A Few of the Best in New England

In my travels across New England, I always make it a priority to stop at local towns and test the quality of their local coffee shops’ offerings. Though I have barely skimmed the surface of the many cafés out there, I can assuredly recommend a few ranging from Maine to Massachusetts. In the links provided, you can peruse their menus or perhaps find inspiration to visit a new café near you. Enjoy!

 

~MASSACHUSETTS~

Atomic Cafe, Beverly…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

http://www.atomicafe.com/

Set on the tourist-and-locals-friendly Cabot Street, Atomic Café certainly lives up to it’s motto of the “friendliest place in town.” From the moment you walk through the door, beaming employees offer to help you. Offering a science-y, retro, spunky atmosphere, Atomic is the place to go for local college and high school students. A combination of window-front two-tops, large community tables, and more intimate red plush booths makes for a cozy-yet-spacious atmosphere where it is all too easy to get lost in your work. The café is marked by light wooden tabletops and counter adornment, with a red brick wall background decorated with local artwork for sale. The chalkboard menu, as well, provides a large selection of salads, breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, smoothies, and, of course, coffee and tea drinks. Overall, Atomic Café is the place to come if you are in need of a place to sit and grind out work for even six hours.

 

Jaho Coffee & Tea, Salem…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

https://www.jaho.com/

Located in the historic town of Salem, Jaho is the local and tourist favorite if you’re looking for a place to cozy up with a book, study for hours on end, or simply chat with friends. They offer a wide variety of coffee, tea, and food as well, one of my favorites being their signature scarlet espresso, with spicy dark chocolate, hazelnut, and coconut notes that provide “a lush sweetness with a lingering crème brûlée finish.” For those not local, Jaho is also located in the Southend and Chinatown, and just opened a new store in Nakameguro, Tokyo. Jaho is also the only café around that boasts offering Bubble Tea on the menu. Food-wise, they offer a range of salads, sandwiches, pastries, and my personal favorite, the naan bread margarita pizza (a gooey mass of real red sauce and fresh mozzarella on warm naan). Inside Jaho, an elevated portion of the shop holds large work tables, while smaller half-booths complete with plush chairs on one side fill the opposite end of the room. Taller large tables perfect for a quick chat fill the middle.

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~MAINE~

Red Cup Coffee House, Boothbay Harbor…………………………………………………………………………………..

https://www.facebook.com/RedCupCoffeehouse/

The relatively new café to the historically touristic town of Boothbay Harbor has quickly risen to the top of the charts for locals and tourists alike. With delicious sandwiches, Maine blueberry specials such as pies, muffins, and scones, and a wide variety of brewed espressos and caffè lattes, you will never be at a loss of a food or drink item that piques your interest. With both tables inside and outside, wide windows at the front offer a waterfront view, and a small stage in the corner with guitars hanging on the wall behind it comes in handy every Thursday night for karaoke or concerts. Smaller tables make for perfect chatting locations, and a bar on one side can be used to set up shop with a laptop or notebook to work. The quaint town in which it resides and the nearby wharf is a tempting option for taking your coffee to go, as tables tend to fill up quickly.

~NEW HAMPSHIRE~

Schoodacs Coffee & Tea, Warner………………………………………………………………………………………………..

https://www.facebook.com/Schoodacs/

A hidden gem in the middle of a small town named Warner, Schoodacs is the place to go when you’re passing through New Hampshire on a ski trip or college visit. I first discovered this quaint, lodge-like coffee and tea shop en route from Vermont to Massachusetts, when I saw there was a fall festival being hosted in Warner that day. Upon entering the coffee shop, a spacious yet one-room house with a wrap-around front porch and wooden steps leading up to it, I was greeted by a display table of numerous baked goods and a menu with all the classics. I had to order a chai latte when I heard that it was “the best chai people have ever had,” although I ordered about half the amount of spice when I was told that it is very strong. The flavors they boast there are all bold and pure, ensuring customers will have an experience that is unforgettable. Even though it is a little out of my way, I now never forget to stop by this local gem when visiting my sister’s college.

~VERMONT~

Sandy’s Books & Bakery, Rochester……………………………………………………………………………………………

I first discovered the hidden (and I mean hidden) gem of Sandy’s Books & Bakery on the way to visit my sister at college in Vermont. In need of a cup of coffee, I stopped by Sandy’s, thinking at first that it was more of a used book shop than a restaurant. Inside, I realized that the best of both was possible; a counter lady helped me decide on a flavorful Vermont maple latte with almond milk as I gazed over the freshly baked pies, muffins, cookies and scones at the display counter. On the back wall, I could see that they also offer breakfast options, including french toast with Vermont maple syrup. Once my drink was ready, I wandered into the back room, where the magic of the store is revealed; positioned among stacks of old books were cozy wooden tables at which one could enjoy both a coffee and a good book at the same time.

