Which Upstate Coffee Vendor Reigns Supreme?


Renee Pascoe and Emily Burgess

High school requires intense focus and productivity, and to boost these qualities, many students turn to frequent, often daily, coffee consumption. As a result, students become coffee connoisseurs of sorts, and fiercely defend their local spots. We decided to review these spots and find a reigning champion to end all debates. Choosing a mix of chains and local cafes, at each we ordered a cold brew (or iced coffee if cold brew was unavailable) and a specialty drink (typically a latte). We considered price, atmosphere, and overall taste, to ultimately create a ranked list from worst to best. To ensure fairness, we used the following point scale for each: 

  • Under 80: Very low quality, would only drink if it were the only available
  • 85/86: An acceptable coffee, but nothing exceptional
  • 87/88: An interesting coffee, but either 1)distinctive yet mildly flawed, or 2) solid but not exciting
  • 89/90: A very good coffee, drinkable, with considerable distinction and interest
  • 91/92: An exceptional, solid coffee, with some excitement and distinction in flavor
  • 93/94: Exceptional originality, beauty, individuality, and distinction, with no negative issues whatsoever

7. Dunkin’ (Formerly Dunkin’ Donuts), Clifton Park, NY

Atmosphere: Though there was sufficient seating available, we would not recommend meeting a friend for coffee in a Dunkin’. There is not much to note about the Dunkin’ atmosphere, therefore it is more of a “to go” place.

Price: A major plus about Dunkin’ is that, with a few exceptions, it may be the cheapest coffee available in many situations, averaging two to three dollars per drink. 

Drink One: Caramel Iced Coffee with cream and sugar

Grade: 70

This drink is one that we recommend for those just entering the coffee scene. It is weak coffee whose flavor shots make it almost insufferably sweet. It is important to note that the baristas did not attempt to stir the sugar in, causing the first sip to be saccharine. 

Drink Two: Mocha Latte

Grade: 60

The coffee in this drink was not discernable. In fact, it tasted more like a peppermint hot chocolate than anything else. Again, recommended for those who are looking for a sweet drink. 


    6. Skyline Coffee, Albany, NY

Atmosphere: The urban/industrial decor leads to a remarkable and unique first impression. With a large yet cozy space, the artwork and shelves of roasts for sale make Skyline Coffee a great hangout spot. Notable novelty: eco-friendly straws. 

Price: Expensive, averaging four to six dollars per drink.

Drink One: Cold Brew with Almond Milk

Grade: 85

Considering the almond milk to cold brew ratio, this drink was still bitter. It is your run of the mill cold brew, leaning more toward the sophisticated palette. We personally enjoy a cold brew a bit sweeter than this, which led to our grade of 85. 

Drink Two: Special “Golden Milk Latte” 

Grade: 79

This drink, advertised as a special with its own board, contributed to Skyline’s low ranking. Since we were so impressed with the latte art, we were expecting an exceptional latte, however this was not the case. At first sip, we were shocked by the sand-like texture of the latte foam. This ruined the rest of the drink for us, though it is to be noted that the coffee was not bad. This drink is not recommended in any way, shape, or form. 


       5. The Whistling Kettle, Schenectady, NY

Atmosphere: The Whistling Kettle, though better known for its large assortment of teas, is a lively space with plentiful seating. It is a bit loud, but still recommended for lunch dates with friends, or Sunday Brunch. 

Price: Mid-Expensive, averaging four dollars per drink.

Drink One: Iced House Blend

Grade: 85

This drink was a fairly average iced coffee, presented in a large glass with more available in a carafe. Despite this, it was not as cold as one would desire or expect in an iced coffee. We would recommend this for coffee fans that find themselves eating there, but we would not recommend for one to go out of their way to get it. 

Drink Two: Iced Cookie Doodle Specialty Coffee (A Mix of Chocolate and Hazelnut)

Grade: 83

It is more fitting to deem this Room Temperature Cookie Doodle Specialty Coffee, as the ice in the glass melted within minutes of the drink coming to the table. The flavors were not discernable, and it seemed to be only a slightly sweeter version of the House Blend. 


      4. Stewarts Shoppes, Halfmoon, NY

Atmosphere: When describing the Stewart’s Shoppes atmosphere, ideal is the last word that comes to mind. It is more of a get in and get out as fast as you can type of store, yet popular nonetheless. 

Pricing: Cheap to mid-priced, averaging three dollars a drink

Drink: Cold Brew with Half and Half

Grade: 86

This drink is your standard cold brew, running a bit sweet. You get a considerable amount of buy for your buck, and we’d go out of our way to get this cold brew. 

**At this location, we only ordered one drink. 


     3. Starbucks, Clifton Park, NY

Atmosphere: This particular Starbucks was large with lots of seating, and dim lights to give it a nice ambiance. The workers were welcoming and prepared the drinks quickly, which is why we recommend this location if you are in a pinch. This is also a good study spot. 

Pricing: Expensive, averaging four and a half to five dollars a drink

Drink One: Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew

Grade: 88

As frequent Starbucks drinkers, we have both noted that the sweetness of this drink really depends on the location and your barista. This particular drink was sweeter than average, though the coffee taste was still apparent and unique, landing an 88 on the scale. 

Drink Two: Caramel Macchiato

Grade: 90

This drink was also on the sweeter side, yet thoroughly enjoyable.The caramel was well represented in all sips, and it was the perfect temperature when we first drank it. We’d recommend this to all coffee drinkers on a cold day. 


      2. 3FISH Cafe, Albany, NY

Atmosphere: Though it provides very little seating, what makes 3Fish so unique is that is runs into a local bicycle shop, and seems like a cafe you could find in SoHo. It seems to be a great study space, and was filled with writers and students when we visited on a Sunday morning. 

Price: Expensive, averaging four to five dollars a drink

Drink One: Cold Brew with Almond Milk

Grade: 92

This was our personal favorite cold brew, located in the perfect area between sweet and strong. The serving size is normal, but the taste is what makes this drink really stand out. 

Drink: Specialty Vanilla Bean Latte with Almond Milk

Grade: 92

This drink had a sweet taste that was not too overpowering, and it was the perfect warm drink for a cold morning. Though lacking a unique look or design, this latte was a pleasant surprise. 


     1 . Mochalisa’s Cafe, Clifton Park, NY

Atmosphere: Mochalisa’s makes for a great study spot, and is very homey. All their drinks are served in different mugs, and there are large couches as well as regular tables and high tops. 

Price: Inexpensive to mid-priced. The quality of drinks compared to the price is what really earned Mochalisa’s Cafe the number one slot. 

Drink One: Iced Coffee with Half and Half

Grade: 93

This coffee is what we imagined as the perfect iced coffee, a great hybrid of sweet and bitter. Though we opted for plain, there are a variety of flavors to be tried. 

Drink Two: Mocha Latte

Grade: 93

How could we resist ordering the eponymous drink? This had a unique taste, and was rich with hints of sweetness. Again, this is recommendable for a cold day. 

Though this is subject to opinion, we recommend that the next time you’re about to turn into the Dunkin’ drive-through you rethink your decision, and maybe try one of the smaller businesses listed, or even one not on ours. This experience taught us that some of the best places for coffee are ones we stumbled upon by accident, not just a large chain. 

On our grading scale, see cafevirtuoso.com/2017/09/12/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-coffee-review-100-point-scale/