La Prima Tazza barista knows his coffee – and tea

La Prima Tazza, or The First Cafe, opened in downtown Lawrence in 1990. It’s part of the Liberty Theatre complex at 638 Mass. Andy, who is studying for his master’s degree in political science, has worked there since 1997, and he knows his coffees. The beans are already roasted, but every coffee is made manually.

“No automated machines here,” he said. “Drawing a good shot requires expertise.”

I could tell. Watching him prepare coffee was like observing an artist.

I wondered about the tea and decided to have a go.

“Hot tea, please.”

“What kind?” asked Andy, pointing to a selection of tins.

“Breakfast tea.”

“British breakfast?”

Good sign.

Without further ado, he placed a tea bag in a glass container. The sight and sound of the boiling water was music in my ears.

“What kind of milk would you like?”

Wow! No offer of half-and-half.

“Do many people drink hot tea?” I asked. “You seem pretty knowledgeable.”

“Yes. It’s happened since more people started drinking green tea, and we extended the variety our offerings.”

Variety indeed. There was everything from red to green, to “Good Medicine,” “Warrior Brew” and even an “Indian Love” tea, which sounded full of promise for developing conversation.

I spoke with Bob, a postal worker and regular. He was happy to converse.

“I come here for the great coffee, good pastry and a quiet read,” he said.

Like many health-conscious customers, he now drinks skim latte to lower cholesterol.

Bob was amused by my questions about tea: His father served with the U.S. Navy during World War II and told Bob the stories of General Montgomery’s tea drinking in the desert.

“Monty stopped the war every afternoon to have tea,” he recalled.

The Americans found this highly amusing but, for a Brit, afternoon tea was a given – war or no war.

In the morning, about 70 percent of the customers have “to-go” drinks, and this percentage is reversed in the evening, when lively conversation is the norm. During my visit, most people were engrossed in their laptops and avoided eye contact. They were willing to chat when greeted.

I interrupted Pete, a single student, and asked him what made him come here.

“Well, it’s a friendly place, the coffee and service is great, and I feel less isolated,” he said.

Joel Mathis, now managing editor for convergence at the World Company and author of the blog Cup o’ Joel, which used to run Tuesdays in Pulse, is still a regular. He told me the presence of laptops at the cafe had increased in recent years. However, there was still plenty of opportunity for community-building and good conversation. I noticed this as soon as he arrived.

Andy greeted him with: “Hi, Joel. Good to see you. Your usual coming up.”

It took Joel some time to sit down because of different conversations with regulars.

Finding parking space on Mass. Street is a challenge, but if you want to have great coffee, meet new people, and don’t mind having hot tea in a glass, it is well worth a visit.


Service: 5/5
Coffee: 5/5
Tea: 3/5 (no tea pot)