By Kamrin Baker
“Yeah uhhhh can I get a medium iced chai?” I request, awkwardly and ironically because I have asked for an iced chai at least 25 other times in my life.
“We’re out of chai today, I’m so sorry,” the barista at Scooter’s echoes back.
I improvise with a peach smoothie and sulk to a table in the back; a lovely place, but one I have visited too many times before. For someone who isn’t much of a coffee fan, the time I spend searching for the perfect café is questionable.
What if we went beyond chain coffee houses? Found places that felt like home? And for me, most importantly, somewhere that would be the setting and scope of my college career?
And thus begins my adventure into trying new coffee shops and investigating different drink menus across the lovely city of Omaha.
There’s something so romantic, so appealing and so welcoming about a local coffee shop—albeit, painfully “hipster” – that makes sipping slower, homework more intriguing and conversations more rewarding. It was that simple je ne sais quoi I was in search of in my pursuit to rank a handful of coffee shops surrounding the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Before I dive into this comprehensive guide, I’d like to give an enormous thanks to my friend Sydney Rogers-Morrell for coming with me on, like, 90 percent of these coffee trips and taking pictures for this article (and, come on, for my own Instagram page). Although a lot of these reviews are based on study spaces and opportunities, I found it extremely rewarding and truthfully, essential, to jaunt through the city with a good friend also in search of a place that defines both adventure and returning home.
And lastly, some guidelines: these coffee shops are listed in order of my least favorite to most favorite experiences, but seasoned with smaller ratings that detail more of the specifics for each location. Go forth to learn and explore—and don’t skimp on the whipped cream.
Address: 4924 Underwood Ave.
Location to UNO: 1.2 miles
Study space: There was almost nothing in terms of table space at Blue Line. All of the tables were very small and only useful for one stationary laptop or notebook, so if you’re looking for somewhere to knock out a group project or finish up a large diagram, this isn’t the place.
Volume: The establishment was very quiet, and it seemed like people were going to shoot me dirty looks if I said another word to the barista. However, the peaceful atmosphere made it a killer place to memorize vocabulary words.
Music: They were playing what seemed to be more classical music, with a lot of smoother jazz selections. They were good pieces, but I found them to be dull or for an older customer.
Drink menu: The menu was rather typical with a normal amount of selections, but I was very disappointed in my chai latte (which I am very picky about). I got a hot drink and it mostly tasted like warm milk, which definitely isn’t worth $4.
Ambiance and décor: I liked the casual feel of the coffeehouse, but in some areas, it almost felt dirty or cluttered. My favorite thing, however, was that the main wall had lots of old photos of the Dundee neighborhood from throughout history.
Amenities and oddities: Customers are able to bag their own coffee beans to purchase next to the counter, and there were lots of posters for community events and attractions. All of the ingredients are also locally and organically sourced, which makes for a very conscious business practice.
Final thoughts: Blue Line definitely has its perks, especially if you’re looking for a darker and more solitary place to complete your work. However, it brought down my mood more than it lifted it.
Address: 8706 Pacific St.
Location to UNO: 2.6 miles
Study space: The Village Grinder has about two very large tables that could definitely be utilized for a study group or a large project, but they fill up very quickly. Other than those, there are only very small two-person tables throughout the rest of the dining room. It makes for great intimate conversation or personal laptop time, but not necessarily hard work.
Volume: The whole coffee shop is rather compact, so everyone is in close quarters, but I definitely think people are courteous of noise. Many patrons are older individuals or those who come regularly, so chances are, you’ll even be the one making the most noise clacking on your keyboard.
Music: The music was the bomb. We even asked the barista what their playlist situation is, and she said they usually just use the Pandora “coffee shop” station. Figures, right?
Drink menu: The drink menu seems pretty average, but there were a lot of seasonal drink options that I really enjoyed. There were also a lot of options for food (sandwiches, cookies, locally made pastries and donuts) that provided a little extra something for people who want to study over meal times.
Ambiance and décor: The Village Grinder feels how you feel at your grandma’s house when she makes your favorite meal. It is very homey and cozy, but a lot of the decorations are going to be more traditional and subdued.