~CONNECTICUT~

Tusk & Cup Fine Coffee, Ridgefield……………………………………………………………………………………………..

http://www.tuskandcup.com/

While living with my cousin for a week in Ridgefield, I asked for a recommendation of where I could park myself every day in order to read the entirety of Wuthering Heights for my English class, while being out of my aunt’s hair. Tusk & Cup immediately came to her mind as the number one hangout/work spot for students in both high school and college. Whether you’re looking or breakfast, a snack, or coffee, Tusk & Cup provides all three. The bagels are fresh every day and toasted to perfection with cream cheese spread, and at the counter, banana bread, zucchini bread, and coffee cake pastries all await. I had to order the Cinnamon Spice Caffè Latte, being a cinnamon lover. On the coffee menu were also numerous espressos, brewed caffè and tea, and other caffè lattes, including vanilla bean, mandorla, and nocciola. After ordering, a few comfy leather couches surrounding a fire place make for a cozy place to simply unwind, while small and large tables surrounding it offer work spaces. One of the most unique aspects of this café is the display of local artists’ works on the walls, and they offer artist receptions in the evenings.

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From the Ground to Your Cup

Have you ever wondered where those little beans that go so well with a coating of chocolate come from? Or how something that starts off as a seed in another country gets to your steaming mug? The steps to making the flavorful roasts that only come from the highest quality grown and cultivated beans have to be carried out precisely and completely in order for the coffee to make the long journey successfully from the field into your cup.

The National Coffee Association lists 10 steps as being crucial to the making of the finest brewed coffee. (Photos below are courtesy of Google Images.)

 

~Step 1: Planting~

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Coffee Plantations in Agua Branca, Brazil

The coffee beans that we grind in order to brew coffee are, in fact, seeds that will grow into coffee trees when planted. Places such as Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, which produce the majority of coffee in the world, have ideal climates for coffee plantations. In order for a coffee tree to grow, the climate must be tropical, with fertile volcanic red earth or deep sandy loam as the ideal soil. Different types of coffee vary in the temperature needed to thrive; for example, Arabica coffee, which makes up roughly 70 percent of worldwide coffee production, has an optimal temperature range from 64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, coffee seeds are planted in large beds in shaded nurseries, requiring frequent watering and shade from direct sunlight until they are strong enough to be planted permanently. Planting generally takes place during the wet season, when the soil is still moist, to allow the roots to firmly establish themselves.

~Step 2: Harvesting~

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Photo by Jim Koenigsaecker: A farmer picking coffee cherries in the Nyeri region of Kenya

After approximately 3 to 4 years, the coffee trees will begin to bear fruit. When they are ripe and ready for harvesting, these coffee cherries will turn a bright, deep red. Typically, one major harvest will take place each year, except in certain countries that produce two flowerings annually, such as Colombia. The process of picking coffee cherries is a labor-intensive and difficult one in most countries. In places where the landscape is relatively flat, however, machinery has been created that can pick the cherries more efficiently, such as in Brazil. The coffee is either harvested by strip picking, during which all cherries are stripped off the branch one at a time (by machine or hand), or selectively picking, during which only the ripe cherries are picked individually by hand to be harvested. As selective picking is a more arduous process, pickers will often rotate among the trees every 8 to 10 days to make sure they are harvesting the cherries at their ripest. This process, which is more costly and labor-intensive, is generally only used to harvest the finer Arabica beans. On average, a picker will harvest 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries per day, or 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.

~Step 3: Processing~

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The skin and the pulp of the coffee cherry is separated by the wet method of processing

After the cherries have been harvested, they are then sent to the processing plant as quickly as possible before they spoil, as with any other fruit. There are two kinds of processing, which depend upon location and local resources. The Dry Method, which has been around the longest, is used in countries with limited water resources. First, the cherries are laid out to sun-dry on large surfaces. Throughout the day, they are raked and turned, and at night or in rain, they are covered in order to prevent them from spoiling and getting wet. This process will continue until the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11%, which usually takes  several weeks for each batch of coffee. The other method, the Wet Method, works by removing the pulp from the coffee cherry after harvesting so that the bean can dry with only the parchment skin left on. A pulping machine completes this step by separating the skin and pulp from the bean first. Next, water channels will separate the beans by weight, as the lighter beans float to the top, and the heavier ripe beans sink to the bottom. Rotating drums will then separate the beans by size. Once separation has been completed, the beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks, where they will remain for 12 to 48 hours, depending upon the condition of the beans, the climate, and the altitude. In the tanks, the slick layer of mucilage (known as the parenchyma) on top of the parchment is dissolved by natural enzymes in the tanks. After a final rinsing by more water channels, the beans will feel rough.

