January 27, 2017

Community in a cup

Espresso Bueno owner Elizabeth Manriquez, foreground, and her daughter, Elysia, work the counter recently at the Barre coffee shop that is celebrating its tenth year in business and its position on Main Street as a downtown meeting place. Stefan Hard / Staff Photo


Across Vermont, independent coffee shops and roasters are brewing up something special. But what is it about a local coffee shop that gets their customers to go out for coffee rather than stay home and brew their own?

Coffee is more than just a drink, it’s an experience — it’s something happening, from a daily ritual to an element of culture shared within communities.

“Coffee culture is really coming to the forefront here in Vermont. If change is going to happen within a community, it’s going to happen over a cup of coffee,” said Elizabeth Manriquez, owner of Espresso Bueno in Barre.

Celebrating 10 years of business in July, Manriquez shared the evolution of her café and her business focus.

“We’re more like a microbrew. Four years ago we implemented food when we expanded, yet our main focus is coffee — quality coffee rather than quantity,” Manriquez said.

“However, when we first began here in Barre, it took time to train in our demographic,” she said. “Specialty coffee hadn’t been introduced to the area yet. Our community today is undergoing a revitalization, and we feel as though we have been a large part of that. A coffee shop is the cornerstone of a town.”

The coffee industry is an ever-evolving business, depending upon trends and technology. According to The American Coffee Association USA, in American culture 75 percent of all caffeine consumed is the popular roasted bean, and the market for specialty coffees is growing as consumers become more educated about espresso-based drinks and how they are made.

“Here at Espresso Bueno, we are known for our mochas, because we make our own ganache,” Manriquez said. “But if someone is visiting the area, we gear them toward our maple latte.”

She added, “We also offer different hip methods of serving our coffee. We offer French press, pour-over, which begins with fresh grounds, a filter and a filter holder, then water is poured over and through the grounds; and our other method, Chemex, which is a glass vessel. We use a metal filter rather than a paper filter, as the metal filter keeps the oils within the coffee intact, which holds the antioxidants.”

About 25 years ago, Starbucks became a public company. It became a global brand that set the standard for coffee shops around the country, revolutionizing the way they brand themselves, their coffee, and their price per cup.

“At the time of branding themselves, Starbucks coined their establishment as being the ‘Third Place: home, work, and Starbucks’,” Manriquez said.

Today, Starbucks doesn’t rule the roost, or roast, in all communities. Local coffee shops are unique to their demographic and customer base. Starbucks however, from one location to the next, are all the same, with the same green mermaid with her star crown adorning their storefronts across the globe.

Bob Watson, owner of Capitol Grounds in Montpelier, explained that prior to opening his establishment in 1998, he and his then-business partner traveled to different coffee shops all throughout New England, taking in what was unique and different about each shop they visited.

“When you step inside independent coffee shops, each one is unique to its location and population; it’s a social experience,” Watson said. “Here at Capitol Grounds, we tend to get creative. We strive for individuality. We also roast our own beans.”

He added, “Our business is guided by our customers. Our customers here in Montpelier are well educated on coffee. ‘Is your coffee organic?’ ‘Is your coffee fair trade?’ Are questions we have received. Throughout this process, we have adapted to our customers’ wants. We are currently in the process of rebranding our roastery and coffee, which will launch on March 20 — the spring equinox, a time for new beginnings.”

The coffee industry is a consumer-driven industry. Coffee culture has changed — from the fast cup to the modern coffee consumer wanting their cup with a story. They want to know everything, from where the beans were sourced, to how they were farmed, to where they are roasted and then brewed, with attention to detail.

Samantha DiNatale, owner and chef of Mon Vert Café in Woodstock, said her first stop in any town is the local coffee shop.

“My main focus when purchasing the café two years ago was to create a space for the community; not only for the locals, but for out-of-towners. Every town needs a shop, not just for drinks, but to get a feel for the people; the community,” DiNatale said.

Each of the three independent coffee store owners interviewed stated that for sustainability and per customers’ request, they have had to think outside the bean and incorporate aliment, creating an all-in-one, one-stop shop.

“This spring, we are relocating and undergoing a significant expansion to both our seating capacity and our kitchen. Our pastry board will expand, as well as our breakfast and lunch menus,” DiNatale said.

A Parisian inspired café, Mon Vert incorporates the culinary culture of the Upper Valley, with expansive menu chalkboards filled with farm-to-table options.

“We work off of our demographic and what the local farms have to offer seasonally, and we support local coffee roasters,” DiNatale said. “We are looking forward to the years to come. We are excited about our growth, and the how the community has embraced us and celebrated us.”

Despite differences in consumers, they all share a goal to build connections over a cup of coffee.

“There’s a sense of independence in coffee shops, they are inclusive, bringing in all ages,” Watson said. “I love that our coffee shop is representative of our community.”


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