These great coffeehouses serve up more than great coffee.
By Jennifer Huberdeau
You don’t have to love espresso or know what an Aeropress is to enjoy the character of a neighborhood coffeehouse.
“We still sell more straight brew drip coffee than anything else,” said Matthew Rubiner, the owner of Rubi’s Coffee & Sandwiches and Rubiner’s Cheesemongers, during an interview on a recent sunny spring afternoon outside the Great Barrington, Mass., coffee shop. “We keep things as simple as possible. We don’t do anything fancy. We serve a signature French roast, a lighter roast and espresso.”
Nearby, patrons of the soon-to-be 13-year-old coffeehouse enjoyed freshly made grilled cheese sandwiches, a house specialty, while sipping lattes in the small outdoor seating area.
Inside, a staff of three whipped up to-go and in-house coffee and espresso drink orders behind a small counter. Around the corner, a trio of customers, seated along a wall adorned with cocktail glasses and a display of liquor bottles, clicked away at their laptop keyboards.
“I like the ambience,” said Janet, a resident of nearby Monterey who makes frequent trips to Rubi’s. “It also has the best coffee in town.”
That signature flavor comes from the Barrington Coffee Roasting Co., which Rubiner said Rubi’s has been serving since day one.
“We’re very close friends with them inside and outside of the business world,” he said.
“We just love them and their coffee. We don’t see a need to rotate our offerings when we have something of such high quality being mad so close to home,” he said.
Serving locally roasted beans is a priority for many coffeehouses in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont.
At Flat Iron Exchange, a coffeehouse with a ‘90s vibe in Bellows Falls, Vt., owner Jana Bryan serves roasts from Precision Valley Coffee Roasters, a company that began in Springfield, Vt.
Precision Valley “moved about 5 months ago, but continues to provide us with a variety of coffee, roasted in small batches, five pounds at a time,” she said. “We like to serve a medium and dark roast coffee each day, but as to where the beans are from, we give him the freedom to provide us with whatever is in season and what might provide a contrast in options.”
At Stockbridge Coffee and Tea, a Stockbridge, Mass., shop where you can sip and savor the flavor among the stacks of the in-house bookstore, the beans come from two sources: Coffee Direct and the nearby Six Depot Roastery and Cafe in West Stockbridge, Mass.
“We use a few brewed house coffees that we have daily — the organic, fair trade dark Sumatra from Coffee Direct, and the Costa Rica from Six Depot, which are both very popular,” owner Abbey Keith said.
In addition, the coffeehouse rotates a few single origin roasts from Six Depot, including its Indian Monsoon and Ethiopia Amaro Gayo offerings. The espresso is a traditional Italian roast from Coffee Direct.
“I come for the lattes,” Monique Belliveau, of Lee, Mass., said as she sipped her brew while on break from her job a few storefronts away. “It’s just really good coffee. There’s also a great vibe here. It’s a place where you can come with friends to just hang out and talk.”
Like many coffeehouses in Vermont and the surrounding area, Spiral Press Cafe, which is adjoined to Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., serves up traditional drip and espresso drinks made from the Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company.
A trip to the iconic, funky, underground home of Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro, Vt., will earn you more than respect. Here the coffee is made with great attention to detail — precision grind, particular water quality parameters, regular testing with a refractometer ensure proper extraction and consistency of the recipe, according to Jackie Billings, a coffee consultant for Mocha Joe’s.
An extra reward for visiting the coffeehouse, is access to the exclusive Roots retail line, featuring special preparations and limited releases from the roasting company’s Direct Trade programs in Cameroon, Guatemala, and Bolivia.
The bottom line? Don’t be deterred by fancy drink names or steamed milk.
“We like to try to have something for everyone, and you will find a rotating selection of light roast, dark roast, and decaf on offer at all times,” Billings said.
Five Great Cafes to Discover
Great Coffee House Basics
When it comes to coffee, no two cups are alike. That’s true for coffeehouses too. In the end, what makes a coffeehouse great is the fact that you want to go back again and again.
