Nearly two years ago, a trio of walk-on Boston College football players showed up for a month of pre-season practice in the hot August sun. Between morning and afternoon practices, they would get a break of about three hours, time that most teammates used to take a nap.
Not these three.
They looked for another way to boost their energy levels. They went in search of coffee.
It started with daily trips to Dunkin Donuts. Eventually their journey grew more adventurous. They also took a name (Coffee Crew) and developed a wild story about the crew’s origins (it involves their ancestors running into a burning building on the Chestnut Hill campus to save a coffee maker).
Their goal was to visit as many coffee shops as they could. So far they’re up to about 30.
Yes, over time, their coffee tastes have evolved a little. But even more, they’ve realized that they’ve experienced Boston in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. They’ve bonded over a coffee ritual that has become one of the most indelible memories of their college years.
“It’s not like it’s the coolest thing ever,” said Joey Launceford, a graduating senior who was one of the team’s kickers. “But it’s something so different from what other people do. We go to the coffee shops.”
“It’s awesome,” he added. “And I love it.”
They began bringing along a guest each week. If you had a car, you had a better shot at being a guest. If the crew had no access to a car — and often they didn’t — they’d ride wherever the MBTA could take them. On their way back, they’d find the closest fast food joint and grab a couple of burgers for one of the members, Sean Burke (who is a linebacker).
Since starting, the Coffee Crew has added another member. In addition to Launceford and Burke, it includes Jake Wilhelm (kicker) and Zach Wolfe (defensive back).
Each week, they research where to go, using a mixture of Yelp, blogs, instagram, and personal recommendations. They aren’t that picky about the spot. It doesn’t have to be a trendy cafe. Just a place that serves coffee.
Launceford usually gets black drip coffee, so he can compare the same drink everywhere, and he takes a coffee sleeve from each spot as a souvenir. Others in the group go with a latte or cappuccino. Sometimes they get food, but rarely.
They stay for about an hour. They always take a picture.
“We don’t know an insane amount about coffee,” Launceford said. “The best part is the trips we make and the stories from the trips we go on.”
Most of the crew didn’t drink coffee before starting it together. Now, they all do. And their journey into Boston’s coffee scene has brought out some observations.
“We pay attention to the music at a lot of the places,” Launceford said. “Some will play throwback from the 90s, some are doing smooth jazz, some are indie. Sometimes the music is distracting from conversation. Other times it’s like why are they playing this?”
“Seating is big,” he adds “Sometimes we have six people and fitting six people in a cafe isn’t always easy.”
They got ugly looks at Crema Cafe for taking up too much space. Boston Brewin Coffee turned out to be a curbside stop with no seating so they hung out at a nearby hotel lobby. At Render Coffee in the South End, Burke had coffee spilled on him.
“I’m not very picky,” Launceford said. “But I really like pour overs so if a place doesn’t have a pour over, I’m like, ‘I have a pour over in my dorm room. How can you guys not have a pour over in your cafe?’”
They’ve gotten funny looks from their fellow football players, who think their ritual is hilarious.
During away games, they don’t have time to venture out to cafes. But during their bowl games, they have. When they planed in the Pinstripe Bowl last year in New York City, they went to Magnolia Bakery. The year before, when they played in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., they found a coffee shop nearby.
Some coaches have asked to come along, and they’ve considered bringing faculty. If parents are in town, they have been known to join. But so far, it’s mostly been other students who have been invited.
And, yes, girlfriends.
“Three of us are dating right now,” Launceford said. “Every single time before we were dating we brought them. It wasn’t like a test for them. But it was something to impress them with.”
“With my girlfriend, one of the first nights I met her, I heard that she liked coffee,” he added. “I knew coffee crew would be a big plus.”
They have done most shops in Boston and Cambridge, headed up toward Wellesley (to Quebrada Baking Co.). One member of the crew has graduated, and Launceford is about to; the other two will be seniors next year. But everyone is planning to stay in the Boston area, so there are no plans to disband.
They’re looking for new shops, and new guests. And with easy access to a car, they can now broaden their trips.
“Boston College, a lot of kids don’t really leave campus much. It’s easy to stay here, it’s a fun school. It’s easy to not leave your dorm,” Launceford said.
“There are so many hidden places in Boston that most people don’t experience,” he added. “But because of this tradition I have seen so much of Boston that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s been one of my favorite parts about my college experience.”
Coffee Crews’ favorite coffee shops:
1. Café Algiers (Harvard Square)
2. Neighborhoods Café (Fenway)
3. Sofá Cafe (Newbury Street)
4. Andala Coffee House (Cambridge)
5. Athan’s (Brookline)
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Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.