One coffee shop to rule them all

A Linfield student’s quest to find the perfect study spot

Kendra+and+I+enjoy+our+lattes+and+%28try+to%29+work+on+our+lab+write+ups+at+Flag+and+Wire

Kendra and I enjoy our lattes and (try to) work on our lab write ups at Flag and Wire

We’ve all been there: you walk all the way across campus—backpack laden with a laptop and ten-ton textbooks—to the Linfield University Starbucks only to find it’s closed, or worse, packed like sardines with students. Aspirations of a cup of joe and a study sesh now long gone, you may now be considering going to an empty classroom or even just going back to your dorm.

And, even if you did somehow manage to find an empty chair in “Starbs,” chances are you’ll see at least six or seven people that you know. Sometimes, an assignment is too pressing to engage in the small talk that’s common around here.

What if I told you that McMinnville is filled to the brim with amazing coffee shops? Yes, you have to go a little bit farther, but I can almost guarantee you will get tastier coffee and more work done. 

I did the dirty work for you. I have drunk many cups of coffee, sat in many chairs for many hours, and gotten (not that) many homework assignments done in McMinnville’s coffee shops. All for you, dear reader. 

Not only do I care about your success at finding a coffee shop that works for you this finals season, but I also encourage you to consider the benefits of branching out and discovering some of McMinnville’s local businesses. 

*Disclaimer, there is no shame in going to Starbucks, especially if you already have Flex Dollars.* 

According to the not-for-profit organization BBB, for every $100 spent at a local business, about $68 actually stays in the community. Nearly four times the amount of money than from a chain. That’s because local companies are more likely to bank with the credit union down the road, hire employees that live and shop in town, and buy locally-produced products. 

In a little more concrete terms, $3.40 out of a $5 coffee from downtown will stay in the local economy. Even more if you tip the barista directly. Using the same estimates from BBB, only 85 cents from a coffee chain would benefit McMinnville.

Keeping money local has quantifiable benefits to a community. Profits are kept within the community, not sent to headquarters in Atlanta, Connecticut, or another far away place. This money increases the local tax base, which has a very visible impact: taxes pay for our roads, schools, and other community services. 

Shopping local also means you have the opportunity to reduce your environmental impact. Locally-owned businesses are more likely to be located in the community center (for us, that’s Third Street), which is usually easier to access than an edge-of-town shopping center, according to The Local Good

And, along with that, many of our coffee shops in McMinnville are dedicated to using locally-produced goods. Many buy their beans from an in-town coffee roaster and serve their drinks in reusable mugs.

Before I started this project, I set out some parameters. The cafe needs to be locally-owned. It needs to be a sit-down place that is casual enough that you can bring out a laptop. And, most importantly, it needs to be within two miles of campus, so students who do not have cars can still go. 

That narrowed my search down to four cafes: Community Plate, Mac Market, Union Block, and Flag and Wire. 

In an effort to make this as scientific as possible, I ordered the same thing at each cafe. A small oat milk latte with vanilla—light on the vanilla. A couple guests have joined me along the way (can you really say no to a coffee/study session?) and ordered their own drinks. 

Each cafe was graded on the flavor of my drink, the vibe of the dining area, how easy it is to study there, and how accessible it is from campus for the average student who may or may not have a car. These are my scores, and may differ from how you feel, but I hope it’s a good starting point.

Community Plate

315 NE Third St (0.9 mile walk from the center of campus)
An approximate map of Community Plate in relation to Linfield’s campus. Map created by Anna Frazier.

Cost: $5.25 plus a dollar tip
Flavor: 4/5
Vibe: 5/5
Study-friendliness: 4/5
Access: 5/5

Community Plate has numerous advantages. 

One, it is located in McMinnville’s best asset: the historic downtown. Third Street is a hub of activity that Linfield students are likely to miss out on if they don’t leave campus much. Plus, it’s really not that far away!

Two, it has a great set up. The windows are large and let in lots of sunlight. The tables are inviting. 

And three, you get your drink in a mug, which I really like. There’s just something about cupping warm ceramic that makes a drink taste 10 times better. No, I don’t have scientific evidence for that—but we can all appreciate being able to cut back on our single-use plastics and cups.

Samantha, a nursing student who visits the McMinnville campus on weekends, went to Community Plate with me on a rainy Sunday afternoon. She ordered a large americano with cream, but was surprised at what she received.

“My coffee came in a pint glass!” she recalled, when I asked her about our experience there together. I remember being shocked too. I thought they had mistakenly given her a cold americano or some alcoholic drink.

She conceded, though, that it was a fitting choice of cup for the beverage. The cream came in a mini pitcher on the side, so we got to watch the white and brown swirl around through the clear-sided glass.

