For all of the 21 years I have lived on this earth, I’ve never tried a particular substance to which Americans — nay, humans — are addicted: coffee.
(Just to get it out of the way, I never drank tea either… and yes, your assumptions of my religion growing up are probably correct.)
I always loved the smell of the coffee aisle in Kroger, and I never minded the scent of lattes and Frappuccinos wafting up the stairs when I lived above Kofenya my junior year.
And yet, though my curiosity of the supposedly-bitter drink has increased as I’ve grown older, my willingness to try it has stayed dormant.
Now, this isn’t to say I don’t like caffeine — in fact, though part of my reason for never trying coffee stemmed from a fear of developing a caffeine addiction, I now drink Mountain Dew almost every day.
But sometimes, my tolerance for Mountain Dew falls, and I want to find another avenue for my caffeine intake. Other times I want to treat myself to a decadent dessert reminiscent of a fancy coffee concoction but absent of any actual coffee.
And thus, this listicle was born. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite non-coffee drinks to get from cafes in Oxford or on campus (plus a bonus feature: a recommendation for a drink to absolutely, at all costs, avoid).
Kofenya - Caramel Apple Cider
Caramel Apple Cider: I love the vibes of a small-town cafe. The only problem is the obligation (and desire) to purchase something when studying there for a prolonged period of time. So when I first looked at their menu, I was saddened to see Kofenya had limited options for non-coffee drinkers. But! My sadness did not last long — in lieu of a hot chocolate (I can make that at home), I purchased a caramel apple cider. I swear this drink changed my life. It comes out piping hot and steaming with the smell of warm, delectable caramel. The drink is just tart enough that I enjoy it through small sips. Even if it lasts long enough to get cold, it still tastes just as delicious. A caramel apple cider doesn’t scratch my caffeine itch, but it does provide a tasty drink perfect for pre-gaming the pumpkin patch.
King Café - Smoothie
Smoothie: I am a fiend for ice. Ask my friends — I go to Pulley Diner, sometimes out of my way, just to get ice because they have the best ice on campus (perhaps I will rank campus ice one day). Why do I tell you this random anecdote? Because King Café makes their smoothies in a way that leaves micro-pieces of ice in the mixture, and it’s my favorite treat to reward myself after a long day of classes and studying. My personal order usually includes some variation of berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries). But mix it up! I’m sure the flavors don’t affect the ice factor, so I really don’t see how any concoction of fruit could ruin that.
Café Lux - Hot Chocolate, Strawberry Lemonade (and bonus - Refresher)
Hot chocolate: The hot chocolate from Café Lux is absolutely, 100% the best drink on campus. For context: When I go to Starbucks, and if I don’t order my usual (listed below), I go for a hot chocolate. But, much to my chocoholic mother’s dismay, I’m not a huge fan of super-chocolatey things, so I have to go through the hassle of asking them to add half the chocolate, them looking at me like I have three heads and suggesting a kid’s hot chocolate, and me walking away with essentially a chocolate milk. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate milk, but I don’t want that in place of a warm winter drink. That’s why Café Lux’s hot chocolate is so revolutionary — it comes de-chocolated. For some, this would be a weakness. For me, it represents all that I find holy in a hot cocoa beverage.
Strawberry lemonade: Café Lux stays winning with this drink. In complete contrast to its perfect hot chocolate, this summery drink is a perfect pick-me-up in the middle of a long day of classes. It doesn’t contain caffeine, but its sweet yet sour taste makes it a good addition to a Pulley lunch or a study date.
AVOID - Refreshers: Now I know I said Café Lux stays winning… but I would highly suggest avoiding its refreshers at all costs. I got the passion berry hibiscus refresher, and maybe it was just those particular flavors, but I will never know because it offended my taste buds so much that I have sworn to never grant my patronage to this drink again. As I described to my friends the unfortunate day this liquid attacked my tongue, it tasted worse than a La Croix, like the barista put water in a cup with some fruity decor, walked across the room, whispered “passion berry hibiscus” to inject the flavor and then served me my drink. Would 100% not recommend this drink, even if you are desperate for some caffeine. It would be more worth it to just fall asleep in class.
Starbucks - Strawberry Açaí Refresher
Strawberry Açaí refresher (with lemonade): When I’m tired of consuming ghastly green Mountain Dew, my second-in-command is Starbucks’ strawberry açaí refresher with lemonade and light ice. Though it has about half the caffeine as a Mountain Dew, it still packs a punch, especially with the tartness of the lemonade. My favorite part about this drink has to be the little dehydrated strawberries they add; as the drink runs out, I like to eat a couple as an added treat. Our coffee-hating Food Editor Ames Radwan has also given these their stamp of approval as the best possible non-coffee Starbucks drink.
Mountain Dew - my personal favorite
If you like Mountain Dew as much as I do, you’ll probably appreciate this comprehensive list of my rankings of the flavors.