BEMIDJI — Bemidjians sure do love their coffee shops.
For a town considered small by most standards, Bemidji is brimming with an assortment of caffeinated powerhouses.
If one gets a hankering for a nonfat iced skinny mocha topped with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle then either one of the two Starbucks in town has you covered.
Or if the taste of a local specialty roast strikes your fancy, a trip to Cantabria Coffee Company reveals fragrant coffee beans roasted and grinded in house for your energy-seeking pleasure.
When the short-lived Tim Hortons closed in May, Bemidji mourned the loss of the Canadian coffee chain’s presence – a void opened in our java-fueled hearts only to soon be filled by the expected opening of New England-favorite Dunkin’ in the coming year.
So, is it possible that Bemidji might just be a little obsessed with that liquid gold in a cup and the town’s many shops that specialize in its creation?
Granted, there's no doubt that caffeine is an essential commodity in a college town. Yet let us not forget that whether chain or local, coffee shops ooze that coziness factor many Minnesotans reach for when the days get shorter and the fuzzy socks just aren’t cutting it.
In need of a reprieve from wintry weather, I challenged myself to explore six of Bemidji’s cozy coffee shops – in one day. And in the spirit of the holidays, I asked that all-encompassing question to each barista: What holiday drink special do you recommend?
With caffeine-induced jitters, I returned and shared my drink findings with the Pioneer newsroom staff to get their opinions. Here's our reaction to the holiday specials around town:
1. Caribou Coffee
2219 Paul Bunyan Dr NW, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Sunday 5:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Nestled on the far end of Bemidji Commons Retail Center, the eco-conscious chain Caribou Coffee is serving up three cutesie-named drink specials for the holidays: a Spicy Mocha, a Ho Ho Mint Mocha and a Fa La Latte.
After ensuring the barista that I was A-ok with taking a walk on the wild side, she recommended the Spicy Mocha, which I ordered hot rather than blended – you know, for that coziness.
The drink is made with either dark, milk or white chocolate – I chose milk, but in hindsight, should’ve gone with dark – which is “melted into steamed milk and combined with espresso and signature spicy blend with notes of cinnamon and chili.”
The dab of whipped cream on top balanced the drink’s underlying spiciness, which hits the back of the throat after a moment. Overall, it reminded me of a chili-infused chocolate bar in liquid form.
With its signature northern lodge aesthetic of wooden beams and comfy chairs in front of a stone fireplace, Caribou offers guests a little piece of that mountain cabin feel while sipping their beverages.
Newsroom review: When the drink was sampled by the Pioneer newsroom, it had cooled significantly and offered a more intense taste. One co-worker likened it to “drinking a porcupine” while another enjoyed its flavor and compared it to Atomic Fireball candy.
1811 Paul Bunyan Dr SE, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Friday 5:30 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 5:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 6 a.m. – 8 p.m.
I wouldn’t say the modern interior of Bemidji’s Starbucks encourages ultimate cozying up, but the drinks definitely do.
With too many festive options and combinations to describe, Starbucks is a leading contender in nailing the holiday beverage game. Even on an ordinary visit, I probably would’ve been overwhelmed with options and in need of a suggestion.
The friendly barista highly recommended the Chestnut Praline Latte, which is made with “signature espresso, steamed milk and flavors of caramelized chestnuts and spices.” It’s then “topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs.”
Although I would’ve liked it to have been sweeter, the latte had a nutty coffee flavor, which probably would be satisfying for those who enjoy chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Newsroom review: One co-worker said it smelled and tasted like a candle but “in a good way.” It was a favorite among those who sampled it with a majority saying they would order it.
3. Wild Hare Bistro and Coffee House
523 Minnesota Ave NW, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Wild Hare was the first local coffee shop I visited during my quest, and it was a refreshing change of pace from the chains. Actually, it was a refreshing change that day, overall.
Rather than lattes and mochas, hot apple cider was the go-to suggestion here, and it came in a beautiful glossy mug with a dash of cinnamon on top of the thin layer of bubbly froth.
Tart and sweet, the cider reminded me of taking a big bite out of warm skillet apples. Like the interior of the coffee shop, the cider exuded coziness, and I could see myself curling up with it on a nightly basis throughout wintertime.
Newsroom review: Unfortunately, the hot apple cider is the only drink our staff didn't sample. It was too good to share.
4. Cantabria Coffee Company
211 2nd St NW, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Friday 6 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Since moving to Bemidji, Cantabria has been on my list of must-try places. A favorite spot among Pioneer newsroom staff, the eclectic coffee shop is offering five holiday specials this season, including the recommended Oatmeal Brown Sugar Latte.
It consists of brown sugar and nutmeg melted into espresso with steamed oat milk and topped with cinnamon. When my order was called for pick-up, the room erupted with encouraging murmurs of how good it sounded.
The first sip reminded me of a light wintertime breakfast sure to satiate a need for warmth. Although it's not necessarily festive, the latte is smooth going down and perfect for cold weather.
While drinking it, I settled into Cantabria's leather couch in front of the fireplace and admired the coffee shop's eccentric yet comforting decor.
Newsroom review: Only one other co-worker enjoyed the Oatmeal Brown Sugar Latte as much as I did. She said she would definitely order it, but the others said it reminded them of drinking oatmeal.
5. The Cabin Coffee House and Cafe
214 3rd St NW, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
By this point in my day, I was starving and hopeful that the Cabin Coffee House and Cafe was plating something tasty for lunch. Much to my satisfaction, the Christmas Chicken Melt was on special. It's made with grilled chicken, pesto, honey mustard, cheddar, Gouda, dried cranberries and avocado on cranberry wild rice bread.
The sandwich is an amazingly festive combination of sweet and savory – cranberries and avocado gave it those Christmas colors – which certainly hits the spot.
I washed it all down with the recommended Berry-Good-Mocha topped with whipped cream, raspberry syrup and homemade chocolate syrup.
The Cabin Coffee House and Cafe's interior was my favorite of the bunch with its comfy couches, bright windows strewn with potted plants and complimentary books to read on a nearby shelf.
Newsroom review: A few members of the newsroom staff have a distaste for raspberry syrup, which skewed the results. But overall, they said the quality of the drink was well done.
6. Dunn Brothers Coffee
501 Paul Bunyan Dr NW S, Bemidji, MN 56601
Hours: Monday to Friday 6 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
All day, I had been waiting for a barista to recommend a peppermint-flavored something or other. On my last stop, the Dunn Brothers' barista fulfilled my expectations with her choice of the Candy Cane Mocha.
Topped with real peppermint chips, the mocha embodies the holiday season with its basic simplicity. There's just something classically comforting about the combination of chocolate and peppermint, so it satisfied the end of a day's worth of holiday sampling.
With its over-sized armchairs and fireplace, the interior of the coffee shop was meant for relaxation, so I sat in satisfaction and finished my day in the cozy comfort I had been seeking.
Newsroom review: Many said they were impressed by the flavor of the peppermint, saying it tasted earthy and natural. They agreed it was refreshing that it didn't taste artificial.
If you have tips for other holiday specials in Bemidji, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.