Has beans? Small batch coffee roasters and gourmet coffee shops grow in popularity

By on June 21, 2017
Ashley Scheirer of Javateas in Ephrata greets customers from the coffee bar. Photo by Art Petrosemolo

Ashley Scheirer of Javateas in Ephrata greets customers from the coffee bar. Photo by Art Petrosemolo

We are a nation obsessed with coffee! Nearly 50 percent of us say we’d rather give up our cell phones for a month, pass on morning shower, or even live with an extra 10 pounds than go without it.

So there’s obviously more to coffee than stopping at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or your local coffee shop. A lot more! Americans drink 400 million cups (28 million gallons) of coffee daily, whether they brew it at home, consume at a restaurant, or drink it on the run.

Coffee beans have now become the second most traded commodity in the world.

For generations, coffee was usually consumed at home. In 1988, Howard Schultz changed the dynamic when he bought Starbucks, a Seattle coffee company, and transformed it into a gourmet coffee destination, meeting place, and worldwide coffee brand.

If you are a coffee roaster, coffee shop owner, or consumers, you owe Schultz a debt of gratitude for making coffee the phenomenon that it is today. Some 30 years later we are into the third wave of coffee — or what many refer to as the “after Starbucks” era.

Locally, retail-wise, coffee giants like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have not made inroads into the small Lancaster County communities, opening opportunities for small independent coffee shops to thrive.

Roasting in Lititz

So, let’s smell the coffee close to home. Good coffee starts with quality beans, roasted carefully, packed air tight, and distributed quickly for sale. And small batch local roasters offer consumers the freshest blends.

One of the most respected and best examples of a family-owned small batch roaster is Lititz’s Whiff Rosters, located in a historic building that once housed Sturgis Pretzels ovens.

Unlike mega roasters who purchase massive amounts of unsorted beans that are flash roasted at high heat, Whiff owners Dennis Tessen and wife, Peggy Woods, buy carefully sorted premium beans. Then they roast them in small batches daily for a limited number of medium and dark coffees that are sold, wholesale and retail, as whole bean or ground coffees, or even in K-cups.

Wisconsin native Dennis enjoyed a career in college food service and, from wife Peggy, who worked in Italy for a time, gained an appreciation for fine coffee. They opened Spill the Beans coffee shop in Lititz in 1997, and to assure a quality product, they began to roast their own beans. They sold the coffee shop to concentrate on roasting; today some 60,000 pounds of beans are roasted each year. The company has a strong partnership with Stauffers of Kissel Hill where their coffee is sold and served.

To help coffee consumers understand what they are drinking and how to brew it, Dennis does several Coffee 101 seminars for Stauffers customers during the year, and helps train staff at a number of his wholesale customers.

Dennis explains to make good coffee — perk, drip, siphon, or press — there are several variables, including the quality of the beans and proper roast, the right amount of coffee (ground correctly for the brewing method), and water temperature.

Whiff coffees are from a single origin, or are blends with all beans sourced worldwide. They are available in stores, at the Lititz headquarters, on-line and served in many restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, and local independent coffee shops.

Around the county

Whiff may be the best of the local roasters, but it isn’t the only one in Lancaster County. The area giant is Gerhart — a 135-year old family-owned company and a regional wholesaler. Gerhart sells to restaurants, corporations and outlets as far as 70 miles outside of Lancaster. Daniel Burns purchased the company in 2010 from his grandfather who had originally started working at Gerhart in 1955.

Another regional operation is Lancaster Coffee Roasters in Lancaster City. Scott Smith calls his company a craft operation with both wholesale and retail (Central Market) and on-line sales. LCR roasts single origin and estate beans in limited production runs. The company’s Star Barn dark roast is one of its most popular coffees.

Also in the local roasting mix is Square One Coffee in Lancaster. Josh Steffey and wife, Jessica, have owned and operated Square One for 17 years and have expanded to two Philadelphia retail locations. They also are a small batch roster with a strong customer base. Their internet coffee café in Lancaster was one of the first in the area. Josh roasts both single origin and blends five days a week, averaging 12,000 pounds monthly. His customers favor his popular Falcon Head house blend or Sasquatch dark coffee.

Sara Kauffman Bare of New Holland Coffee is an example of a small, local shop where coffee also is roasted. Sara bought the shop just off Route 23 in 2008, when she was 22. She had worked there as a barista for three years while in college. NHC roasts about 1,000 pounds of beans a month and does retail and wholesale business. Her roasting profiles (recipes) have been developed and tweaked in what she calls has been “an art and science.” Sara says that “even in tough times, good coffee is still a treat people can afford and the business has been pretty recession proof.” Her house blend is made from Sumatara beans.

Ephrata has its perks too

Javteas in Ephrata, on Dutchland Ave. off Route 272, is a shop that uses quality coffee from Whiff Roasters and One Village Coffee, Souderton, but does not roast its own beans. Ashley Scheirer, an Ephrata native and former Kindergarten teacher who loved coffee, started the business with her husband when they moved back to the area 11 years ago.

Javteas got a boost in its early days from friends and family, and has built a business with customers age 30 to 60, including housewives, along with business people who come in for coffee and to use their laptops while they enjoy a short break.

Javteas, like many small independent shops, is serious about using suppliers who are socially responsible, buying beans that are fair traded. Ashley also asks her suppliers to provide educational support for her business including training new baristas.

Javteas’ house coffee is a medium-roast blend that Ashley worked on with One Village roasters to perfect and her best seller. What sets Javteas apart is its expresso bar that customers can book for weddings and corporate events.

“It’s a nice alternative to liquor and just as special,” Ashley says, “and has become extremely popular.”

Brew and baked goods

If you live in or around Lititz, and like coffee in a social setting, you’ve been to Dosie Dough, and probably more than once. Amy Lloyd is the owner, and one of the first ones on-site early every morning. She has worked at the shop since her mother started it in 1996.

Her mom had a popular shop at the Shillington Farmers’ Market for years until the market moved, and she opened a bigger location in Wyomissing in 2000.

Amy’s customers include young families who live close to the shop, business people, and retirees who crowd into the Broad Street location every morning, or sit at one of the outside tables, even in weather when most people are wearing coats.

Amy does not roast beans, but is supplied by both Green Mountain Coffee, Waitsfield, Vt.; and East Indies Coffee & Tea, Lebanon.

Besides being the spot to get great coffee, what distinguishes Dosie Dough is its bakery with homemade breads and pastries. And for New York and New Jersey transplants, it’s the bagels. Amy brings them in from Philadelphia and they rarely last the day.

“I feel we are a community of workers and customers who are really a small family,” Amy says. “We help each other. It’s is a place where people connect.”

“I love it, even if it is not what I thought I would do,” she says. “Watching the shop grow and thrive is rewarding.”

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *