Java joints offer good joe

Despite what the French say, I love my American sock juice. Flavored? Sure, whatever, I’m no purist. Unsweetened with whole milk — cream, if you have it — too.

Coffee shops serve many functions. They’re a place to meet friends, engage in lively intellectual conversations, read a textbook, write a poem. They’re a destination on those angsty days when I just need to get away. Cafés are my escape plan. I go, mostly, to trick myself into thinking I’m not doing work, but when I’m not people watching, I often am. I mean, who can say no to free wireless Internet? And, when this de-stress strategy fails, I’ll just quit school. I’ll start a coffee shop of my own — a small, slow, struggling one with three tables and loyal regulars. I’ll wipe the tables and read a book in the down times, basking in the smell of freshly ground beans and listening for the bell on the door to ring business.

Coffee shops provide a refuge for the hipsters, the writers, the readers, the caffeine addicts, and café connoisseurs. They’re a place to be alone, a place to catch up. Go there for a more enticing meeting, or apply for a job there; the pay’s not great, but the people are friendly (except maybe at 8:05 am in the business district). And whether it’s Starbucks, Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, the Coffee Tree Roasters, Crazy Mocha, or a locally owned venue, Pittsburgh’s coffee scene has a lot to offer for every taste and comfort level, if you know where to look.

61c: I like to walk to the 61c (located on Murray Avenue, in Squirrel Hill) on sunny Saturday afternoons, because then it doesn’t seem like working. I get to kill five birds: It counts as exercise, gets me off campus, a chance to call my mom, a place to work, and gets me a hot mug of something for a perfectly reasonable price. And, for my tastes, their muffins are the best I’ve found. Granted, it’s a bit cramped; the dozens of little square tables are a little gridlocked, but the light from that huge front window is fantastic. There is outside seating when it’s warm enough, but I prefer to be inside anyway, because that soft electronica they play is often new (to me) and always good.

Tango Cafè: Farther down Murray (on Forward Avenue) is the Tango Café, Pittsburgh’s Argentinian coffee house, offering a variety of teas and coffee drinks, tasty sandwiches, and Spanish classes almost every night. There are only seven tables, but on a Thursday afternoon, I am the only one there. From there I can catch either a 61C or 59U back to campus.

The Beehive: Go to the South Side’s Beehive if you wear Converse sneakers, like disco balls, and paint in primary colors. The Beehive now boasts a smoking lounge and a quiet study room, but I prefer to be loud when I’m there. It’s a place for my friends and me on Friday nights, playing Jenga in large groups. Their game section has a lot of potential if you can find all the pieces. With Jenga it’s not a problem, and all the blocks have long since been individualized — go ahead and call all those numbers “for a good time” if you want. The 54C will take you right back to Craig Street, where you’re faced with a choice:

Starbucks, or Kiva Han? I choose Kiva Han, usually, out of loyalty to the artists and musicians who exhibit there and because I love to while away the hours on their upper level while reading the philosophies expressed on the colorful walls of their bathroom. You have to love a place that recycles their cup sleeves, right?

Coffee Tree Roasters or Walnut Jitters: If the Coffee Tree Roasters in Shadyside is full (or all the couches are taken), I walk a few more blocks down to Walnut Jitters, a tiny little place in the Shadyside Mall. I like their couch, their white-chocolate-flavored coffee, and the sight of young couples buying ice cream for their children while people peer in from the street. It’s small, intimate, and relaxing. They were playing Coldplay’s “Parachutes” last time I was in.

Enrico’s Tazza D’Oro: I have to say my newest favorite is Enrico’s Tazza D’Oro, which is located on Highland Avenue in East Liberty. I like the little tables, the couches, the photographs on the walls, and the sense that when I go there I’m among real people, not just students. The music is mild, but far from elevator music — music like Aimee Mann. They are bringing Europe to Pittsburgh’s East End. They take great pride in the quality of their coffee, while providing a variety of soups and sandwiches. And I’m definitely going back for another cappuccino and that enormous brownie.