I walked in deeper within the room towards the area with less natural light in an attempt to find a table to myself.

Across from me sat a law student. I asked her for the WIFI password, but she said that she was using her Xfinity subscription because the WIFI was slow. It seemed that most people here were working on something on their computers. Conversations did not seem to percolate from any source; instead, the irregular patterns of typing seem to dominate the soundscape.

I sluggishly pulled out The Schuman Plan: A Study in Economic Cooperation, 1950–1959 by William Diebold out of my backpack before taking a long sip from my white ceramic cup.