St. Paul’s Two Worst Cups of Coffee

Eric Faust / Heavy Table
Eric Faust / Heavy Table

To say that something is the worst means that it is inferior to other options and the lowest of its class. To be the worst there must be a class or a category to be the worst of. When talking about the coffee found in coffee shops, gas stations, hotel lobbies, and car dealerships, there is a wide array of options when seeking out a memorably bad cup of coffee, but to bundle them all into one discussion would be illogical. Ultimately, the gas stations and car dealerships don’t even try; they’re aware that as long as they offer free cookies or sell Marlboros people will drink their coffee.

But for establishments that call themselves a “coffee shop,” there is a higher expectation. When you go into a coffee shop you want something that is better than what you make at home. It is this class of coffee that can be judged, and the worst can and should be named and shamed.

St. Paul is littered with quality roasters and cafes fighting for customers. Kopplin’s Coffee sets the bar, with cafes like Amore, White Rock, J&S, and Cahoots trailing shortly behind. It is a ravenous market with independents battling corporate chains like Caribou and Starbucks. Each offers something different and most claim theirs is the best. This includes Cosmic’s Coffee and Coffee News Cafe.

The title for worst cup of coffee in St. Paul is shared by these last two establishments. Each produces a catastrophically bad brew, but the path to the title is different in each case. There are a few major things that contribute to a terrible cup of coffee.

1. Bad beans. The beans could be low-grade green beans, over roasted, under roasted, poorly roasted, or old. Each results in a flat, burnt, dry, sour, and / or tasteless cup.

2. Improper brewing. Espresso is an art form that requires a specific grind, temperature, tamp, and pressure to extract the pinnacle of flavor from the coffee. If an espresso machine is running too hot or the beans are ground too coarsely or the pressure of the machine is too weak it will result in bad espresso. The same goes for drip brew machines which are less temperamental, but still require the diligence of a trained barista to operate.

3. Poor delivery. The finest espresso in the world can be destroyed in the delivery. It could be a dirty cup, a slip of the thumb, a sneeze, or a spill. No matter how great the coffee, if it comes with cinnamon roll frosting on the inner lip of the mug, it has lost its prestige.

Eric Faust / Heavy Table
Eric Faust / Heavy Table

Cosmic’s Coffee on the corner of Snelling and Selby used to be a smoking cafe. Owner Fred Sande says: “That was our niche, and since the ban it has been really hard.” The smell still lingers in the sticker-covered cafe. The Starbucks that is now a couple doors down hasn’t made it any easier. Sande says: “Starbucks customers and my customers are two different people. Starbucks customers want caffeine and coffee, and my customers want local, local, local.” Proudly displayed in the window of the cafe is a sign that reads “PLEA E DONT PARK IN FRONT OF OUR COFFEE SHOP AND GO TO STARBUCKS INSTEAD COME ENJOY Y UR CUP OF COFFEE HERE AND SUPPORT A LOCAL BUSINESS.”

Cosmic’s Coffee is serving local Peace Coffee, but Starbucks is serving coffee you can stomach. Cosmic’s does not use bad beans, but the brewing is seriously deficient. The espresso tastes bitter and astringent, signs of an over an extracted espresso shot due to too fine of a grind. The taste is stale and the mouth feel is drying, the result of ground coffee sitting around too long before it is brewed. The delivery is as tasteless as the coffee. If they are out of coffee you get an americano and if you order espresso it comes in a 12-oz paper cup, diminishing any chance of tasting the crema, not that there was any there to start.

Coffee News Cafe ties Cosmic’s Coffee because not only is the brewing improper, but the beans are bad and the delivery is appalling. Coffee News Cafe roasts all of its coffee on a San Franciscan roaster at The News Room, the Minneapolis restaurant that owns the cafe.

Eric Faust / Heavy Table
Eric Faust / Heavy Table

Coffee News Cafe brews three coffees, full bodied, medium bodied, and decaf. The full- and medium-bodied coffees are identified by the country of origin and the decaf is simply called French roast. If you can spot a regular customer, be sure to ask him which pot stays hotter, because if you get the wrong one you will likely be stuck with a cold cup of coffee.

Even the coffee is hot you still can’t expect it to be good. The roasting is one of the main reasons the coffee goes wrong. It isn’t burnt like the coffee you get at Starbucks, but it is baked and sour. Roasters like Starbucks roast their coffee dark because it makes up for not roasting it well. There are no subtle nuances, but there it still tastes like coffee and can even pass as decent. When coffee gets burnt it just tastes burnt. Artisan coffee roasters will roast the coffee lighter, carefully changing the heat and air flow of the roaster at various stages of the process. It is an artist who can roast light.

The coffee from the News Room is roasted light, but it is not artisan roasted. When coffee is being roasted the temperature cannot stall or the coffee will taste baked, a taste similar to stale cheerios. The sour taste comes from a coffee that has not had enough heat applied to it during the early stages of the roast. To the regular customer and professional coffee roaster alike, the taste is obvious — something has gone wrong.

Coffee News Cafe has won the Best of the Twin Cities from the City Pages at least twice in recent years. A regular customer says: “They won the best of the City Pages thing a few years ago, but the coffee’s always been crap. We come because the conversation is usually good.”

Before taking a sip, be sure to check your ceramic mug. There is a good chance it won’t be clean. One of the baristas looks at a lipstick mark on the side of a cup of espresso and says: “it’s probably just a stain” while proceeding to pour the espresso over the “stain” into a “clean” mug. Not much can be said for the delivery besides appalling.

With Kopplin’s Coffee, Cahoots Coffee Bar, and Amore Coffee within a few miles, there is no reason for a bad cup of coffee. The atmosphere at Cosmic’s Coffee and the Coffee News Cafe might be ideal for a card game or a late study night, but if you are looking for a good cup of coffee, neither is the correct destination.

