Despite a 1773 protest over an Imperial tax on tea, which helped spark the American Revolution, coffee has become the lifeblood of this nation. While gadgets have made it nearly effortless to get our java in the morning – how many have Keurig machines at home – nothing beats a trip to a coffee shop for flavor, ambiance and camaraderie.
There’s nothing mean – everyone is helpful and pleasant – about Mean Cup, well, except they make a mean cup of coffee. Upon my first visit to the Champion Forge location, I was met by baristas who walked me through the daily selection of brews. Nothing really tickled my fancy, but I was assured Mean Cup could make a great espresso; so, that’s what I ordered – finely ground coffee blasted with pressurized, nearly-boiling water, which results in a slightly thicker, highly concentrated shot of caffeine and flavor.
I was there to meet an old friend, and I had my kids in tow. I grabbed my tiny cup (and iced decaf caramel lattes for the children) and made my way to the bench seat running across the windowed wall facing the main parking lot. After sucking down their drinks, my kids found the play corner complete with a toy coffee maker. I enjoyed a nice hour with an old friend. It’s also a nice place to grab something to eat (courtesy of The Goodie Shop, Amaranth Bakery and Ric’s Bread, plus other local purveyors) or catch up on your social media sites.
398 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster and Lancaster Central Market. Meancup.com
So, what is a barista? Etymologically, it derives from the Italian word for bartender but, over the past decade or two, barista has become associated with specialty coffee makers. Until recently there was no push for regulation of the term – like there is with a sommelier and wine – but Lancaster’s Square One is on the forefront of leading coffee education and defining what is a true barista. The quaint coffee shop’s education center offers professional and public classes on espresso, manual brewing, and milk chemistry using their training staff of Specialty Coffee Association of America certified lead instructors and Barista Guild of America certified baristas. (Photographer Nick Gould was recently able to sit in on Espresso 101.)
Beyond education, Square One is a favorite of mine as it was the first coffee house I found upon my return from Europe; I had grown to relish the strangeness of coffees and traditions in foreign lands – you better really like it light if you order milk in your coffee in a traditional English establishment, and an un petit café in a Marseilles boulangerie will knock your socks off.
145 N. Duke St., Lancaster. 392-3354 or squareonecoffee.com.
There are certain things most people entering a coffee shop look for, and one is a bagel. At Grand Central Bagel Café, the round breakfast breads are made fresh daily and come in 21 flavors with assorted seasonal varieties, as well. (Some would argue bagels are not just for breakfast.) There is the standard plain, cinnamon raisin and everything, but there are some creative expressions, too. When I stopped – just to pick up some bagels – I had a hard time choosing between the jalapeño-cheddar and the super cinnamon. Never the two flavors shall meet in the same bag! I talked myself out of both and went with sun-dried tomato.
Beyond bagels – and Panache coffee from Oregon – Grand Central has defined itself as a place for healthy eating … and drinking. The first page of the menu includes the Nutrition Zone, which is loaded with healthy fruit drinks and smoothies. For a meager 75 cents, patrons can add supplemental shots to their drinks to aid dietary fiber, joint health and fat burning. Grand Central is good morning delicious!
245 Centerville Rd., Lancaster.
299-0700 or grandcentralbagel.com.
Speckled Hen Coffee & Kitchen
For those looking for a bit of a bigger breakfast at their coffee shop, a visit to Speckled Hen is in order. Located on the edge of Strasburg Borough, just minutes from the railroad, this new coffee house comes with a well-stocked kitchen. The word from the grapevine was all about their omelets. I had to stop in and check it out.
I opted for the daily special of ham, Swiss, onion, red bell pepper and spinach (hold the cheese, please). Other omelets offered are salsa, Greek, western, and the signature Speckled Hen, which entails bacon, cheddar, peppers, onions and basil.
The shop is separated into three sections: a main area familiar to many coffee shops, a listening/reading room in the back with comfy chairs and a record player with a small collection of wax, and a brightly-lit side room perfect for those with little ones as it offers a big play area.
141 E. Main St., Strasburg. 288-3139 or speckledhencoffee.com.
Folklore Coffee & Company
Here the emphasis is on company; it is definitely a gathering spot. There is plenty of room for many to congregate in one of the most spacious coffee shops I’ve ever seen. The first thing I noticed are the brick walls and contrasting diagonal hardwood floors accentuated by stark white pillars.
Folklore also has a wide array of creative coffee shop culinary indulgences with an emphasis on local suppliers. From the Peter Cotton-Tail salad to the Mr. Tumnus roast beef sandwich, Folklore has something for every palate.
I felt the need to order a specialty drink, so I took a look at the menu … and found myself wanting tea! Yes, tea has the last word – as revolutionary as it may be – in this story about coffee. I sat down on a big green couch by the art-touched fireplace and enjoyed my Hansel and Gretel (homemade chai with orange and cranberry steamed milk).
1 N. Market St., Elizabethtown.
361-1658 or folklorecoffee.com.