To make our recommendations, we pulled together a list of basics that every great coffeehouse should have:
Great-tasting coffee: Whether you prefer a single-drip or a fancy espresso-based cup, the quality of the beans brewed there are essential. Offering a variety of roasts is also a must. Many enjoy a dark roast, but a medium roast is needed at the very least.
Brew methods: Roast and beans aside, the way coffee is brewed also impacts the quality of what ends up in your cup. While the traditional drip is still the most sought after, a variety of espresso-based drinks on the menu is also a must. Cold brews, pour overs, Chemex, Aeropress, or French Press offerings are a bonus.
The beans: Locally sourced and roasted beans are more than a treat these days. Many coffeehouses either roast their own or have at least one local provider they love to support. A great coffeehouse rotates the roasts and also sells the beans they grind.
Respite from the world: Grabbing a cup to go is great, but when you need a break or to disappear for a few hours, this coffeehouse is the place to go to meet friends or to settle in with a good book or laptop.
Ambience: Good vibes are a top priority among the coffee drinkers we ran into. A calm atmosphere is important to relaxation, regardless of the decor.
Treats: Great coffeehouses serve coffee with a few specialty pastries and sandwiches on the side. The offerings are limited but delicious, making the sparse spread worthy of being served alongside the espresso.
Seats: Not every great coffeehouse has to have comfy lounges and couches. Sometimes benches and stools are just as nice.
Baristas: Great service is just as important as great coffee. It doesn’t matter how great the coffee is if the staff isn’t approachable and helpful.
Wi-Fi and outlets: Wi-Fi is a must these days. We don’t mind having to purchase an item or two to get the code for free Wi-Fi, we just want the option. Outlets or charging stations are are bonus.
Photos: Jennifer Huberdeau
Stockbridge Coffee and Tea
6 Elm St., Stockbridge, Mass.
Varieties: Organic, fair trade dark Sumatra from Coffee Direct and the Costa Rica from Six Depot, both very popular. Rotation of Six Depot single origin beans, including Indian Monsoon and Ethiopia Amaro Gayo. Espresso is an organic, fair trade traditional Italian roast from Coffee Direct. A healthy tea list with teas from MEM Tea in Watertown, Mass., and Harney & Sons in New York.
Brew methods: Classic drip coffee, cold brew and espresso drinks.
What makes it unique: It’s a coffeehouse with a used bookstore inside of it.
Seating: A counter with stools, tables, comfy lounge chairs and a table tucked inside a book nook.
Rubi’s Coffee and Sandwiches
264 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass.
Varieties: Exclusively uses Barrington Coffee Roasting Co.’s French Roast, Gold (espresso blend) and Sumatra Aceh Ketiara
Brew methods: Traditional drip and espresso drinks
What makes it unique: During the colder months, a working fireplace warms the seating area.
Seating: Seasonal outside seating. Tables and chairs in an adjoining room.
Flat Iron Exchange
51 The Square, Bellows Falls, Vt.
Varieties: A rotating selection from Precision Valley Coffee Roasters.
Brew methods: Classic drip coffee, French press, and espresso drinks.
What makes it unique: A throwback to an early ‘90s cafe with a stage for live performances.
Seating: A variety of lounge chairs, couches and tables.
Spiral Press Cafe
15 Bonnet St., Manchester Center, Vt.
Varieties: Mocha Joe’s Roasting Co.
Brew methods: Traditional drip and espresso drinks.
What makes it unique: It adjoins the 10,000-square-foot Northshire Bookstore.
Seating: A few stools at a counter in the cafe, as well as a larger seating area.
Mocha Joe’s Roasting Company
82 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.
Varieties: Its own line of roasts, with a dark and medium roasts and a decaf option available daily.
Brew methods: Traditional drip, Chemex and espresso drinks.
What makes it unique: The coffeehouse is still located in the funky, underground space it opened in in 1991. Beans are roasted in an adjoining space.
Seating: Tables, chairs and a couch. Two tables feature chess