Did you know that in the basement of Lehman Hall in Harvard Yard exists the student-run Cafe Gato Rojo? Maybe you did. But did you know that the cafe, which serves coffee, tea, and baked goods, goes to great lengths to ensure its sustainability? You’re probably familiar with other cafes on campus, such as Greenhouse, and almost just as familiar with their uniformly beige compostable cups, plates, utensils, and napkins. But the Cafe Gato Rojo, known simply as the Gato to loyal patrons, takes waste reduction efforts a few steps further.
The environmentally-conscious practices in place at the Gato will make you feel even better than the cozy atmosphere and upbeat music already do; the additional benefits passed on to consumers and local businesses are the whipped cream on top of the frappe. Much like Greenhouse Cafe and any number of Harvard eateries, compostable is the name of the game. All of the Gato’s disposable cups, for hot or cold drinks, are compostable, as are napkins and utensils. The numerous compost receptacles—in addition to recycling bins—make appropriate disposal easy and ensure that these specially-ordered cups are worth the investment.
Unlike it’s better known counterparts, however, the Gato offers other options, as well. Patrons taking their coffee at one of the cafe’s tables may use mugs provided by the establishment, or eat their croissant off a real plate with a real fork. Those on the run may bring in their own to-go cup and receive a discount: a large drink will cost them less than the price of a small!
What makes the Gato especially unique, however—aside from frequent open mic nights and rotating photography exhibitions—might be less obvious to the everyday customer. The cafe orders its products with an eye for local and sustainable businesses. The pastries and baked goods are delivered daily from Boston’s own Danish Pastry House; the coffee comes from Square One Coffee, which pays premium wages to growers and reinvests in farming towns whenever possible. Even the milk to be steamed for your latte is locally sourced.
Taken together, this means reduced emissions and a stronger local economy, in Cambridge and across the globe where coffee is grown. And the Gato makes sure to practice what they preach, living up to the sustainable practices which they seek out: all waste produced behind the counter is compostable.
Next time you’re in the Yard—and especially if you have your own mug with you—drop into the Cafe Gato Rojo, chat with the personable baristas, and grab one of their delicious, rotating specialty drinks. Your daily dose of caffeine will be one you can feel good about, and the experience will be anything but uniform and beige.
Contributed by Marcy Laub, College '16, Adams Rep