~Step 4: Drying~

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Coffee cherries drying on raised beds

If the Wet Method was used to process the beans, the pulped and fermented beans must then by dried to 11% moisture to prepare them for storage. The beans inside the parchment envelope (the endocarp) can be sun-dried on drying tables or floors or machine-dried in large tumblers. These dried beans are called parchment coffee, and are stored in jute or sisal bags until ready for export.

~Step 5: Milling~

coffee-cherry-wet-millling-process
Wet milling coffee cherries

Parchment coffee requires this extra step of milling before it can be exported. First, hulling machinery is used to remove the parchment layer from wet processed coffee. If the coffee has been dry processed, hulling involves removing the entire dried husk (exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp) from the dried cherries. After the cherries have been hulled, in some cases, they will be polished, during which a machine removes any silver skin that remains on the beans. There is actually little difference between polished and unpolished beans, although polished beans are considered superior to unpolished. The beans will then be graded and sorted by size and weight and reviewed for color flaws or other imperfections. To be sized, they either pass through a series of screens or are sorted by an air jet to separate heavy and light beans. Bean size is represented on a scale of 10 to 20, which represents the size of a round hole’s diameter in terms of 1/64th of an inch. For example, a number 10 bean would be the approximate size of a hold in diameter of 10/64 of an inch. Defective bean that have unacceptable size or color, are over-fermented, are insect-damaged, or are unhulled are then removed by hand or by machinery. Often, both machine and hand will complete this final reviewal to ensure the finest quality beans are exported.

~Step 6: Exporting~

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Green coffee packed in sisal bags for export

These milled beans are now referred to as green coffee, and at this point are loaded onto ships in jute or sisal bags loaded in shipping containers. They can also be bulk-shipped in plastic-lined containers. For 2016/17, the world coffee production is forecasted to be roughly 3.7 million bags higher than the previous year, which was around 152.7 million 60-kg bags, according to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service.

~Step 7: Tasting~

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Coffee cupping

The process of cupping, which refers to repeated testing for quality and taste, usually takes place in a specifically-designed room for this process. the cupper, or taster, will first evaluate the beans for visual quality. They are then roasted in a small laboratory roaster, ground and infused in boiling water with a carefully-controlled temperature. The cupper will nose the brew to judge the quality of the coffee’s aroma during this step. After the coffee rests for several minutes, the cupper will then push aside the grounds at the top of the cup to break the crust; he/she will then once again nose the coffee before tasting. The actual act of tasting involves a precise process as well, as the cupper must slurp a spoonful with a quick inhalation in order to spray the coffee evenly over the cupper’s taste buds to then weigh it on the tongue before spitting it out. Each day, samples from various batches and beans are tasted to determine their characteristics and flaws and blend different beans to create the proper roast. Expert cuppers can taste hundreds of samples per day and still taste the subtle differences between each one.

~Step 8: Roasting~

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Coffee roasting machinery in action

Green coffee must then be transformed into aromatic brown beans that we consumers can purchase at their favorite local cafés by a process of roasting. Roasting must be done at a temperature of around 550 degrees Fahrenheit. During the process, the beans are kept in continual motion in order to keep them from burning. Once the beans reach an internal temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they turn brown and the caffeol, or the fragrant oil locked inside the beans, emerges. This process, which produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee in our mugs, is at the heart of roasting, and is called pyrolysis. The beans must be immediately cooled by air or water after roasting. Generally, roasting will occur in the importing countries, as freshly roasted beans must be transferred to the consumers as quickly as possible.

~Step 9: Grinding~

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Different types of ground coffee beans

The main goal of grinding is to get the most flavor in a single cup of coffee. The brewing method used will alter how coarsely or finely the coffee must be ground. The ideal grade of the grind is determined by how long the grounds will be in contact with water. In general, the finer the grind, the more quickly the coffee should be prepared. For example, coffee ground for an espresso machine is much finer than coffee in a drip system, as the ground beans are in contact with water for a much shorter amount of time.

~Step 10: Brewing~

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Traditional drip coffee brewing

Finally, the coffee grounds are ready to be brewed in order to make our daily, energizing, life-giving, perfect cup of joe. Different people will use different brewing methods, the most common being drip brewing. Espresso machines have also recently become popular as a quick way to make a bold cup of coffee. Visit the “Types of Coffee” section of this blog for a break-down of the types of brewed coffee available.

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The Basics of Coffee Drinks

When we walk into a local coffee shop, it is often easy to become overwhelmed by the list of words under “coffee.” Latte? Macchiato? Is there an English version of this menu? That’s not to mention the different variations we are given with which we can spice up our favorite drinks. Here, I’ve provided you with a basic break-down of the classic coffee drinks so that you will never again have to blindly pick one of the items off the menu and hope it’s a coffee flavored with vanilla that has that fancy dollop of foamed milk on top.

