Metro, Food

With Vietnamese Coffee and a Modern Aesthetic, Cicada Coffee Bar Charms Cambridge

As the end of a school year like no other approaches, college students throughout Boston need their caffeine more than ever. In the face of looming finals and a multitude of papers, the Vietnamese coffee shop Cicada Coffee Bar might just be the perfect study escape.

Though small, Cicada is charming, with plants in the windows creating a calming atmosphere. George Fei, a regular at Cicada, said the aesthetic storefront was one of the first things that drew him into the coffee shop.

Frequenting the Central Square neighborhood in Cambridge often, Fei said that he became a customer this March after the coffee shop opened in late February. Though he passed by the storefront often with his friends, Fei said social media played a role in his discovery of Cicada. 

“We walk by here frequently, and we saw a sign that indicated that the space was going to be something else,” Fei said. “And then, I saw an article on Eater about a new cafe opening, and then we followed them on Instagram … We came here like almost as soon as it opened.”

But, Fei is not Cicada’s only returning customer. While sitting in the fashionably decorated space, a newcomer can see that the owner and staff of Cicada know the regular customers by name.

“I think they also make an effort to know their customers well, so every time we go in there, they either recognize us or like recognize our names, and [are] like ‘oh hey … we’d like to offer you something special today,’” Wenwen Teh, another loyal customer and Fei’s friend, said. 

Co-owned by chef Vinh Le and Duong Huynh, Cicada’s interior decorations are soothing and stylish with a variety of chic, retro decorations throughout the space. 

“I’m a bit of a self-described ‘plant daddy,’ so … I noticed the window [with] … all the plants,” Fei said. “When I walk in I see the owner has a potted fig tree, like not a basic ficus lyrata … a common fig, [this one is] … legit … I thought that was so cool.”

The aroma of coffee mingles with the scent of burning incense in the store, making the coffee shop both cool and inviting. Cicada’s motto is “Live slowly to understand deeply,” and the coffee shop lives up to this by creating a space where customers can stop and savor their coffee before continuing on with their day, according to its website. 

“It looked like a pretty cool place that you would want to spend time in or work [in] even,” Teh said. “And then their food was really good. It felt like a really interesting take on Vietnamese coffee.”

Cicada’s coffee is viet phin dripped, which uses the phin—a traditional metal filter that is similar to a French press. This process of making coffee takes time, as it is filtered drip by drip. 

Cicada offers several unique drinks including the Sea Salt Shaker, an iced coffee with Maine sea salt and sweetened condensed milk, and the Back to Black, which has notes of pine wood and vanilla, according to its menu. Among its sweeter options is the coconut affogato—coffee served with Toscanini’s coconut ice cream. 

For those that don’t drink coffee, tea-based drinks such as the turmeric and ginger-infused Golden Latte are also available. 

Cicada’s menu is pescatarian and vegetarian, offering light meals to pair with its coffee. There is a variety of banh mi, a classic Vietnamese sandwich, along with several noodle dishes available. Cicada also offers a small selection of baked goods, including a blackberry crumble Danish and a cream scone with orange zest. 

While the menu is not overly expensive, as most specialty coffees are around three to six dollars and food is around 10 dollars, Cicada discounts its day-old baked goods for $1.50. 

Despite the pandemic, Cicada’s small space is bustling on a Saturday morning, and its best pastries sell out quickly. Currently, all orders must be submitted online, and customers can scan a QR code to order. All food and drink orders are packaged in compostable, single-use containers, and Cicada encourages its customers to throw away their waste in a compost located near the back of the store. 

Be it the calming atmosphere, its coffee selection, or its trendy decor, Cicada creates a trendy space for its customers to pause and enjoy their coffee. Cicada’s growing popularity is undeniable with its loyal returners, and it seems likely that its fan base will continue to expand after the pandemic. 

“You know, had it not been the pandemic, this definitely would have been a place I would’ve frequented just to sit and feel the vibes,” Fei said. “Literally everything on their menu is great … I think it’s so good.”

Featured Image by Maggie Leahy / Heights Editor

April 26, 2021