As with any truly hipster neighborhood, Hampden has plenty of coffee shops. The three that come immediately to mind are Artifact, Common Ground and Spro. All of these are locally owned businesses and some locally roast their coffee beans in some capacity.
Artifact Coffee is owned by Spike Gjerde, owner of many Baltimore restaurants including the nearby Bird in Hand coffee shop. Their coffee is roasted by Counter Culture Coffee in Durham, North Carolina.
Common Ground has been in Hampden for 14 years and is a laid-back favorite on the Avenue. Spro Coffee is owned by Jay Caragay, who grew up in Pikesville, Md.
Spro was the first coffee shop that I visited in Hampden. It was one of the first places I’d ever been with noticeably good coffee. I used to put cream and sugar in coffee, but at Spro I was happy to drink it black.
Now I drink black coffee all the time, but that has more to do with my growing caffeine dependence than anything else.
Before opening in Hampden, Caragay operated a coffee shop in the Baltimore County Public Library in Towson. Spro came to Hampden in 2010, and in 2011, Caragay started a small roastery in East Baltimore to experiment with coffee roasting and flavor. A former Spro employee now owns the Towson location.
Caragay claims that Spro is one of a kind in the variety of roasts and beans that it features. Apparently, many shops contract with only a small number of roasters or even with just one. He also claims that the variety of brewing methods that Spro uses is unique.
In fact, Spro offers seven different methods for brewing coffee, including French press, pour-over and a cold brew drip tower, which looks just as magnificent and odd as it sounds.
While Caragay’s claims could be exaggerated, Spro certainly stands out from other shops. While they can seem annoyingly snobby, especially for reasons I will address later, they care about the coffee they make. The manner in which they view coffee as a craft adds to any experience that you have there and truly shows in the flavor of their coffee.
The inside of Spro is well lit with pale walls and has a clean, minimal feeling. It offers a variety of seating: some in the front near the large front window, a couple of small tables in a room further back in the coffee shop and some outdoor seating in both the front and the back.
I find the outdoor seating in the back particularly charming, although I was lucky enough to visit when no one was smoking. Fortunately for some but unfortunately for those of us who are rather attached to our lungs, smoking is permitted in the back outdoors area.
I take issue with one part of Spro: They don’t offer Wi-Fi. They seem to be making a statement that I understand and support on one hand: They are trying to create a more social space, a stronger experience.
Despite my understanding of this, it is a reality that as a Hopkins student, it’s difficult to justify visiting a coffee shop without doing any work. I like going out of the house to study, and it can be a little annoying to have to plan out work that doesn’t require the Internet.
It’s also a little irritatingly moralizing of them to deny Wi-Fi to patrons for this purpose, if that is indeed why they do it. Then again, the lack of Wi-Fi can make focusing on reading quite easy.
Spro’s prices are fairly typical for a coffee shop, although certain types of coffee are more expensive than others.
Spro is very close by; It’s on the main avenue of Hampden. While Spro has its quirks, it is certainly worth trying, especially if you want to seek out unique, well-crafted coffees.
Correction: This article originally stated that all the coffee shops locally roasted their own coffee. However, Artifact and Bird in Hand roast their coffee in Durham, North Carolina.