Java for nada

Coffee_illoJava for nada

Free coffee in the Portland area

By Zachary Barowitz

There is free coffee available throughout greater Portland, but before you indulge, you must first reconcile your relationship with non-dairy creamer.

Try to think of powdered milk-substitutes, like Coffee-Mate, as a guilty pleasure. Sure, the concept is warped and the alchemical mix arcane, but the flavor is canny and these milk-subs plausibly replicate the mouth-feel of real cream. Indeed, NDCs contain caseins, the proteins in milk curds that lend the beverage its creaminess. (Given that, the “non-dairy” disclaimer is a bit misleading, though NDCs are lactose-free.)

The important thing is that fake cream does much to make mediocre brews palatable. If you’re a black-coffee purist, then stale, weak, burnt, cheap coffee will never be your cup of tea, so to speak. But if you can condescend to drinking it “light and sweet,” you’ll cheat fate for a couple more hours of semi-wakefulness without spending a dime.

For the most part, coffee offered gratis is of a low commercial grade, like New England Coffee — the kind of crap you pay $1.58 for at gas marts. This is not to suggest free joe is always nasty (it isn’t), or that real dairy products are never available (they are at some locations). Many auto repair shops, banks and hotels offer complimentary coffee as a matter of course. Other types of businesses are more idiosyncratic.

Lately, it seems an increasing number of free-java spots are using Keurig machines, which brew fresh cups from individual servings that look like super-sized half ’n’ half containers. Freshness makes a big difference, but I find Keurig coffee a bit too weak, so I use the “small” cup-size setting and run two servings through the machine.

To take full advantage of the guide below, you will need a modicum of chutzpah. However, even though I’m routinely mistaken for a hobo, I’ve never been hassled — this is Portland, after all. If you’re the type who is afraid to ask a waiter to refill your water glass, you should probably just brew at home and invest in a thermos.

Eastland Park Hotel

157 High St., Portland

Available: 24/7

Coffee Type: commercial grade

Milk/Cream: little half ’n’ halfs

Other Beverages/Snacks: a wide selection of teas

Ambience/Amenities: tables and chairs, restrooms; couches and television in the adjacent bar

Notes: This hotel lobby is my preferred spot to have meetings; coffee is toward the back, to the left of the restaurant entryway.

Grade: B+

Holiday Inn by the Bay

88 Spring St., Portland

Available: 24/7

Coffee Type: commercial grade

Milk/Cream: little half ’n’ halfs

Other Beverages/Snacks: lemonade; also apples, oranges, and some kind of cookie at the front desk (they used to have hot chocolate packs that made the coffee drinkable, but alas, no longer)

Ambience/Amenities: some seating; a comfortable, but not warm, atmosphere (the lobby’s layout and big windows always make me feel like I’m being watched)

Notes: Undrinkable; looks like rusty water. They must put the fresh grounds in at 5:45 a.m. and then leave them in all day.

Grade: F

AAA Car Care Center

191 Marginal Way, Portland

Available: Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Coffee Type: commercial grade

Milk/Cream: NDC

Other Beverages/Snacks: peanut machine: $.25/handful (more if you jiggle it and turn the knob slowly while dispensing)

Ambience/Amenities: small waiting room next to the mechanic’s garage

Notes: The coffee machine is in the back, almost behind the desk. It’s used mostly by the AAA technicians, but is accessible to the public.

Grade: C

Sullivan Tire

333 St. John St., Portland

Available: Mon.–Wed., Fri. 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Thurs. 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sat. 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

Coffee Type: Green Mountain

Milk/Cream: individual half ’n’ halfs

Other Beverages/Snacks: none

Ambience/Amenities: vending machines, magazines, and chairs

Notes: The Keurig machine makes all the difference.

Grade: A

Maine Paint

153 Ocean St., Mill Creek shopping center, South Portland

Available: Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

Coffee Type: Chase & Sanborn, other commercial grades

Milk/Cream: NDC

Other Beverages/Snacks: cookies

Ambience/Amenities: excellent customer service if you are in the market for paint

Notes: Woody, a Maine Paint employee, drinks three-to-four pots per day: “My last official act of each day is to finish what’s left in the pot,” he said.

Grade: C

Portland Transportation Center

(Concord Trailways/Amtrack) Thompson’s Point, Portland

Available: 2:45 a.m.–noon daily

Coffee Type: commercial

Milk/Cream: real milk and half ’n’ half

Other Beverages/Snacks: tea and snacks available from vending machines

Ambience/Amenities: ample seating, television, newspapers

Notes: This spot is popular with other freeloaders, including hobos from the nearby jungle, pensioners who steal tea bags, and commuters who park in the 15-minute spaces and grab a coffee and a newspaper. The station makes a nice base camp for hikers, as there is a trailhead behind the parking lot.

Grade: B+

Bob’s Discount Furniture

333 Clarks Pond Pkwy., South Portland

Available: Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Coffee Type: commercial

Milk/Cream: both

Other Beverages/Snacks: candy, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, lemonade

Ambience/Amenities: café/lounge with free sweets and movies

Notes: Unless you are interested in buying furniture, try to avoid the salesmen on the way to the cafe.

Grade: B+

Whole Foods Market

2 Somerset St., Portland

Available: 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily

Coffee Type: gourmet

Milk/Cream: was not offered by employee; may be available on demand

Other Beverages/Snacks: various free samples

Ambience/Amenities: Whole Foods has a corporate policy that entitles you to sample almost anything in the store upon request; coffee is served in small, sample-sized cups

Notes: Tastes double-burnt: overly roasted and then burned in the pot; smells like smoldering leaves.

Grade: F

Gorham Savings Bank

172 Commercial St. and 71 Marginal Way, Portland

Available: Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–noon

Coffee Type: Green Mountain

Milk/Cream: half ’n’ halfs

Other Beverages/Snacks: lollipops

Ambience/Amenities: lots of scrap paper and pens

Notes: Gorham Savings has Keurig machines. Coffee varieties include regular, decaf, and selections from a flavor sampler. There were tea bags at the Commercial Street branch (I guess you just run the machine sans coffee for hot water), and peppermint tea packets at the Marginal Way location.

Grade: C

Gorham Bike and Ski

693 Congress St., Portland

Available: Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Coffee Type: Green Mountain

Milk/Cream: half ’n’ half in a mini-fridge

Other Beverages/Snacks: no, not even sugar

Ambience/Amenities: well, there are bikes … and skis

Notes: A really nice selection of Green Mountain’s better blends, made with
a Keurig, as well as hot chocolate. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal place for freeloaders, as the shop’s open floor plan creates a fishbowl effect, but think of it as $1.50 off your next inner tube. Alternately, if you buy a $4,000 bike, you’re entitled to a lifetime of guilt-free coffee here.

Grade: A

Naval Recruiting Station

Mill Creek shopping center, South Portland

Available: Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Coffee Type: Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut

Milk/Cream: half ’n’ half from a carton

Other Beverages/Snacks: no

Ambience/Amenities: free, blue plastic mugs

Notes: Like a sermon/supper, they’ll give you coffee, but you’ll need to talk to them. On the plus side, the armed forces generally choose their most charming members for recruitment. The sickly sweetness of the artificial hazelnut probably appeals to unsophisticated young recruits.

Grade: B-

%d bloggers like this: