I have now had coffee at all the coffee shops of note in Fayetteville, AR, and am in a position to evaluate. I'm going to offer evaluations and ranking in three categories: espresso, drip coffee, and ambiance. The quality of the espresso is always my first consideration, so I'll list that first.
Espresso: Mama Carmen's on College wins, hands down, for a strong and rich "real" espresso with perfect crema. A close second goes to the Arsaga's on campus in the law library, then the Arsaga's around town, and then a distant third goes to Jammin' Java. I do not recommend drinking espresso at Baba Boudain's or Starbucks.
Drip Coffee: Again, Mama Carmen's comes out well ahead of the rest of the pack. Not only do they provide three options of drip coffee, including the outstanding Chemex slow drip option, but they also roast spectacular beans. Second is McDonalds (no joke). Third goes to Arsaga's and Jammin' Java and Starbucks, a triple-way tie, with perhaps the best drip option at the Arsaga's over on Township. Finally, I don't recommend drip coffee at the Jammin' Java at the mall, or at any gas station or any other fast food location.
Ambiance: This one is more difficult, because different coffee shops each have something unique going for them. I guess for best general coffee shop vibe, I choose either the Arsaga's on Township, or the Arsaga's on Crossover and Mission. Both are classic coffee shop locations, a bit bohemian and nice. Third goes to the one in the Fayetteville public library, because it's in the library. Also very close to these is Jammin' Java on the square, and if a band is playing, then Jammin' jumps to #1 for ambiance. Finally, I also give Starbucks very high marks for ambiance because of the staff. They're the most quirky and fun group of baristas I've encountered, anywhere, and I love the vibe there. Similarly, Mama Carmen's is super nice and I love hanging out there, my only problem with the ambiance is that I feel like I've entered a Christian ghetto. Everyone is reading a bible, and I've seen people walk up to other tables and offer to pray with them. Don't get me wrong, I pray often and read the bible myself, but when I go to a coffee shop, I want to feel like I'm part of the bohemian intelligentsia, not the religious establishment. :)
Baba Boudan's, though quirky, isn't that great as a hang-out, it's more of a drive through, and well, the Jammin' Java at the mall is at the mall, enough said about that.
Disclaimer: This blog post is totally a form of escapism, distracting myself from the tragedy in Joplin and the new storms en route. Please forgive me.
p.s. The Arsaga's on Township wins, hands down, for the best tasty treat, flavored marshmallows! And Arsaga's at the library wins for great soup.