indie coffee house review: river oaks coffee house

I did something today that I didn’t know I was going to do.  I had to get out of the house, and so I got into my car and started driving.  I had a vague notion of doing some window-shopping at IKEA.  While driving, that idea morphed into seeing a movie, and then I thought I might call a friend and set up an impromptu coffee date.  That’s what got me thinking about independent coffee shops in the Houston area.  Starbucks locations are fine for what they are, but I really wanted to give an indie a try today.  So I looked up “indie coffee shops” on yelp and got a list of places, and I settled on River Oaks Coffee House.  The only problem—it was 3pm, traffic was terrible and according to yelp, closing time was 6pm.  Still, I thought I’d give it a try. The point was to be out of the house for a while, so why not?

River Oaks Coffee House is easy enough to find.  If you’re a native Houstonian, you know Westheimer Road will take you lots of places, and this coffee house is one of them.  I am the worst at directions, so I’ll just give the address and you can plug it into your favorite GPS app—3601 Westheimer Rd., Ste. C.  Don’t be misled by the “Highland Village” designation listed in yelp.  It’s not in Highland Village, though it is closeby.  This little coffee shop has two tables that can seat about four people and then six tables that can seat two people.  There’s also a little bistro table at the front of the space as well as a small seating area with an oversized chair flanked by two wicker chairs.  I read a yelp review that said that there were plenty of wall outlets, and that is certainly true.  This coffee shop is a place where you don’t have to feel uncomfortable bringing your notebook computer, plugging in, and getting some work done.  I’m here on a Sunday, and all but two of the tables are occupied, and there are people working on their laptops, studying for school, reading a book.

The other thing I have noticed right away about the atmosphere of River Oaks Coffee House is that it’s incredibly quiet.  This makes me wonder if it is really conducive to meeting people for a coffee date.  If I had called that friend of mine and we’d met here, I would have felt really self-conscious chatting, even if it was at a whisper level.  There is some seating outside, though on a rainy day like today, that wouldn’t be the best option.  Another thing about the atmosphere is that currently, they are playing classical music at a very low volume.  As someone who finds herself in coffee shops because she needs free wi-fi access so that she can get some work done, I really really appreciate that the music is not blaring and classical is often one of my music choices when working so the selection works for me.  And speaking of wi-fi—yes, it’s free and easily accessible. When purchasing my coffee I asked if I needed a password but the network is open so no password is required.  Another win.  Finally, one of the reasons I didn’t end up in my local Starbucks today was because that location is always so cold, and I wasn’t in the mood to make sure I was wearing jeans and a hoodie.  Even then my nailbeds start to turn blue and my mind goes numb from the cold, and I end up being a lot less productive than I wanted to be.  Not the case with River Oaks Coffee House.  I’m sitting here in short-sleeved shirt, capri pants and sandals and I’m totally comfortable.  Truly, little things like this matter!

There are the usual coffee options as well as several options for the non-coffee drinker—bottled teas and waters, even Coke and IBC root beer in the glass bottles.  There’s also an array of sandwiches, small fruit bowls, sweetbreads and biscotti.  Another plus for the person looking for a place to spend a couple of hours working and might find themselves in need of a snack.  I had the regular brewed coffee.  I add a generous amount of cream or half-and-half to my coffee, but I didn’t see a canister sitting out anywhere so if you take cream or milk ask for it ahead of time.  The coffee tasted good.  It’s not the best coffee I’ve had but it’s also not the worst.  If you are like me in that you can’t drink Starbucks brewed coffee because it’s way too strong, then I think you’ll like the coffee at River Oaks Coffee House.  It’s mild, not bitter, and very drinkable.

About those hours? On Sundays, they actually close at 5pm (not 6pm).  Their regular weekday and Saturday hours are 6am to 5pm.  Now, if I wanted to come here after work, those hours wouldn’t really work for me, but since I’m only likely to visit on the weekends, the 5pm closing time is not a deal-breaker.

I will definitely come here again, even though it’s a good little drive from my current residence.  Next time I’ll just know to get an earlier start.  If you’re looking for an indie coffee shop where you can sit and hear yourself think and get some work done in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, consider giving River Oaks Coffee House a try.

a less caffeinated me

I love coffee. The sound of my coffee maker and the smell of coffee brewing, cradling the warm cup in my hands, and the first taste of the morning–these are the loveliest parts of my morning routine.  Perhaps because the act of making and drinking my morning coffee involves nearly all of my senses. It’s no wonder that I feel more cranky and out of sorts on days that do not start with this simple ritual.

Although I love coffee and have no intention of eliminating it from my morning routine, I also have to admit that I don’t like the effects that not having my daily dose of caffeine has on me.  For a while now, my morning routine has included two cups (24oz) of coffee.  Brewed coffee–not a latte or a frappuccino or a mocha.  Just the dark liquid gold of drip coffee with a heavy-handed splash of cream.  Don’t get me wrong–mochas used to be my drink of choice and then I transitioned to lattes and have now made the final transition to brewed coffee.  What I didn’t know was that there’s actually more caffeine in brewed coffee than in the average two-shot espresso drink.  This is important because whenever I try to substitute a latte for my morning coffee, it doesn’t have the same impact.  But, I’m digressing.

Like I said, until recently, I was a two-cup-a-day person.  I had to have two cups or else.  If you’re a long-time caffeine addict like me, you know what is followed by that “or else”–feeling more tired, crankiness, short attention span and an inability to focus, impatience.  At least, this is how I perceived my response and changes in behavior when I had anything less than two cups of coffee.  So when I say that I don’t like the effects of not having my daily dose of caffeine, these are the effects I mean.  More precisely, though, I don’t like knowing that I’m in withdrawal, and I don’t like being in withdrawal (obviously).  But I can’t (read: won’t) give up coffee.  In the decade and a half since I started drinking coffee and espresso drinks, I’ve given up caffeine entirely at least twice that I can remember.  I know I could give it up again if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.

However, I do want to drink less caffeine.  I sleep much better when I take in less caffeine, and somewhere deep inside I know that I manage my stress level better when I’m not drinking two or three cups of coffee in a given day.  To this end, I’ve started stepping down my daily coffee intake.  I have to be honest–the actual start to this goal sort of happened by accident.  It was a Sunday (11 days ago to be exact) and I had a commitment early in the day.  I woke up later than planned and only had time for one cup of coffee.  After I got home I crashed and took a long nap, but when I woke up my head was pounding–classic symptom of being in caffeine withdrawal.  I figured that that day was as good a day as any to start the withdrawal that would inevitably follow stepping down from two cups to one.  I also thought that if I was going to make this change, I should do it before school started.  The beginning of a semester is stressful enough; I certainly didn’t want to add caffeine withdrawal to the mix.

So, it’s been 11 days so far with only one cup of coffee.  There was one day where I had a minor slip–I went to the coffee shop in the afternoon a few days ago and ordered a latte.  I didn’t even realize what I was doing (i.e., having a second cup) but it didn’t derail all the efforts I’ve made to not have a second cup in the mornings.  I won’t lie–I still crave a second cup, and I’m not sure how long it will be before I don’t have that craving.  This morning when I got to the bottom of my cup I was really sad and wanted more, but I managed to say no.  I’m hoping this change will stick and that I won’t relapse once school starts and the pressure of the semester begins to mount.  I have always subscribed to the conventional wisdom that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, but I recently read an article saying that that wisdom is more anecdote than proven fact.  Looking back, when I made the transition from mochas to lattes, it took about three months for the craving for a mocha to cease, so perhaps the smart thing is to alter my expectations based on that previous experience. Either way, if I can make it through 21, 30, or even 60 days, then I’ll know that I can sustain the new normal of one cup a day.

Then maybe I’ll stop being so obsessed with my coffee drinking habits…