On Assignment is a new, semi-regular, column written by Montana Samuels. Here, you can piece together his search for cozy confines and perfectly steamed cappuccinos (and, possibly, a reprieve from the desk on an occasional Wednesday). 

First things first, I’m a sucker for cozy spaces with lots of natural light.

If you’re thinking it’s a bad sign that a writer would use the first words of a piece about coffee talking about the way light shines through windows, you’d probably be right more than you’re wrong. In this case, however, you’re not.

The first thing you notice about The Blend — 1130 Peoria St, Washington, Ill. — is the space. Low ceilings and warm colors make it feel intimate, and plant life lines the windows along the bar seating offered.

There’s a clear design ideology at play, but it’s not too rigid, just loose enough to feel natural, but not too loose to feel rushed or sloppy. Even the bagged coffee packaging is unique to those in the area, featuring a simple brown bag package with a classic stamped logo.

Speaking of coffee — err, espresso — in my two trips to The Blend over the course of a week, I had the cappuccino. The Blend offers a house espresso or a Burundi mikuba from Long Miles Coffee Project, I chose the latter.

It was a perfectly decent cappuccino, and made the traditional way. 6 oz., no more, no less. 

It was an espresso forward cup that, though not necessarily at the top of my national list, easily ranks within the top two of cappuccinos I’ve consumed during my two months in central Illinois, and it’s perhaps my favorite atmosphere in the state.

There’s a fine line to walk between over-praising aesthetic and under-praising product. For every coffee shop worth its weight (which I happen to consider The Blend to be one of), there are three that simply use Instagram well.

To say that the environment is the highlight at The Blend is not to provide a backhanded compliment, it is to say that the fine people there have achieved what should be one of two main goals of any great cafe: creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere that people want to come back to.

Coffee is communal, and simply grabbing a cup of drip is one inevitable part of the American, work-first society that we live in, but the most refreshing part of any coffee scene is the weightlessness provided by a familiar seat or stool and a sip of your drink of choice.

Washington, Ill. isn’t known for coffee — nor is this part of the country for that matter — but The Blend has provided a space welcome to newcomers, aficionados, and those who simply know enough to sound like they just might know what they’re talking about.

According to their website, The Blend’s mantra is “where coffee and community come together.” The goal, they say, is to be a familiar place that’s comfortable and inviting. To that, I say, goal achieved.

 

If you have coffee or food recommendations, or story tips, contact Montana Samuels at msamuels@timestoday.com, or on Twitter or Facebook @montanasamuels. If you plan to troll him, at least make it good.