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Coffee Scene Heats Up in Upper Valley

  • Customers drink their coffee on Jan. 19, 2018, at Lucky's Coffee Garage in Lebanon, N.H. The coffee shop which opened in December 2017 serves a steady stream on clientele near Colburn Park. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A utility truck sits outside a soon-to-be Starbucks on Jan. 19, 2018, on Route 12A in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Cappuccino art by Mark Nunziata (not pictured), of White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 19, 2018, at Lucky's Coffee Garage in Lebanon, N.H. The coffee shop which opened in December 2017 serves a steady stream on clientele near Colburn Park. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mark Nunziata, of White River Junction, Vt., demonstrates cappuccino art on Jan. 19, 2018, at Lucky's Coffee Garage in Lebanon, N.H. The coffee shop which opened in December 2017 serves a steady stream on clientele near Colburn Park. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Owner Deb Shinnlinger walks towards the kitchen on Jan. 19, 2018, at Lucky's Coffee Garage in Lebanon, N.H. The coffee shop which opened in December 2017 serves a steady stream on clientele near Colburn Park. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lebanon — It may not yet have displaced boiling maple sap as a favorite backyard business, but two new coffee bean roasting ventures are percolating in the Upper Valley, joining other artisanal roasters who have turned their passion for the brewed beverage into a small business.

The bean roasters are entering the niche New England coffee market just as several new independent cafes are appearing in Upper Valley towns other than Hanover, where college students have long supported mainstays Dirt Cowboy Cafe and Umpleby’s and, since 2012, Starbucks.

Lebanon, perhaps, may soon become a coffee mecca to rival Hanover: A new independent cafe, Lucky’s Coffee Garage, opened in December at the southeast corner of Colburn Park, serving specialty coffee drinks and bakery selections.

Later this year, in the spring, Salt hill Pub plans to open a coffee and dessert cafe in the space on the pedestrian mall adjacent to the restaurant at the other end of the Colburn Park.

(For those who do not mind patronizing Big Coffee, a new Starbucks is getting ready to open on Route 12A in West Lebanon.)

And last week, Carrier Roasting, a Northfield company that has been selling beans online, moved its roasting operation out of a barn and into a refurbished 1,500-square-foot space in downtown Northfield that includes a coffee bar. The move will enable Carrier to triple its production capacity in order to forge new wholesale partnerships around the country, according to co-owner Ross Evans.

Several artisanal coffee bean roasting companies have cropped up in the Upper Valley in recent years as the internet has made it easy to build an online sales and distribution system, reaching clients and customers that in a pre-digital era would have required them to be located closer to an urban center.

King’s Row Coffee, launched in 2014 and operating out of offices on South Main Street in Hanover and backed by Hanover-based investment firm Honey R. Capital, distributes specialty coffees (which are roasted in New York City) to luxury resorts such as the Ojai Valley Inn in California and retails through online subscriptions.

Station House Coffee, based in Thetford Center, specializes in roasting small-batch single origin coffees, which are available at select Upper Valley locations.

Upper Valley Coffee Roasters, of Newbury, Vt., sells its artisanal roasts at Mountain Man Pizza in Groton, Vt., and at the seasonal farm stand My Farmers Market in South Ryegate, Vt.

And in 2015, the principals behind Tunbridge brewer Upper Pass Beer Co. launched First Branch Coffee in South Royalton.

“This is a concept we’ve been pursuing for awhile,” Josh Tuohy, who with brothers Joe Tuohy and Matt Tuohy owns the five Salt hill Pub locations in the Upper Valley, said about plans to add a cafe in Lebanon.

“It just came down to finding the right space and a suitable landlord,” he said.

The new cafe will function as a sort of annex to Salt hill Pub, which customers will be able to enter either through a common entryway with the restaurant or directly from the pedestrian mall. Besides coffee, it will serve “scratch desserts” and ice cream, Tuohy said.

“There is a growing population that enjoys good coffee,” said Tuohy, who compares the interest among customers for artisanal coffee to the rise of craft beers and insurgence of microbrewers across the Twin States in recent years, reflecting national trends in eating and drinking habits.

“Doing what we do in pubs, you can’t not be aware of that and coffee is a natural partner with craft beer,” he said.

Since Lucky’s Coffee Garage opened on Dec. 2 in the old Roy’s Auto Service garage, “things have been going really well,” said owner Deb Shinnlinger — the cafe has served more than 5,500 customers, including 889 lattes and 563 muffins, according to a counter on the cafe’s website.

