Every college campus needs its own special coffee shop -- something other than Starbucks, at least. For me, it was Common Grounds at Baylor University. Just on the outskirts of the campus you could find a crowd of students sipping on the signature Cowboy Coffee made with the Daily Joe, half-and-half and a sweet "secret sauce," or a White Fang, hot powdered chai with caramel and vanilla. While the wide variety of coffee drinks at Common Grounds were a major draw for college students, the relaxing, hipster scene kept them there for hours upon hours.
There's something about a cool coffee shop that attracts college students, and University of Houston has opened its very own on-campus coffee shop, The Nook Café, created by Sam Wijnberg and UH alumnus Derek Shaw.
The second I walked into the café, I was hit with déjà vu. While I knew I wasn't in Waco anymore, I couldn't help but feel as though I was in a rendition of Common Grounds, except the space was much bigger and the shop featured local Houston favorites, such as Hummingbird and Carrot cake slices from Take the Cake, vegan favorites from Sinfull Bakery and classic French pastries from French Riviera Bakery and Cafe.
UH's newest establishment feels as though Urban Outfitters created its own coffee shop; baristas serve up a multitude of iced and hot coffee drinks, lemonade beverages and teas while "Sweet Disposition" and tunes from Motion City Soundtrack play over the speakers. Corkboards line the walls with painted listings of menu items, and chalkboards take the place of ordinary wallpaper or paint, inviting students to write messages telling others to attend organization meetings and "Rush XYZ fraternity or sorority."
Students sit with their laptops at bars along the walls, or in the sectioned-off room complete with soft, comfortable chairs, fully intending to stay for a few hours and crank out homework or finish that seven-page report due the next day. While The Nook Café might be a bit "too hipster" for those out of college, it's definitely an enjoyable, relaxing abode in which to read a book, chat quietly with friends or enjoy a Sunday afternoon with a cup of coffee and a muffin.
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When I first walked into The Nook, I was immediately welcomed with a friendly hello from each barista, as though I was entering their home. The menu is similar to that of any coffee shop, with the standard iced and hot coffee drinks -- lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, chai lattes, café au laits, and a variety of frappes made with Katz Coffee and the campus's very own Cougar Blend. While I have not sampled each and every coffee beverage available, I did try the cappuccino, and it was one of the best caps I have ever had.
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As I approached the counter to grab my coffee, I thought the cappuccino had been topped with whipped cream. But, as I got closer to the counter, I realized the fluffy white mass peeking out of the top of the coffee mug was not whipped cream, but rather super-thick frothed milk. My favorite part of any cappuccino is the creaminess from the milk, and the more froth, the better.
With a sprinkling of cinnamon on top, the cappuccino was complete -- creamy, smooth and just what I needed for an afternoon pick-me-up.
While The Nook is strikingly similar to Common Grounds in Waco, there's one aspect that drastically separates it from the coffee shop at the Baptist university I attended: alcohol. The Nook offers a variety of bottled brews from Saint Arnold, Shiner and Lone Star, as well as wines and Champagne, giving students (over 21, of course) another late-night hang-out spot.
Though the shop is mainly intended for UH students and faculty, it's open to the public and has plenty of parking for visiting customers. You definitely don't have to be a student to enjoy The Nook Cafe.