Besides having arguably the best coffee in town, Rao's has scene. This local favorite rarely sees more than a couple of empty seats, or a counter without a line trailing behind it-yet servers are invariably friendly. With plenty of natural light during the daytime, wonderful tin ceilings, a great melange of aromas, and cool music, Rao's enjoys a ton of endearing college-town appeal. At night, the cafe fills quickly; sitting at one of the close-set tables, you're likely to find yourself sandwiched between a Yankees-vs.-Sox discussion and someone reading Dostoevsky. It's certainly not the quietest environment. With plentiful electrical outlets, the coffeeshop is laptop-friendly, and despite the hubbub, there are always several users dutifully at work. In short, this is the archetypal college coffee standby at its best. On Sundays and other peak study times, it may be difficult to snag a table.
Rao's offers a range of coffees that rotate daily. Unlike some watered- down offerings around town, the coffee at Rao's has a good bang-to- buck ratio. The result is that regulars, students, locals, and professors can always be found hugging mugs of the hot energy elixir, either for a quick fix or for an all-night haul. But the flagship offering of Rao's is probably its extensive and tasty tea selection. Do keep in mind that the large pots may come watered down, with too Iowa tea leaf-to-water ratio. This is a particular problem for the yerba mate, which in any case isn't prepared the way it should be and thus loses much of its energizing quality. The food at Rao's is limited to bagels, baked goods, and homemade granola, with occasional pre-made sandwiches in the deli case. Most are well-executed, even though the longtime Culinary- Institute-of-America-trained pastry chef recently left to open the Woodstar Cafe in Northampton. We like the pecan bars, and there is a wide variety of freshly baked muffins, ranging from blueberry to corn to vegan carrot and nut. Whether you run in to fill a travel mug or you plan to stay with a book or a friend, Rao's is a comfortable place in which to find yourself. Come for the good coffee, for the outdoor tables, or just to absorb the warm Amherst vibe.