A giant part of being someone who takes words from their brain and makes them visible to others — I hesitate to say writer because, well, am I? — is that you need to find a place where you can actually be productive. Some people can work unencumbered in their home, producing page after page for hours on end. I am not that person due to the fridge, the TV and the dog (order of distraction varies upon the day). Other people rent a coworking space or an office. Not an option for me as I am, what’s the word…oh yes, “poor.” That leaves a nice public space in which to plop down and type some stuff up. I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to go to breweries, bars and restaurants (mostly my favorite ramen place). The places I find I am most productive are coffee shops. There are plenty to choose from in Richmond, but my favorite is Black Hand Coffee Company in the Museum District.
Black Hand Coffee Company moved into their spot back in 2009. Their converted old house sits right on the corner of Belmont & Patterson. There is no dedicated parking, but I have never had trouble finding street parking when I have driven there. Normally I just walk over as I live nearby. Right out front of the building are a bunch of benches that in nice weather are always occupied. Along the side of the building there are picnic tables, which are great if you want to sit outside and do some work or if there are a few of you getting together. The counter is right inside the front door and runs the length of the place to the kitchen in the back. To your right is the seating area. There aren’t many tables so there is always a chance you won’t be able to find room. There is also a window bar plus some stools at the counter.
The inside decor is very warm and inviting. The wooden floor and the exposed brick along the wall give a rustic feeling to the place. The copper ceiling is quite elegant and provides a pleasant place for the eye to rest during moments of intense thought. The tables are quite spacious and accommodating if you are trying to spread out some work or just catching up with a friend. The music that the staff plays is never overpowering or intrusive. I have had many conversations in Black Hand and have never found it hard to hear the other person. I also find that I am able to cover it fully, if I choose, with headphones.
The staff is very friendly and usually quite willing to chat. They are fairly quick getting drinks out to customers, even when the line is long. I also feel that they take full advantage of every available centimeter of space in their cups. Some places short you when they make your coffee or tea and it is quite frustrating. I paid for 20 ounces, not 17. The staff here has never once shorted a drink that I have gotten. In the one instance where they forgot my drink, they were very apologetic. It was understandable as the place was hit with a sudden rush. When the mistake was realized they made my drink super quickly. Overall, it is a wonderful group of people providing excellent service which is all I can really ask for.
Usually if I’m at Black Hand to write, I just get a drink. To be specific: a tall iced mocha because I am a grown man!! I want the energy of espresso with the sweetness of chocolate milk. If there’s a little whipped cream, I ain’t mad at it. Sorry I’m not sorry. I’m a giant fan of the mocha here. It is a toned down version of the milkshake-esque mocha you get at Starbucks. This one is slightly less sweet so you still get a little of the coffee flavor. I prefer a nice whole milk in mine because healthy choices. This lends a nice richness to the drink, too. I’m sure it would be good with an alternate milk as well, like almond milk. I also find their cold brew coffee to be perfect on a hot day. Cold brew is less bitter and smoother than hot brewed coffee because when coffee is heated during brewing, certain heat soluble compounds are extracted from the beans and thus into your coffee. By steeping the fresh ground beans in water overnight in the fridge instead, these compounds remain in the grounds instead of your drink. I make cold brew at home, but I do not have the access to all the different types of beans that Black Hand does. That means each time you come to get a cup, it’s a different flavor, allowing you to figure out which coffees you prefer.
Prices at Black Hand are incredibly reasonable as well. A 20 oz. iced mocha is $4.90 with tax. That is roughly $.45 cheaper than the same drink at Starbucks. The cold brew is $2.70 for a 20 oz. cup. Again, cheaper than Starbucks. Plus, you have the added bonus of supporting a local small business. That is a win in itself.
Growing up in upstate New York, I was never really exposed to the neighborhood coffee shop. There was Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and one local coffee place called Professor Java’s. I think that helps me to appreciate Black Hand Coffee Company for what they do. Richmond is lucky in the respect that there are coffee shops all over that cater to any taste. I just happen to think Black Hand is one of the best. I know that many more caffeine-fueled posts will be written inside its walls. Until next time, my friends, may your cups be full and your beans fresh roasted.