Photo by Jillian Furber

***

~Espresso~

Espresso in its intense, purest form has previously been more popular in Europe, though the espresso-craze has finally hit America. Blended from several roasts, espresso is meant to have a bold flavor that earns it the popular name of an “espresso shot.” It is made of finely ground coffee that is tightly packed into a portafilter. From this, high-pressure water is forced through the grounds and extracted in small, concentrated amounts to gain intensity. Espresso is generally served in small demitasse-style cups in four types of servings. The “ristretto,” or “short shot,” is the first 3/4-ounce of espresso that is extracted. A “single shot” is a 1-ounce shot of espresso. A “lungo,” or a “long shot,” is a 1 1/2-ounce shot. A “double shot” uses twice the amount of coffee in the portafilter, whereas the other three servings use the same single amount.

~Macchiato~

A single shot of espresso with a layer of foamed milk

~Espresso con Panna~

A single shot of espresso with a layer of whipped cream

~Café Breve~

A single shot of espresso with steamed half and half

~Cappuccino~

A single shot of espresso with steamed, wet milk, sometimes layered on top with a frothy, dry foam. Cappuccinos are named for their color, which is similar to the color of the robes of Capuchin monks.

~Café Latte~

A single shot of espresso mixed with 6 to 8 ounces of steamed milk, then topped with foam. A double shot of espresso is generally used in America, as these drinks tend to be ordered in quantities of 12-oz or larger. This espresso drink is most popular in America due to its sweeter, mellower flavor.

~Flat White~

A single shot of espresso mixed with 6 to 8 ounces of steamed milk (akin to a café latte without the foam on top)

~Café Americano~

A single shot of espresso mixed with 6 to 8 ounces of hot water. The resulting flavor resembles a simple brewed coffee.

~Café Mocha~

A latte with chocolate syrup added with the steamed milk

~Iced Coffee~

A single shot of strong-brewed chilled espresso topped with your choice of milk, all poured over ice. Flavored syrups are then added, such as chocolate, caramel, or vanilla.

For All Coffee-Lovers, Aspiring or Fully-Fledged

Vivalto Lungo. Dharkan. Capriccio. Ristretto. Arpeggio. Kazaar. Decaffeinato intenso.

It is safe to say that I have now entered the addiction phase of coffee-loving. No, it is not the caffeine that I crave in order to drag my weary body out of bed; it is the bitter, smooth, almost-nutty flavor of a dark roast permeating the air, flooding my mouth with flavor and my body with warmth for which I so desperately long.

The different types of coffee are like a language of their own, a smooth, flowing soliloquy that rolls off the tip of the tongue and makes me revel in its silkiness.

I would easily consider myself a coffee aficionado. Part of this stems from a tradition my mom and I developed when I was younger that has prevailed to this date: every morning before school, we will come downstairs in pursuit of a small cup of espresso from our Nespresso machine. We have together mastered the art of espresso creation, down to the perfectly foamed milk that we dollop on top of the coffee and the cinnamon dash that is added as a finishing touch. Once completed, on the un-rushed days, we will often go out to the porch and indulge, chatting about the day’s activities. Most school days, we are not this lucky, however, and we will simply stand around the kitchen, indulging in this momentary break before the overwhelming activities of the day sweep us away.

I can still remember the building excitement that accompanied the date of my thirteenth birthday. Prior to this date, I was only allowed to drink decaf coffee, which I viewed as the kid-friendly introduction to the world of coffee. My mom had always told me that she was allowed to drink caffeinated coffee when she was thirteen as well. The world of caffeine opened up so many new options; suddenly, I could drink coffee that was flavored with caramel, hazelnut, and hints of vanilla, each of them hailing from foreign countries such as Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico.

Admittedly, I will always enjoy the classic Starbucks flat white or cold brew; however, one of the best aspects of being a coffee lover is the hunt for local coffee shops that introduces to me new subtle flavors and ways of making a classic cappuccino. In new part of the country I visit, the way I get a sense of the area is by ensuring that there is a local coffee shop that has both a cozy ambiance and delicious coffee with multiple options for flavors, roasts, and milk (recently, I have began using almond milk in my coffee).

Coffee is a lifelong enjoyment of which I could never tire. Waking up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee is most days the only thing that pulls me out of bed; likewise, the prospect of ordering coffee at a café after school provides the motivation needed to get through five hours of work. The community of coffee drinkers is one that extends across the globe, connecting cultures and providing me with familiarity among strangers.

Photo by Jillian Furber