Amenities and oddities: There are actually products you can purchase at the Village Grinder! They sell locally-sourced art prints, teas, clothing and more.
Final thoughts: The Village Grinder is a wonderful coffee shop, but more wonderful for a social outing than a study spot. It is closer to Scott Campus than Dodge and might attract a lot of traffic near Westside High School, so be mindful if you choose to take residence here.
3. Caffeine Dreams
Address: 4524 Farnam Street
Location to UNO: 1.3 miles
Study space: It depends on what time of day you make it to Caffeine Dreams to find prime study areas. They have many different kinds of seating; from couches, to small tables and countertops, to outdoor areas. Most people will want to work alone in most spots in the shop, but it’s also a very communal establishment and people are usually willing to be in one another’s bubble.
Volume: The volume is relatively low and the most that will distract you is the opening of doors and the hustle and bustle behind the barista counter.
Music: I’ll be honest, I can’t remember very the music in Caffeine Dreams very well, which means it was definitely subdued. I imagine it was very relaxed indie acoustic music, so if that’s not your cup of tea, grab those earbuds.
Drink menu: The drink menu is pretty diverse and includes quite a few non-coffee options, which I really appreciate. While I can get fancy with sugary lattes, I do always prefer a variety of tea or smoothie options, and Caffeine Dreams comes through.
Ambiance and décor: This coffeehouse is very cozy. It has the ambiance of your typical “hipster” establishment and has a lot of beautiful local art on the walls. It is quite dim, however, so depending on your study habits, it might actually make you drowsier to sit in front of a screen or textbook.
Amenities and oddities: So many free condoms. Caffeine Dreams also sells a lot of local art and products, including things like plants and jewelry, and even vintage flannel shirts.
Final thoughts: Caffeine Dreams is a really unique and enjoyable place, and I’ve never had a bad experience there, but I do feel like I’m not cool enough to be there a lot of the time.
Address: 1904 S. 67th St.
Location to UNO: 1.4 miles from Dodge Campus, but way closer to Scott Campus
Study space: Roast has a lot more table space than a lot of other coffee shops I’ve visited. There are some taller personal spots, but there are also barstool countertops and a large table inside the establishment. There are also many tables and chairs on their outside patio for those nice weather months.
Volume: I’ve never complained about the volume in Roast, and I’ve never worried about not being able to pay attention because of what was happening around me.
Music: The playlist situation in Roast is usually indie pop tunes from artists like the Lumineers, and it rocks.
Drink menu: I personally feel like Roast’s menu is too small, but their iced chai lattes are to die for, so I can’t really complain. I do believe there are more coffee blends, but I am not someone who is super interested in that and therefore felt like I didn’t have very many options.
Ambiance and decor: Roast has a ton of Edison light bulbs and follows a really satisfying trend of natural colors and the influence of natural light. I feel really awake and productive whenever I stop in.
Amenities and oddities: Everyone who works at Roast is very kind and friendly. I usually always have a small conversation with the barista behind the counter and am able to connect with everyone. I also believe they sell CDs and books at the front of the store, too.
-Final thoughts: Roast isn’t just for a quick sip before the farmer’s market in Aksarben. I am always ready to grind out a story or read up for class in a brightly-lit corner.
5. Zen Coffee Company
Address: 230 S 25th St #3
Location to UNO: 3.1 miles
Study space: I really enjoyed the available spaces in Zen, and I think it’s still new enough that it wasn’t extremely crowded and I was able to choose my favorite spot in the shop. However, I had a lot of trouble getting the WiFi to connect on my laptop, so this might be a better place for socializing or for quiet book study sessions.
Volume: The shop was pretty quiet, which made it a great place to study or grind out some assignments.
Music: The music selections were just as you’d expect from a coffee shop called Zen; very peaceful and acoustic. I remember hearing a lot of acoustic covers that I promised myself I’d search on Spotify once I got home.
Drink menu: The drink menu at Zen was my favorite part! I even got two drinks because I was so excited about all the options. My favorites were the lavender lemonade and the Butterbeer latte. Yes, Harry Potter’s infamous Butter Beer. I have had a latte similar to this one in the past, but I had yet to discover one as good in Omaha, so this was a huge treat for me. The shop also carries Ted & Wally’s ice cream flavors, as well, so I’d say Zen had a big win in that category.