Cosmic’s Coffee

189 N. Snelling Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104
Fred Sande
$5 Avg.
Daily 8am (or when manager gets there)-1am

Coffee News Cafe

1662 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105
Pete Kelly
$5 Avg.
Daily 7am-11pm (Kitchen closes at 10pm)


  1. Niko

    Not to like, harsh on your buzz, man, but this seems to be an incredibly manufactured bash-fest. Sucks to be the owner of the cafe who gave a quote about how he’s struggling only to be labeled as the worst coffee in St. Paul. Could be that the universe was taking care of his unforgivable coffee sins on its own, no?

    Anyway, it seems exceedingly odd to name the worst coffee in a city and then give hours, location, price range, owner’s name (what, so we can look up their phone numbers and make fun of them?), etc.

  2. Brad

    White Rock and J&S “not far behind”? Only the lighter roast option at White Rock isn’t burnt. And J&S isn’t consistent, usually coming across as burnt more often than not. I’m not talking espresso drinks; just brewed coffee.

  3. jane

    Yeah, here’s why I could never be a food critic, unless I stick with only positive reviews. It just seems mean. I know I’m a pussy, but that’s how I feel.

  4. Scott McGerik

    I’m glad to see a “good” negative review. It was good because it does not resort to personal attacks and, instead, explains what went wrong with the coffee. This helps educate people like me who may have wondered why the coffee didn’t taste right. Also negative reviews like this inform others as to why a particular coffee shop never makes it into a top ten list. When I see my favorite restaurant/bar/cafe repeatedly not making this or that top ten list, I often wonder is it because they suck or is because the person putting the list together doesn’t know about it.

    BTW, if you are in South St Paul, check out Black Sheep Coffee Cafe. They make a darn good cup of coffee.

  5. Troy H

    So let me get this straight – you’ve been to every single coffee shop in the Saint Paul city limits right – so you can feel justified that calling these two places tied for “worst” knowing you’ve tried every other possible shop?

  6. Lito

    Taking the gloves off in Minnesotaniceland. Faust hits the ball, but does it fly straight? I do better on my own than any place in town. Smack talk is worth what you pay for it.

    Credible products at Kopplin’s, Black Sheep, Amore with the right barrista on the right day. If we knew Faust had sojourned to Italy, Seattle, maybe a Blue Bottle enlightenment, he’d have my respect, but who knows? Coffee News is a downgrade establishment. That’s intentional. It seems to be a beatnik getaway, more than a holy temple of perfectionism. Oh for the day’s of the Hungry Mind. This is not Uptown Mr. Faust, it’s Saint Freaking Paul.

  7. butterscotch

    There are some inaccuracies in your article. I am a frequent customer of Coffee News Cafe and I have never heard or read anywhere that they claim to be “the best cup of coffee” in St. Paul. I think, instead, this was your assertion in order to make your point about their having “the worst cup of coffee” in St. Paul. They received “City Pages’ best of” around seven or eight years ago and won in two categories in the same year. So you are basing your claim of “best cup of coffee” on something someone else said many years ago.

    The News Room does not own Coffee News Cafe. It would behoove someone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer to actually do their homework and get the facts right before trudging in knee deep into half-truths and out-and-out lies. It actually calls into question every single thing they write because once its known they don’t “report the truth” then they can quickly become known as one of the worst writers in the state of Minnesota.

  8. Nate

    I’ve never had a problem at Cosmic’s before. It isn’t the greatest coffee shop around but I doubt it is the worst. I’ve probably been there around 5 times and have tried multiple items, some of which were very good.

    It kind of has it’s own aura. That is part of the appeal. Kind of dingy and dumpy but charming at the same time.

    Ginkgo is another good shop not mentioned

  9. Pamela

    While I always appreciate a less than acceptable review, (keeps our places in check), the blatant store front photos are a bit much. Rather scarlet letter like don’t you think?

  10. ThinkingGood

    Thank God. Businesses in this community/economy need to wake up and realize that if you are not trying to be the best, don’t expect me to spend my money at your shop. I hope that this inspires more people to “out” sub par businesses.

  11. Lito

    The Coffee News is the best place to go for escape from “best seeking” types. Wait a minute.

  12. Jim

    I have always loved coffee news! Even if their coffee isn’t the best, their servers are the best in the Twin Cities!!

  13. Miles

    This just in, Faust’s article ties for worst lead paragraph in a recently published news article. Do you really have to give the definition of the word worst? Could you not come up with a better lead, or were you struggling for a certain amount of words? If this article was well written, it may have had some influence.

  14. Kari

    Yes. Kopplin’s has the best coffee in town. It’s also about 8 dollars a cup. Coffee News does not have very good coffee, but it is really inexpensive and you get unlimited free refills which I have never seen anywhere else. As a former regular and ongoing fan, I can say that when you’re hanging out there for hours and hours, socializing and/or studying, you don’t care that your virtually-free coffee isn’t good. The friendly atmosphere, and the french fries make up for it a million times.

  15. Miki

    What about Nena’s they mostly aim for food sales and good god the last cup of coffee I had there tasted like bewed styrofoam. It was in a paper cup!

    I agree that there has yet to be a consistenly good coffee roaster/cafe in St Paul with a good staff

  16. Jim

    I would like to make everyone aware of the fact that cosmics coffee is under new ownership (as well under a new name ‘Captain Cosmics’), has different beans, everything is newly remodeled, wider range of bakery items, soup, sandwiches, Mama’s Pizza, variety of cole products and different juices.
    If you have had a bad experience in the past PLEASE give them another try – AND tell them what you think of the service there and then – all of the employees known about the history of the shop and strive to improve the perceived image that most people have of cosmics.

Comments are closed.