Shinnlinger, who previously owned and ran a cafe in Oregon, said she’s been “planning to open a coffee shop for a few years” and had been “craving again … a true specialty coffee experience, a West Coast atmosphere and friendly vibe.”

For now, the cafe is serving only a selection of in-house freshly baked cookies, muffins and scones along with coffee but Shinnlinger has plans to expand the lunch menu soon, and when she gets a liquor license, microbrews, wine and “curated drinks” are planned

The cafe’s current hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Sunday), but Shinnlinger plans to expand the hours into the evening to accommodate events and the eventual serving of alcohol.

Evans, the co-owner of Carrier Roasting, said he and his partners were inspired to go into the coffee bean roasting business two years ago because of the poor quality of beans they found on store shelves.

A self-taught roaster, Evans said he began roasting beans “on a hand-cranked popcorn popper over a barbecue grill,” becoming “really obsessed with single-origin coffee from one country, one region” to gain knowledge of varietals and how to source them from growers in Central and South America.

Carrier’s beans have principally been sold through a subscription service, a sort of online CSA, with customers getting their weekly shipments by mail or by picking them up at locations in Randolph, Montpelier and Northfield.

Evans said the company opened the coffee bar because “we wanted to have a retail presence downtown and to prepare coffee in a way we think it should be prepared for people to experience it.”

And in a sign that things are getting serious, Matt Borg, a former production manager at Oakland, Calif.-based Blue Bottle Coffee’s Los Angeles production plant and chief roaster at Los Angeles’ Handsome Coffee Roasters, has joined Carrier as a co-owner and will oversee production.

“Coffee is probably eight to 10 years behind the craft beer movement in Vermont,” Evans said, but it reflects the ethos of the CSA movement in “people who really care about where food comes from and how things are made and how they are processed.”

At night, Dennis O’Connell works as an auditor at a hotel but by day he roasts beans at his Pomfret home that he imports from his farm in Nicaragua.

O’Connell, a graduate of Woodstock Union High School and Champlain College, served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua from 2009 to 2014, where he met his wife, Amanda, whose family are coffee growers in the mountains in the northern part of the country near the border with Honduras.

In 2013, O’Connell bought a 22-acre farm there where his coffee trees are beginning to bear fruit. He’s now importing the Arabica beans, roasting them at his place in Pomfret and selling them under the name Depalo Coffee at the Hartland Farmers Market and the Mt. Tom Farmers Market in Woodstock.

This summer O’Connell’s looking to expand into farmers markets in Lebanon and Hanover, he said.

The O’Connells also sell their coffee beans through their online store, but he said his business is also equally committed to supporting coffee growers in Nicaragua.

Depalo Coffee also sources from 10 other small farms in the region — with a goal to give the bean growers who supply him 10 percent of the U.S. profits the company makes.

“The idea is to make it sustainable for workers there so they can live off the land,” said O’Connell, who said that some of the growers are also family members. “We want to make it as profitable for them as we can.”

Clint Hunt, of Cavendish, Vt., began working as a barista when he was 18 years old in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Last April he moved his coffee bean roasting company, Abracadabra Coffee Co., from a barn on his Cavendish farm and into a space on Pleasant Street in Woodstock.

Abracadabra’s coffee is now available in about a dozen locations in Vermont, including Tuckerbox Cafe in White River Junction, Wild Roots restaurant in Royalton, The Cheese Board in Windsor and F.H. Gillingham’s & Sons in Woodstock. In addition, Hunt sets up stands and sells at the Norwich Farmers Market and Lebanon Farmers Market.

Hunt has begun opening a “pop-up cafe” on occasional weekends at his Woodstock roastery, where he invites in food trucks to serve their offerings and he provides his roasts for customers to sample — on Jan. 28, Eduardo Moran’s popular Lebanon food truck, Tacos Tacos, will be pulling up.

“He’s going to do breakfast tacos,” Hunt said.

Hunt also sees similarities between the craft beer explosion and the artisanal coffee movement: “It mirrors the growth of beer. The more people have an understanding of it, the more their palate grows. People in Vermont are really receptive to (artisanal coffee) because of the rich food history here and interest in where food comes from.”

Business has been strong enough that Hunt is now looking to trade up from his 2.5 kilo roaster. He currently roasts up to 200 pounds of beans each week, he said, and it’s straining capacity.

“I’m at the point where I need another roaster,” he said. “One that can handle 12 kilos.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.