I’d consider Samantha somewhat of an expert on americanos—it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen her order. She had a favorable review for the drink she got, too.

“The coffee itself was strong, smooth, and did not have that burned taste which can be common with espresso,” she said. 

I also noticed the smoothness of the coffee. My oat milk latte was the perfect amount of sweetness—not too acidic from the espresso and not too sugary from the house made syrup.

Community Plate is also the place I got the most work done. In one late morning and early afternoon, I cranked out a significant portion of a research paper and I filled out an application. That might’ve been my headspace that day, giving me the superpower to focus well, but it could’ve also been the living-room-vibe of the dining space. I felt like I was at my mom’s kitchen table after school.

However, the Plate does have some drawbacks that, although not a super big issue for me, may become a problem for others.

It is very loud when it’s busy. The small, cozy space is easily filled with diners and their chatter. The kitchen is also an open concept design, so you hear every espresso shot being made and every clang from the stovetop. If you’re good at processing that sort of volume as background noise, then you’re set. If you’re not, maybe it’s a good hangout space—not a study space.

“The volume was perfect to have a conversation,” said Samantha. “The overall experience of this location was very inviting and a great place to chat with friends.”

Mac Market

1140 NE Alpine Ave (1.6-mile walk from the center of campus)
An approximate map of Mac Market in relation to Linfield’s campus. Map created by Anna Frazier.

Cost: $4.75 plus a dollar tip
Flavor: 3.75/5
Vibe: 6/5
Study-friendliness: 3/5
Access: 2/5

The first thing one must understand about Mac Market is how different it is from other coffee places in McMinnville. Calling it a coffee shop, or a restaurant, or a bar—is just not true. It’s all those things. But as I like to say, it is first and foremost a community space.

The huge concrete floor (and bonus mezzanine and outdoor patios) make lots of room for tables of varying sizes. No matter the number of members in your study group, you can definitely find the perfect table. That is, if there’s one available. 

When Kendra and I attended Mac Market at 9 o’clock on a Thursday morning, we were greeted by a crowd of elderly people and families with small children. This did not detract from the Market’s score. In fact, we actually had some great small talk with a few of our fellow diners. 

It just meant we had to choose a slightly less-than-ideal table—sandwiched between a pair of women chatting somewhat loudly and another person in a Zoom call. Maybe it was our unfortunate timing. Luckily, our problem was fixed with a pair of headphones.

Another potential issue you may face at Mac Market is, with the huge expanse of floor, there are limited tables pushed against walls. Not an issue if you have a long-lasting computer battery. But, if you’re like me, you drain the battery down to 0 by having a million windows open at once. The lack of outlets is something to consider. Charge wisely.

Kendra agreed with me on the merits of the seating choices, but had some other, minor critiques.

“Downside was, we had to ask for the wifi password,” they said. “And, it’s a pretty busy place so it’s not for the easily distracted.”

Don’t get me wrong, Mac Market is honestly one of the coolest places in town and I think Linfield students should utilize it more often. It’s a huge, open space. They’re open at 8 a.m. (perfect for a pre-class breakfast) and remain open until 8 p.m. (though the coffee service ends part way through the day). The only downside to their hours is not being open on Sunday—which we, as students, know is the day to finally crank through all the previously-avoided assignments.

My latte at Mac Market was definitely on the stronger side. They use beans from Flag and Wire, which I’ve had numerous times, but somehow it is just super strong. The house made syrup does little to soften the coffee. 

Maddie, a senior who frequently attends Zoom meetings from Mac Market, agrees the coffee is strong. She prefers hers black, though.

“It’s strong enough to wake you right up,” she said, in an interview. “Perfect for a study session.”

Kendra ordered the monthly special, a honey latte. Though they don’t normally go for honey-flavored things, they said it was a sweet surprise.

Mac Market, admittedly a little far away from campus, is overall a sweet surprise.

Union Block

403 NE Third St (0.9-mile walk from the center of campus)
An approximate map of Union Block in relation to Linfield’s campus. Map created by Anna Frazier.

Cost: $5.25 plus a dollar tip
Flavor: 3/5
Vibe: 4/5
Study-friendliness: 5/5
Access: 5/5

Union Block, located just down the street from Community Plate, is also one of the easiest shops for Linfield students to access. Third Street may seem far, but, in reality, it’s slightly less than a mile from the center of campus. 

The cafe gives me sort of a “cool kids’ club” vibe. It has a semi-lit study nook in the corner which is really awesome for studying, but highly coveted—you’re lucky if you get one of the few tables tucked away behind there. 

Makayla, an elementary education major that invited me to go to Union Block (rather than me shamelessly begging my friends to help me with my project), said that this shop is a really good place to study. She even went so far as to say it is her favorite.