Ambiance and décor: I also fell in love with the interior design of the shop. There were many big windows that welcomed a lot of natural light, and there were a lot of cute floral and rustic wallpapers that made for a very relaxing and aesthetically pleasing experience.
Amenities and oddities: I guess this is getting to be pretty typical of local coffee shops, but Zen also sells local art products and prints, as well as their own coffee products. I really had to hold myself back from dropping some more money on some flowery greeting cards.
Final thoughts: Zen Coffee Co. is a dream come true. I feel like I designed the shop myself and the only real flaw was the WiFi connection and the difficulty it took to get there. It’s more out of the way than other coffee shops, and there are also a lot of back roads to take once you get there, so it’s more of a special occasion kind of stop.
6. Sozo Coffeehouse
Address: 1314 Jones St.
Location to UNO: 4 miles
Study space: Study space at Sozo is at the top of the charts. If you’re not into finding your own corner or taking up space on a cozy couch, you can book a study room for a few dollars and make as much noise as you want or spread out with a group for a project. This is the only coffeehouse in Omaha that I know of that has such reasonable deals for something in such high demand for us college kids.
Volume: The volume was perfect when I went, but I do know that some nights, there are more social events that happen in the establishment, and there is also a big pool table in the entryway, so that may not always be the case.
Music: The music was quiet and simple; perfect for the Sozo aesthetic.
Drink menu: I felt that the menu was typical for a coffee shop, but there also were a lot of options of syrup flavor add-ins, so it seems that you can customize a lot of your orders.
Ambiance and décor: There were a lot of fairy lights and comfortable chairs and couches. The whole place takes on the mason jar and simplicity brand, and I’m so here for it. The coffeehouse is also very spacious, so it feels open and comfortable no matter where you decide to sit.
Amenities and oddities: I noticed quite a few options of cookies and donuts on the front counter, so definitely take advantage of that—and the games and study rooms.
Final thoughts: Sozo is one hell of a coffeehouse, and if it were just a tad closer to UNO, I’d be there on the daily. Just remember that it’s located underground, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled when you get to Jones Street.
7. Aromas Benson/Hardy Coffee Co.
Address: 6051 Maple St.
Location to UNO: 2.2 miles
Study space: There are a lot of different setups for seating in the Benson location of Aromas (soon to be renamed as Hardy Coffee Company), including large and small tables, outdoor seating and barstool areas.
Volume: The volume level inside is actually pretty high, because Aromas is a very collaborative and community-oriented establishment. If you bring along your headphones, though, you shouldn’t have an issue focusing on what needs to get done.
Music: When I stopped by Aromas, it was a night that included live music guests, so I half-listened to local cellists and indie bands, while working on some video edits on my laptop. I imagine this doesn’t happen every open hour, but I do really enjoy and appreciate the local artistic scene that Aromas welcomes.
Drink menu: The menu at Aromas is very diverse and professional with a lot of creative twists. They carry some delicious tea flavors from the local company, Artemis Teas, but there are also menu items like hot toddies, root beer chai lattes, and Italian sodas made with Original La Croix. College student central, am I right?
Ambiance and décor: I am in love with the interior of Aromas, especially the big wall beside the main counter that shows the ingredients and growing process of coffee. Go, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The lighting is also a happy medium of dim and bright, and string lights dance through the outdoor patio.
Amenities and oddities: Not too much stood out to me as odd or different at Aromas, but I felt most at home and most comfortable finding new flavors and senses around the establishment. Aromas is also right in the heart of Benson and is surrounded by other community businesses that make Omaha the beautiful, weird, delicious city that it is.
Final thoughts: Aromas for life, y’all. I could sit there and listen to Alabama Shakes and read New York Times articles forever.
Real final thoughts: I hope you took some valuable information from this guide to the world of Omaha’s best and tastiest study spots. If you take any pretty pictures in your newfound homes away from home, tag us (@thegatewayuno) so we can keep on spreading the local love.