These are boom times for coffee geeks. We are way past Folgers, past Starbucks, past even a time when a pour-over was a novelty, and living in an era where science and specialty beans conspire to create a cup of coffee that’s as complex and as subtly flavored as a glass of wine. In fact, some shops offer cuppings, like wine tastings, to allow drinkers to explore the varying acidity and brightness and hints of blueberry, perhaps, or chocolate.
It’s all part of what Samuel Demisse thinks of as “the fourth wave of coffee."
And Demisse, who was born an Ethiopia, is partly responsible this state of affairs. Through his company, Keffa Coffee, he imports specialty beans from Ethiopia and elsewhere through the Port of Baltimore. He regularly gets visitors — think of them as coffee pilgrims — knocking on the door of his Jonestown office, asking to take a peek inside. Of course, he offers them a cup of coffee.
Keffa Coffee provides beans to specialty roasters like Aveley Farms and Ceremony Coffee. Together, these businesses are changing the way we drink and think about coffee in Baltimore.
Aveley Farms Coffee Roasters
The Harbor East coffee roaster has become a Mecca for coffee connoisseurs since it opened in May, offering cuppings and drinks like pourovers, cold brew and espresso drinks made from specialty beans. The Harbor East latte ($4.50), flavored with macadamia nuts, is one of Aveley’s most popular offerings, says founder Corey Voelkel. Some people are nervous to walk up the steps to the second floor cafe in a former factory, but Voelkel wants them to feel welcome. He left his career in the tech industry in San Diego to return to the area where he grew up and to open the roaster, named for his grandparents’ house on the Eastern Shore.
Founders Derek and Julie Freidell began as a wholesale coffee roaster, but opened this coffee shop at a Windsor Mill corporate center after so many intrepid visitors came by to knock on the door. Still, Derek Freidell admits, “It’s a very strange place to have a specialty coffee house.” Today, some people pull up to the shop and wonder: Am I really allowed in? It’s a testament to the quality of the coffee, and the hospitality of the shop’s owners, that the shop manages to attract a steady and devoted following. Amidst the proliferation of cold brew, Gracefully Coffee Roasters offers a sophisticated nitrogen-infused version, which Derek Freidell compares to the Guinness Stout, as well as cold brew tea (both are $4).
After a while, fancy coffee shops can begin to blend together in a sea of white countertops, blonde pine, subway tiles and hipster baristas. Ceremony Coffee still manages to stand out from the pack with a range of seasonal options, for example, taking a nitro cold brew and adding a blueberry lime reduction and hibiscus foam ($6). The Annapolis-based coffee roaster has opened a third Baltimore branch in the renovated Cross Street Market, with a fourth in the works planned for Whitehall Market.
Follow the tantalizing blue sign down into Sophomore Coffee, a newly opened shop that shares a courtyard with Fadensonnen and Larder in Old Goucher. All three were nominees for Bon Appetit’s Hot List, with magazine editors declaring they couldn’t choose a favorite among them. “It’s been crazy, in a good way,” says co-owner Kris Fulton, an Anne Arundel County native who got his start slinging brew at Annapolis’ City Dock 15 years ago. Since then, he’s since worked at Lamill in Los Angeles and Partners Coffee in Brooklyn, New York. The latter roaster provides the beans at Sophomore. Drip coffee is $2.75; espresso drinks run $3.50 to $4.25. Be advised, you won’t see a latte on the menu: rather, customers can select espresso and milk. The shop also serves excellent pastries sourced from local shops like Bramble Baking Co. and Larder.
Founder Sarah Walker got her start as a barista at Sacramento’s Temple Coffee Roasters and today brews one of the best cups of coffee you can find in Charm City. Her coffee roaster found its first brick-and-mortar home last year in Medfield’s Union Collective, located along the Jones Falls. We loved the cold brew ($3.75), which was fruity and light.
The woman-owned coffee roasting company boasts a commitment to sustainably sourced beans and operates a well-liked cafe out of the Openworks building near Green Mount Cemetery. Try rotating seasonal offerings like their pumpkin spice latte or cold fashioned ($3.50-$5), which adds a dash of chocolate and orange bitters to a nitro cold brew. Or order the off-menu goth latte, made with activated charcoal ($3.50).
The cafe recently relocated from Mount Vernon to a bright and airy spot in Station North, where it sells a range of coffee drinks as well as tasty sandwiches, should you want something more substantial. We liked their iced coffee ($3.50) and a turkey, brie and apple sandwich on ciabatta ($9). Beans come from Baltimore’s Vagrant Coffee.