Story by Chelsea Rose Moore
Americans run on coffee. We drink it every morning, we sip it in the afternoon, we wait in long lines to buy to a $5 latte and even put coffee beans in our Christmas stockings.
In recent years there’s been a shift, from coffee at big box stores to artisan coffee at small shops. People are becoming more educated about where their coffee comes from and how it is made.
Here are four Northern Virginia coffee roasters committed to educating customers and paving the way for the future of ethically-roasted coffee. Check out their sites to find last minute Christmas stocking stuffers or to find a new blend to share this holiday.
Happy Creek Coffee & Tea | Front Royal, Virginia
When Carson Boita trains new employees at Happy Creek, he talks to them about tomatoes. He tells a story of two farmers: the commercial farmer and the heirloom tomato farmer. During peak season, the commercial farmer spends a day taking every tomato off the vine. Harvesting in a single day means, along with the ripe tomatoes, he is collecting both under and over ripe tomatoes in an effort to take every tomato off the plant. When he tries to make salsa, he finds he needs to add heat and extra spices to cover the flavor, and ultimately ends up with something resembling a marinara sauce, heavily masked with seasoning.
On the other hand, the heirloom tomato farmer heads into his field every day. He picks what is ripe, and leaves the rest to ripen on the vine. Unlike the commercial farmer, his salsa is fresh and bursting with flavor, needing little seasoning.
Happy Creek roaster Jeromé Ray roasting coffee. Photo by Anna Nantz, courtesy of Happy Creek.The story of the two tomato farmers showcases the difference between commercial coffee and handpicked beans. With artisan coffee, the quality of the bean speaks for itself. Quality beans offer beautiful flavor profiles, thus removing the need for flavored syrups. “You taste the differences [in the coffee], like you do in a wine tasting,” he said. “Our education is based around what makes our coffee different, and my main goal is to get people to taste good coffee. Happy Creek Coffee & Tea is a participant in the Third Wave Coffee mantra: coffee should be sourced responsibly, roasted excellently, and brewed freshly.”
Boita and his wife, Brenda, opened Happy Creek in September 2013. It was birthed out of necessity, he said because there was no place to get good coffee. He spent a few years roasting his own beans and experimenting with various brewing methods, and then he opened his first location in Front Royal. Now, with additional locations in The Plains and Purcellville, and Happy Creek Eatery, a gluten-free restaurant in Front Royal, his vision has paved the way for artisan coffee in Northern Virginia.
“We wanted to make coffee approachable,” he said, “Sometimes there’s quite a bit of pretentiousness around coffee. Our goal was to craft and create really good coffee where anybody could come in and possibly learn a little bit about it. We want people to feel welcome.”
Happy Creek roasts their coffee in their Front Royal location. Deeply committed to producing a high-quality product, they pay special attention to details missed by many commercial coffee companies. Rather than automate, they prefer to do things by hand in an effort to monitor quality.
While Northern Virginia’s coffee scene has exploded in the past five years, Happy Creek has served as a pioneer in Virginia’s artisan coffee movement – and is still paving the way for the East Coast’s coffee culture.
To learn more about Happy Creek, visit their website happycreekcoffee.com.
Catoctin Coffee Company | Lovettsville, Virginia
Before roasting coffee, Kellie Capritta worked in the travel industry. She drank great coffee all over the world, but couldn’t find good coffee at home in Loudoun County. At the time, there were no local roasters, and she was desperate to find something nearby. She decided to do what any reasonable person would: she started a roasting her own coffee. Beginning in her Lovettsville garage, she started Catoctin Coffee Company in 2011. She knew she did not want to run a coffee shop, but wanted to focus on a high quality roasting experience using ethically-sourced, high quality, single origin beans. Today, she sells her coffee at the Leesburg Farmer’s Market, delivers to customers in Lovettsville, and ships her beans worldwide.
With a variety of blends and a cold brew, her goal is to give her customers what they want, while educating them about coffee. Her coffee is served at popular Loudoun establishments like AhSo Restaurant, Cocina on Market, and Market Table Bistro. “Instead of buying from the grocery store, they are buying from a woman-owned business, a family-owned business, and a locally-owned business,” she said.
Capritta’s husband’s grandmother used to roast coffee in an oven above her bakery in New York City, as the modern convenience of packaged coffee had not yet been introduced. When Folgers and Maxwell House were born, they marketed themselves as a way to save time and eliminate the need for home roasting. For decades, convenience became king, and the art of roasting and brewing was slowly forgotten. But there has been a recent movement towards slow living, a hearkening back to the lifestyle of our great-grandparents.
