The Best of Beirut
on Sep 29, 2014 By Danielle Issa
The autumn season is in full swing, and that means the start of school and university (not to mention the added congestion on the roads - horrendous!).
Enter the onslaught of homework, problem sets, quizzes, exams, lab reports, projects - it never ends. You need a place where you can focus, a plush armchair, perhaps, a table that’s not wobbly where you can plant your laptop, and how about a decent coffee and pastry to go with it? It may not sound like much, but trust me - the combination is rare.
Grab your books, an MP3 player, and a fountain pen or two, and let’s go get comfy at these coffee shops that are perfect for studying.
[Grid] is a self-professed urban coffee shop with local roots. Perhaps the first of its kind to open inside a Lebanese bookstore—Librairie Antoine—there are also two stand-alone shops, one in Beirut Souks and the other a full-service kitchen in Zaitunay Bay. But I’m directing you to Grid’s loft inside Librairie Antoine. Sit inside a glass-paneled reading room where you can peer over shoppers dining below at the restaurant arcade. Pick up a book from the bookstore, sink in the black leather couches and immerse yourself in a new world. Hungry? They’ve got crispy rice bars on offer, as well as muffins, croissants, custards, and cinnamon rolls. Dunk the decadent double chocolate cookie in Grid’s drip coffee to get a bite out of paradise.
No Garlic No Onions
Argo Tea is the Chicago-based "Starbucks of tea” whose branch at Le Mall Dbayeh is the first foray into the Middle East. The tea shop serves a wondrous variety of hot and cold tea-based signature drinks, baked gourmet goods, and loose-leaf tea for purchase by the gram. But it’s not just their tempting tea (I recommend Tea Sparkle) that will leave you awe-struck. Argo has velvety armchairs and soft throw pillows that invite you to sit down and sink in. For those who are bent on hammering away at their laptops, there are electric outlets beneath each seat. Wi-Fi, you ask? How about three free hours with each purchase? And not only do they brew high-quality tea, but they have delicious treats on offer, including a spectacular 58-kcal fruit salad for the health-conscious!
If you’re planning on camping out at a coffee shop to study for the entirety of the day, you’re going to need some tasty and nourishing nosh, and let’s face it, few coffee shops specialize in gourmet fare. Urbanista is a prime counter to that general truth, serving up a dizzying array of sandwiches and main courses ranging from seared tuna to fish and chips and organic smoked salmon. There’s even a salad bar for those who can be bothered to tear themselves from their seats for a feasting fest. The Gemmayze branch features a stronghold of books and a lovely terrace to boot, while the new Bliss Street outlet perches over the bustling university street.
Gloria Jean’s Coffees is expertly located near college central in Hamra and Kaslik, and when you enter the coffee shop, you feel as if you’re coming home. The Kaslik branch is outfitted with a big-screen high definition TV along with a gaming console for those who need a break from the books. There’s an outdoor seating area, and upstairs too there’s a cute cove where you can easily get lost in your studious endeavors. Hamra’s locale is noted as the first smoke-free coffee shop in Beirut, predating Lebanon’s smoking ban by far. Be sure to try the oversized muffins and, in the Hamra branch, cakes supplied by Sugar Daddy’s.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf may be a foreign import, but there’s a distinctly Lebanese touch to its Zaitunay Bay outlet: it’s serviced by waiters who bring you food and coffee tableside. No self-service here! Lose yourself in the calming views of the pier and the docked ships while watching pedestrians and joggers amble effortlessly past you. Sit outside under the umbrella-dotted terrace, or choose inside for a real coffee shop feel and the proximity to electrical outlets for your tech devices. The French press tea will warm your soul, and you’ll love it with a slice of dense chocolate devil’s food cake. Also check out Coffee Bean’s stores on the Hamra main street and in Sassine Square.
Hamra Main Street
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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