“My favorite study music, country, is always playing,” she said. “The music and chatter of people is a mix between ‘busy noise’ and peace.”

Though I’m not a particular fan of country music, I found the songs they played to be soothing and easy to turn into background noise as I (still) worked on my research paper.

We found a seat at a bar-and-stool spot along the window, looking out onto Third Street. Thankfully for me, they had an outlet right where we sat. I ordered a small oat milk latte with a splash of vanilla syrup. The syrup is not house made. Makayla ordered a comically-large, 20-ounce oat milk latte. 

I thought my latte was good—a really classic choice. I wouldn’t say it stood out, but has a nice, comforting flavor that doesn’t throw any surprises at you.

There are a lot of other factors at Union Block that make it Makayla’s favorite place to go.

“I love walking into Union Block because the people are always so kind,” she said. “Whoever is taking my order always greets me with a happy smile and an excited hello!” 

She’s also a fan of the cute merchandise for sale by the register, which she browsed as they make her drink.

The best part about Union Block, for me, is the sheer number of other people there who are also working on something. A man beside us was making business calls and frustratedly looking at his laptop screen. Some young adults were in the back corner, surrounded by piles of paper. 

Overall, this felt like a work space. It was very easy for me to tap into the “let’s do this” mindset and get some stuff done that needed to be done.

Flag and Wire

755 NE Alpine Ave (1.3-mile walk from the center of campus)
An approximate map of Flag and Wire in relation to Linfield’s campus. Map created by Anna Frazier.

Cost: $4.25 plus a dollar tip
Flavor: 5/5
Vibe: 4/5
Study-friendliness: 3/5
Access: 3/5

Flag and Wire, though you may not know it, is at the root of most of the good coffee in town. 

They are not just a cafe—they roast their own beans. These beans are shared with other coffee shops all over town (notably, Mac Market and Community Plate). But they don’t stop at McMinnville. Flag and Wire ships their beans to shops all over. I remember being pleasantly surprised to find a bit of Mac at Stimulus Coffee and Bakery in Pacific City once last fall.

And the coffee that you order there is good, too. I, of course, went with a small oat milk latte with just a splash of vanilla. 

Kendra ordered the Woodsman—a specialty at Flag and Wire that is a latte with maple. Though Kendra doesn’t have to get alternative milks, they were disappointed when they first ordered that they forgot to specify oat milk. When Kendra received their Woodsman made with cow’s milk, they drank it diligently. Then, they got up and ordered the same thing—but with oat milk.

“I would say the coffee taste wasn’t super strong but the maple made it yummy,” they said, after finishing the second one. “And with the oat milk—it added the missing element.”

Flag and Wire is tucked into the side of the Grain Station—it’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. If you only count the indoor seating, there aren’t many places to sit down. I felt like Kendra and I were taking up an unfair amount of space with just the two of us and our backpacks. 

The Flag has plenty of outdoor tables. So it’s really more of a “nice day” kind of place, unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the few indoor ones.

I, personally, did not get much of my lab write up done. Kendra, who was also working on the assignment, faced the same issue.

“The shop has really good vibes for working,” they said, blaming the lack of homework done on their headspace for the day. 

Or maybe it was because the music happened to be a playlist of almost exclusively music that Kendra likes. They stopped frequently to tell me about the particular band that was playing. It was some sort of indie pop—easy to listen to.

When I went back again, to get some more work done and to do, ahem, “research” for this project, it was a very nice day. I sat outside at one of the picnic tables in the early afternoon. Patrons of the Grain Station, next door, sat outside too and enjoyed their meals. Some kids played in the dirt in front of me. A dog barked from the open window of someone’s truck. It felt like a community space, tucked into the middle of McMinnville. 

A problem that students may face with Flag and Wire is that it is one of the farthest cafes from campus. It’s easiest to get to if you have a bicycle or a car. But, once you’re here, you may stay a while.

The Result:

These reviews are all in good fun. Each coffee shop in McMinnville has its own quirks, its own pros and cons. I love them all for what they are.

Just because I gave a lower score for flavor or for studying, doesn’t mean you will have the same experience—maybe you will be able to write an entire essay at a place I struggled to even think at! I encourage you to go to a few if you are able, and try for yourself.

And, like I said in the introduction, there is nothing wrong with going to the on-campus Starbucks. Freshman and sophomores are practically forced to, with the amount of Flex Dollars they have to spend each semester. For many, this option is an affordable way to get a sweet treat. 

But, this finals season, if you need a break from the everyday, from the hubbub of campus life—try one of the shops on this list. Go with a buddy, bring your laptop, and try to get some work done. As Makayla says, “Getting off campus to study is a breath of fresh air.”

And, it’s likely to be delicious.