Today, people are supporting small shops and sourcing quality products, making food from scratch, and spending more time on artisan experiences. “Starbucks opened up the door, and broke the mold of Maxwell House and Folgers,” she said. It was really Starbucks that paved the way for smaller roasters, she noted.
Learn more about Catoctin Coffee Company by visiting catoctincoffee.com.
Cordial Coffee Co. | Berryville, Virginia
Brandon Belland’s introduction to coffee started as a teenager. He moved to Virginia Beach and started working as a barista at his local Starbucks. That job would ultimately be his first step in a long journey, leading to roasting his own coffee and owning his own shop, Cordial Coffee Co. “At the time, there were no other coffee shops like Starbucks,” he said, “They didn’t sell other brands of coffee. They sourced and roasted their own coffee. They were taking a wholesale product and taking it straight to resale.”
But it was the people that drew him in. The shop drew customers from every crowd – athletes, musicians, artists, moms – and created an energy that could only be found in the shop, serving as a hub for community. “Coffee shops are a community magnet,” he said.
Brandon Belland of Cordial Coffee practicing his cupping. Photo by Hilary Hyland Photography.He traveled around the country working at various cafes, eventually settling in Front Royal as Happy Creek’s inaugural coffee roaster. In 2016, he and his wife opened Cordial Coffee in Berryville, which has become a center for community in Clarke County. Cordial’s emphasis on ethically produced coffee has opened the door for educational conversations with customers.
“It’s really about making sure our vision is understood by everyone on our team. We educate our employees first, so they can later educate customers,” he said, “We have information on every bag of coffee [explaining] where it comes from, how sustainable the work practices are, and how that determines what flavors each coffee will yield. We insist on making sure that information is passed along.”
The Bellands opened locations in Marshall and Strasburg earlier this year, and are currently building out a fourth location in Aldie.
Learn more about Cordial Coffee Co. by visiting cordialcoffee.com.
Lone Oak Coffee Company | Winchester, Virginia
Sam Kayser drank coffee all of his life, but it was mostly bad coffee. There was a moment, however, where he had his first cup of specialty coffee, a taste of what would be considered the finest 10 % of coffee in the world. A single cup of coffee changed the way he saw coffee and changed his life.
He became obsessed with coffee, and purchased a small stovetop roaster to practice roasting his own beans. He bought a French press and started using it. Promising himself that one day he would open his own coffee shop, he took a job as an apprenticeship with a master roaster and focused on learning and perfecting the craft.
A couple years later, he and some friends opened Winchester’s Hopscotch Coffee & Records, part café, part record store. Then, at the ripe old age of 24, he started Lone Oak Coffee Company, where he roasts today. Not a coffee shop, Lone Oak supplies artisanal coffee to shops around the area. The feedback is in his results: in 2016, 2017, and 2018, his coffee won bronze medals at the world’s largest roasting competition, the Golden Bean North American Roasting Competition.
Kayser’s goal is to share his passion for coffee with the world. He wants to create a moment for others, like he had with first cup of good coffee. He wants to hear people tell him they’ve never tasted coffee like his. And he wants them to say they can’t use their Keurig anymore. He wants to change people’s minds about the beverage they drink every day. “Coffee has the taboo reputation of being a cheap beverage served at diners, that your parents and grandparents drank,” he said, “It was a cheap, G.I. Joe beverage that tastes like mud. It just keeps you awake. People think it’s not supposed to taste good – but it actually can. It’s getting people to think of coffee as a craft beverage, like beer or wine.”
His coffee offers intentionality, with the goal of educating customers on coffee’s entire process, from origin to consumer. He’s watching coffee farmers leave the coffee industry, after generations of coffee farming, to pursue corn and soybean crops. It’s an easier alternative and makes more money, but this begs the question: what will happen to the future of coffee?
To save coffee farms, it is necessary for people to value coffee more, he said. This puts money back into the hands of farmers, whose main goal is to provide food and shelter for their families. “I hope more and more people get into craft coffee and support their local coffee shops,” he said. “Coffee should be considered a more craft-focused beverage as opposed to a commodity. Support your mom and pop roasters. Vote with your dollar.”
Lone Oak Coffee Company is located at 22 West Bond Street, Winchester. Learn more about their mission and tours, tastings, and classes at loneoakcoffee.com.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Middleburg Life.