Coffee on Campus: Peter B’s Espresso and the Underground Coffeehouse
Peter B’s Espresso and the Underground Coffeehouse, two popular coffee houses on Trinity’s campus, supply caffeine and distinctive community spaces for students to gather. Although they are just across the Gates Quad from each other—the Underground is on the lower level of Mather Hall, near The Cave and the bookstore, while Peter B’s is on the ground floor of the Raether Library and Information Technology Center (LITC)—both cafés see plenty of daily foot traffic. Each one has its own unique appeal and history. “I think of Peter B’s as a workspace and the Underground as a socializing space to relax,” said Peter B’s barista Amber Montalvo ’20.
Peter B’s Espresso
Peter B’s began in 1988 as a coffee cart owned by Peter Brainard Jr. ’88, the namesake of the café now owned by his brother, Newton. In the early 1990s, years before the arrival of Starbucks to Connecticut, Brainard opened several shops, including the Trinity College location in the campus bookstore, then in Halden Hall. Peter B’s later moved to its current location in the Raether Library and Information Technology Center, where it continues to serve more than 30 years of students, staff, faculty, and visitors.
Tastes have changed—a 1997 Trinity Tripod article notes cappuccino as the most popular drink, whereas current tastes are for double-brewed iced coffee, year-round, according to manager René Dion—but the café’s role as a centralized hub of activity has remained. In addition to hot and cold drinks, Peter B’s serves freshly made baked goods like its ever-popular pumpkin bread, which the café serves all year. Keeping with the times, a variety of non-dairy milks are available, and the café is mindful of the campus’s sustainability initiatives. Peter B’s offers a bring-your-own-mug discount as well as washable mugs for visitors staying in the café area. The plastic lids and paper sleeves on the to-go cups are recyclable, and free coffee grounds are available to anyone who wishes to take them for compost.
The café is staffed by students who learn the art of pulling espresso and steaming milk. Dion said she enjoys seeing her employees grow, change, and make friends through the years, as many work at the café throughout their college experience. There is a sense of community among Peter B’s staff. Kaelie Murray Simmons ’20 started at the café as a first-year student and now serves as a student manager, overseeing and training new employees. “I love Peter B’s as a community. Working here is a good way to make new friends, especially as a first-year,” she said.
Still in the Biz: Notable Peter B’s alumni
- Isaac Weiner ’12, owner of Familiars Coffee and Tea in Northampton, Massachusetts
- Kelly Vaughan ’17, associate digital food editor at Martha Stewart Living
Peter B’s Espresso Hours (as of December 2019)
- Monday–Thursday: 7:30 a.m.–midnight
- Friday: 7:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Saturday: 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–midnight
The Underground Coffeehouse
The history of the Underground Coffeehouse is cloudier than Peter B’s, perhaps because it gradually came into being as an entirely student-run venture, sprouting sometime in the mid-1980s and growing into the welcoming, cozy café that exists today. The Underground is intended for socializing, with soft lighting that brightens the subterranean space sprinkled with comfy couches and adorned with student art. In addition to the usual coffee and espresso drinks, the Underground serves popular creations like the “Milky Way” coffee drink and the Sanpellegrino-based “Berry Sunrise.” The café is still student-run, with three student managers overseeing everything—events, personnel, inventory, and budget. They ensure the space remains self-supporting and follows its mission to offer a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Graduating managers choose the new managers for the following year.
Like Peter B’s, the Underground is attuned to the college’s sustainability efforts; it serves free-trade Omar coffee and composts the coffee grounds. It also offers bring-your-own-mug discounts and promotes the use of in-house, washable mugs. The staff members recycle everything they can in the college’s single-stream recycling program.
The Underground’s sense of community is important to the space’s managers and baristas. Student manager Emma Schneck ’20 oversees the Underground’s events, which include discussion groups, student presentations, and performances, with a special focus on multiculturalism. “All of us are involved in making the space our own,” said barista Cristina Aldeanueva ’22, whose artwork decorates the space.
Since the Underground is not in the LITC (like Peter B’s), the café can host louder events, like live music. In fact, the Underground was the birthplace of the annual Trinity International Hip Hop Festival. Although the festival has outgrown the small café space, the Underground still hosts pre-festival planning meetings and listening parties, and it currently hosts the festival’s registration table on the day of the event.
Still in the Biz: Notable Underground alumni
- Michael Acosta ’13, owner of Story and Soil Coffee Co. in Hartford
Underground Coffeehouse Hours (as of December 2019)
- Monday–Thursday: 8:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
- Friday: 8:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Saturday: 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
- Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
Written by Kate Sheely