As I take in my final moments as a UC Berkeley undergraduate student, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about everything I am going to miss about living and learning at this wonderful place. College is the best gig we’ll ever have, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong. While there are a lot of goodbyes to give, the one I must say to Caffe Strada, my home and heart for the past four years, is by far the most engulfed in raw emotion. I’m honestly avoiding it because I know that I’m not going to be able to hold back tears when I order an iced Americano and a banana nut muffin for the last time. While I am well aware that I am in no way the only student, or Berkeley character (if you’re a Strada regular you know the ones to whom I’m referring), who visits this institution, I feel like my relationship to it is nonetheless uniquely special. It only seemed appropriate to take this opportunity, my final Daily Cal post ever, to offer my words of thanks to the place where I’ve laughed and cried, loved and lost, interviewed for the Daily Cal and edited all of my highly intellectual “Eating Berkeley” articles: Caffe Strada.
Over the past four years, I have built up a strong rapport with the incredible employees, and an even stronger tolerance for the highly caffeinated espresso. I’ll never forget my first Strada. It was the start of freshman year, I had my first college paper to turn in and I snuck a massive Strada coffee into Doe. Within 30 minutes, my heart was pounding, my ears were ringing and I was sweating. I was so jacked-up on Strada caffeine, I had to crawl my way home to Clark Kerr and lie down on the cool floor before I regained strength. It was love at first sip. I knew that this was the place for me.
Since the slight hiccup freshman year, I have learned that a Strada coffee in one hand goes best with a pastry in the other. In fact, I somewhat embarrassingly have to admit that I’ve tried nearly every pastry Strada has to offer. It was a sophomore phase where I was trying out new things and being young, wild and free. Sorry, mom. Though this article is in no way another “definitive ranking” piece, as a food writer and Strada enthusiast, I can’t resist sharing my findings: both scones, all three giant cookies (especially the double chocolate), each of the paleo muffins, the trail mix bar, blueberry muffin and banana nut muffin are the best Strada has to offer. The bagels run out quickly so get there early, the bundt cake can be skipped and the morning bun is never as crunchy as you want it to be. Pass on the slightly questionable apple cloud, black bottom muffin, harvest cake, chocolate cake and Danish. To be honest, though, none of the offerings are particularly life-changing or exceptionally good. If you’re looking for an amazing croissant or a delicious cappuccino with Oski drawn into the froth, you are 100% in the wrong place. But no one goes to Strada for the Red Bull-strength coffee, meh pastries or spotty Wi-Fi; we go for the convenience, the warm staff, the outdoor seating and the community. And I don’t say any of that facetiously.
I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I made mention of the roller coaster of college-aged emotions and moments I have experienced at this particular Berkeley spot. I once sat crying on the cement floor during a rough breakup with some stupid guy I spent way too much time making excuses for, my friend looking on at me with simultaneous sympathy and shock at my public display of emotional vulnerability. We don’t speak of his name any longer. Sophomore year, I made the walk of shame to Strada (but was with the guy so IDK if that makes it better or worse?) and sat there for about thirty minutes drinking coffee in my dress and heels from the previous night’s event before I realized how much I needed to get the hell home — it was 7:30 a.m. and I was hungover on the Monday of dead week. Another time, one fateful game day, I somehow stumbled into Strada directly from a fraternity to buy my friend a cup of tea before her a capella performance in Wheeler that evening. And yes, I went on to the show in my game day clothes and sat front row cheering. From then until now, Strada has been home to countless meetings, interviews, phone calls, mid-afternoon catchups with friends, late night runs from Wurster, homework assignments and talks with the police after witnessing laptop robberies. Don’t you just love the good people of Berkeley? It was here that I planned Bare Magazine photo shoots, turned in my thesis, made the life-changing decision to study abroad in Jerusalem, accepted a Fulbright grant offer and met weekly with my amazing Daily Cal editor, Chloe.
One of my best friends jokes that she’s never been to Strada without seeing me there. And she need not joke; I’m there every single day. I know the employees by name and have become acquaintances with the other regulars. I know where all of the outlets are, which parts are too sunny at which hour and where the Wi-Fi is least tragic. This place has become an integral part of my daily routine and the main stage for some of my best undergraduate tales. For me, Caffe Strada transcends the practical function of a typical coffee shop; in many ways, it is a microcosm of my UC Berkeley experience, encapsulating all of the highs and lows, awkward encounters, stresses and moments of pure joy that the last four years have brought me.
As the mid-2000s band Fall Out Boy once sang, “Thanks for the memories even though they weren’t so great.” While they really weren’t all so great (re: sobbing on floor), I will always look back on my years at UC Berkeley with a special fondness for Caffe Strada. From the bottom of my heart, I offer my sincere gratitude and bid thee farewell.
Contact Natalie Abber at [email protected].