Nestled cozily in the heart of Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado, sits Java Plaza, the first coffee shop I ever visited and thought, "This is a coffee shop." The cafe is located at 123 North College Avenue, just north of Mountain Avenue on the main drag of downtown Fort Collins -- walking distance from CSU campus and stumbling distance from most Old Town bars. Java Plaza features the standard American coffee shop fare (including lattes of all flavors, the ubiquitous cafe mocha, the none-too-subtly-named cafe americano, and several varieties of food in "wrap" form), handcrafted by dozens of poor-but-pleasant college students in any given year. Where Java Plaza truly shines, however, is in its subtle lighting, decor, and artwork from local artists.

The cafe is small, seating no more than thirty customers inside, and perhaps another half dozen outside. The tables and chairs are all mismatched, sturdy, and none too pretty; the lack of booths and walls for privacy encourage hushed conversations and leaning in close to whomever you're there with. During the day, Colorado's occasionally harsh summer sun casts dark shadows in places; at night, the lights are dim enough for intimate conversation, but bright enough for students to study and caffeinate themselves before tomorrow's final exam. Java Plaza helps support the local economy by purchasing and re-selling the aforementioned food wrapped in tortillas made in neighborhood restaurants and patronizing local artists by displaying and selling their artwork.

A large, red, awkward looking coffee roaster takes up a good portion of the room. Though I've personally never seen it in operation, there is always a faint dusting of coffee in the machine, suggesting its frequent use. Java Plaza sells bags of roasted coffee beans from all over the world and all the accoutrements of sophisticated coffee drinking, including grinders (manual and powered), elegant handmade coffee mugs, and compact, streamlined cappuccino machines.

Though its name suggests a plaza specifically for java, the cafe also offers several non-coffee drinks, including varieties of diet and/or organic teas, Italian sodas, smoothies, hot cocoa, and chai. The first chai I ever had (and consequently my first love when it comes to chai) came from Java Plaza. Though Oregon Chai is one of a dozen pre-made just-add-warm-milk varieties of chai out there, a touch of nutmeg and the warm, smiling recommendation of the first girl I ever loved makes the most mediocre chai perfectly heavenly.

Whether you're there to study for a neglected class, socialize with friends, or have a quiet game of gin with your significant other, Java Plaza is a wonderful place to go if you're ever in Fort Collins. Just look for the red and blue neon sign near Mountain and College, north of the Old Chicago restaurant.

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