Chatham's coffee scene

Local shops percolating

Posted 7/26/19

Editor’s note: In an effort to learn more about Chatham County’s coffee culture and what’s behind the growing number of coffee shops in Chatham, the News + Record queried owners of six …

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Chatham's coffee scene

Local shops percolating

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Posted

Editor’s note: In an effort to learn more about Chatham County’s coffee culture and what’s behind the growing number of coffee shops in Chatham, the News + Record queried owners of six specialty locations in Siler City and Pittsboro — asking them to literally spill the beans on their operations, their baristas and their best brews. In this story, CN+R Reporter Casey Mann and Photographer David Bradley spotlight the six shops, as well as a local specialty equipment supplier, to give readers an insight into what goes into your favorite caffeinated morning treat.

“It isn’t just about coffee or culture,” says Nicholas Dakas. “It’s about community.”

If anyone would know about coffee in Chatham County, it’s Dakas.

And Dakas, the owner of VP Coffee of Siler City, has a pretty good feel for the county’s growing taste for good coffee. His company supplies quality specialty coffee equipment and maintenance to companies small and large from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, and his experience in the coffee market covers not just Chatham County but the whole southeastern United States.

“What’s unique about the Chatham coffee scene is the number of locations in terms of the number of people who live here,” Dakas said. “And we have a coffee roaster, that’s pretty unique.”

Dakas’ customers including Chatham’s coffee sellers.

In visiting six specialty coffee shops in Chatham County — shops where the main revenue is coffee, not food — the goal was to find out what makes each of them special.

We met Steve Tamayo at Blue Dot in Pittsboro. He regularly meets for business in coffee shops in Chatham County and talked about a culture that sets coffee shops here apart from other places.

“The coffee shops in Chatham County are different from the ones in Chapel Hill or Carrboro,” Tamayo said. “I do a lot of meetings in coffee shops so we bounce around a lot. What I notice is the kindness of the baristas — Blue Dot in particular. I like that kindness. It’s interesting how so many of them are connected to art somehow.”

For some, it’s the culture and the people that make a coffee shop great.

“It just has the neatest vibe,” customer Kevin Carter said of Cafe Diem in Pittsboro. “It is so unusual and neat. Everyone who works here has such bright and unique personalities. I like to talk to them and talk and meet people who come here.”

That “vibe” is important to Cafe Diem manager Emmett Davenport.

“It’s Pittsboro,” Davenport said. “We like to welcome everybody. You’ve got to like coffee. We take it seriously. Been doing it for 30 years — before coffee became a culture.”

Quality also breeds loyalty in a coffee shop’s customer base.

“I go back to when it was a truck and I was here on opening day buying beans,” customer Trevor Thompson said of Aromatic Roasters in Pittsboro. “I love the local roasting. It’s a great art and a craft. I love being able to support local and it’s great coffee.”

Aromatics co-owner Erin Munson understands the importance of that craft.

“We have a lot of regulars, a lot of people are parents, many of the kids we see on a daily basis, from high school to very old,” she said. “Our biggest driver is our coffee. We do things very differently than other coffee shops. With the third wave coffee movement, we treat it more of an artisanal product, more like you would look at wine.”

For some, it’s a comfortable place to be and community.

“I just really like going to a place where I know anybody who comes in and can talk to anybody,” customer Calin Alston said of Chatham Rabbit in Siler City. “It’s a place to relax, chat, whatever, and its really convenient. And its attachment to the NC Arts Incubator adds to the appeal. Honestly, I don’t care if it had coffee. It’s somewhere to go after work [he works as a night nurse at a local retirement home] that’s not home.”

Zac O’Connor works in forestry management and doesn’t really have an office. He says that he uses Courtyard Coffee at Peppercorn in that way.

“I come once a week because I work outdoors,” O’Connor said. “It becomes my office.”

For these reasons and more, Chatham’s coffee scene is thriving.

“As an outsider looking in, I’ve been watching, wondering, can this last?,” Dakas said. “It’s a testament to the quality of what they are doing and people coming in from all over to try it.”

So here you’ll find the lowdown on the six shops and what makes them special — with responses to the CN+R’s questionnaire coming from shop owners.

Aromatic Roasters

Location & Hours:

697 Hillsboro St., Suite 101, Pittsboro

(919) 259-4749

www.aromaticroasters.com

Tuesday - Friday: 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

Saturday: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Sunday: 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

However we will be extending our hours soon!

Owners & Contact Information:

Dominic Treadwell, Erin Munson & Jon Gillis

aromaticroasters@gmail.com

Date Opened:

We re-opened on April 12, 2019, in our brick and mortar store. The Coffee Trailer originally opened in 2016.

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

Our shop feels clean (and) modern and is a nice relaxing place for a coffee and meeting up with friends.

What makes your shop unique?

We are the only coffee shop in Chatham County that roasts our own coffee. We’re also the current holder of the best cup of coffee in the state, which we won at the State Fair last fall. In addition to roasting our own beans, we work directly with a high-quality supplier who takes pride in working with coffee farmers to help with things like sustainability and quality so that the farmers see better return on their investment and that we in turn get amazing coffee to drink and enjoy.

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

We source green coffee beans from all over the world, including Africa, Indonesia and Central and South America. We only buy the highest quality of bean and look for flavors we would want to drink and are proud to serve. The beans we source are all single origin and some even come from single farms. We don’t currently blend any of our coffees; instead we serve up single origins and roast mostly light to medium so that the full flavor potential of the coffee really comes out. For us, coffee is a lot like wine and when it is roasted and brewed with technical expertise you can bring out the best in this natural wonder.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

We follow third wave coffee or specialty coffee practices — basically we want our beans to taste the best they possibly can. In order to achieve this we take the time to weigh the coffee grounds and water going into each drink creating the perfect ratios on a consistent basis.

What is your most popular drink offering?

On hot days, we sell a ton of our cold brew coffee, as well as iced lattes and mochas. When there is a chill in the air, we tend to sell a lot of cortados, hot lattes and pour-over coffees.

What’s special about your baristas?

At our shop, it’s not just about getting the order made and going on to serve the next customer. Leavitt and I take tremendous pride in making each drink the best drink we can. We also love to chat and engage with our customers about coffee, from the history of the plants spread from Ethiopia to explaining a pour-over. Being a third wave coffee shop, we are constantly learning and trying new things. We look forward to training with the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) soon and continuing our coffee education.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?

When you come into Aromatic Roasters, you will always be served some of the freshest coffee in the state. Since we roast in small five-pound batches, our coffee is being roasted on a daily basis, right in our shop. An added bonus is that roasting coffee is also one of the best smells or aromatics you’ll find.

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

The coffee scene is growing and its great! Our customers are amazing and more and more people are finding out about us every day. As one of the newer shops in the area, we are excited to see this area grow and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

Dominic, Jon and I believe that we are bringing a value to the coffee scene in Pittsboro. We take pride in serving fine coffee to our community and building relationships with our customers. We simply want to share our love of coffee with you.

The Chatham Rabbit

Location & Hours:

223 B N. Chatham Ave., Siler City

(919) 799-7729

www.thechathamrabbit.com

Monday - Friday: 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Saturday: 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Owner:

Brooke Simmons (owner)

Date Opened:

October 1, 2018

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

The Chatham Rabbit is a comfortable, modern space. It has a big city feel with a small town atmosphere. This a place where everyone knows your name, and if you come in a stranger, you leave as a friend.

What makes your shop unique:

Nitro Cold Brew is what really sets the Rabbit apart from other local shops, as well as our amazing staff, who makes you feel like you are home.

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

Our beans are roasted at Joe Van Gogh, which is located in Hillsborough. They take care to get the best beans from the best farms and roast every bean to perfection.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

On site, we ensure the best espresso possible by weighing the grind and timing our pours every morning and making any needed changes to guarantee the best espresso you have ever had. We also pair that with the local dairy, Homeland Creamery, to ensure the best latte you have ever had.

What is your most popular drink offering?

Our most popular drink during the summer is our Nitro Cold Brew with Vanilla Sweet Cream. The Nitro is creamy like a Guinness and provides enough caffeine to take you to the moon and back again.

What’s special about your baristas?

Our baristas make you feel welcomed and at ease in a space that may feel intimidating if you have never been to a coffee shop and do not know what to order. They are pros at helping you make a decision on the perfect drink for you.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?

What we have that no other shop has is Nitro Cold Brew, bagels, a huge outdoor garden and a stage for performances. We are located in the same building as the NC Arts Incubator Gallery, so you can shop for gifts and admire great art while you sip your coffee.

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

...that it is a big hit and it is only going to get bigger. There is a lot of competition these days, which is great because it makes us work that much harder to provide the best product for our customers.

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

Our business model is wrapped up in our community. We are here to provide not only a great cup of coffee but to also provide a place where people can meet and learn from one another. Being in the center of downtown, we see ourselves as the hub of the wheel whose spokes of love and kindness reach out into all the communities of Siler City and beyond. I love this town and the people in it and it is an honor to be able to serve a great product to great people. Owning this coffee shop provides me with a way to change the world. I see myself as a seed planter, planting seeds of hope and ideas of greatness into every person that comes into my door. It’s so important to me that when you leave The Chatham Rabbit you take with you hope, compassion, kindness and of course a great cup of coffee!

Davenport’s Café Diem

Media: gallery

Location and hours:

439 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro

(919) 704-4239

www.davenports-cafediem.com

Monday - Friday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Saturday & Sunday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Owner:

Emmett Davenport

Date opened?

At our original location (18 East Salisbury Street, Pittsboro) on April 1, 2010; moved to our current location (439 Hillsboro Street, Pittsboro) on March 6, 2019.

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

It’s a welcoming comfy space with a steampunk vibe and often vintage tunes playing in the background.

What makes your shop unique?

Experience. Originality. Community. Between all of our baristas, we have decades of experience making a consistently delicious cup of coffee. We are the longest operating café (coffee shop) in town. Our staff all live here in Pittsboro and are part of this community. Two of us walk to work, as we live just down the street from the café.

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

We get our coffee from Carrboro Coffee Roasters, which has been in operation for over 15 years. They have a direct relationship with the farms where the coffee is grown, so we know exactly where the our money goes when we buy from them. We use the Equinox Blend as our house blend. It’s a wonderful medium to dark roast that I think works for any time of day, hot or iced. Our espresso is the Piedmont Espresso, which has a robust body that tastes lovely, whether you’re mixing it with milk to create a cappuccino or drinking it straight.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

All our baristas are trained to pull a perfect espresso shot. We are incredibly conscientious of the importance of good cup of coffee to start your day.

What is your most popular drink offering?

Overall, I’d have to say it’s the Cappuccino.

What’s special about your baristas?

Experience and friendliness. All of our baristas take their job very seriously, even if they look like they’re having a grand ol’ time behind the counter. We want to make sure you enjoy your time with us.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?:

Not having been to a lot of the other coffee places in the county, I can’t be sure. But we do have a ridiculously large assortment of Loose Leaf Teas and Flavored Syrups, the Lovelace (which is an Earl Grey Hot Chocolate) and an Espresso Soda.

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

I can’t speak to that, as I haven’t been to every coffee place in Chatham County and I’m admittedly incredibly biased. I would like to think that we have played a small role in elevating the area’s desire for a decent cup of coffee.

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

I have been a barista in restaurants, cafés, coffeehouses and bookstores since the age of 17, so opening my own coffee shop was a natural progression. I have been obsessed with creating my perfect second home ever since I pulled my first espresso shot.

Blue Dot Coffee

Location & Hours:

53 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro

(919) 704-8064

www.facebook.com/bluedotcoffee/

Monday - Saturday: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

First Sundays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Owners & Contact Information:

Joan Underwood

Joan@peppercorncoffee.com

Date Opened:

December 2013

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

Welcoming, energized, artsy, eclectic, friendly place to sit and work or hang out, great music playlists.

What makes your shop unique?

Extensive menu, monthly specials, kid friendly, engaging baristas, rotating art shows.

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

We use beans roasted by Fortuna in Greensboro. The beans are consistently roasted with a smooth, not bitter or burnt taste.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

We are constantly tasting and tweaking our espresso, brewed and flavored drinks and non-coffee alternatives.

What is your most popular drink offering?

Ice cold brew in the summertime.

What’s special about your baristas?

Their individuality and friendliness with our customers. They know what drinks our regulars like and are eager to customize drinks for new customers.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?:

Affogato

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

Lots of new coffee shop choices, but our shop remains the best!

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

Shortly after opening our shop in Siler City 11 years ago, people began asking us to open a shop in Pittsboro. We did so in 2013 and have enjoyed every minute of serving the eastern side of the county since then. We love having a coffee shop that people living in or visiting Pittsboro can come for a great coffee drink and to meet friends, work or just hang out.

Sweet Bee Caffe

Location & Hours:

18A E. Salisbury St., Pittsboro

(919) 533-6997

www.pittsboroyouththeater.com/caffe

Monday - Friday: 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Saturday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday: Noon-5 p.m.

Owners & Contact Information:

Tammy Matthews

Matthews.Tam@gmail.com

Date Opened:

September 1, 2018

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

Comfortable art gallery setting inside vibrant community arts center. Friendly. Quality fare and people.

What makes your shop unique?

Within the Center for the Arts in Pittsboro, Sweet Bee Caffe offers customer blue-ribbon winning coffees, chocolates and an energetic atmosphere. Every purchase directly supports the Pittsboro Arts.

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

Aromatic Roasters Light Roast Beans, Dilworth Coffee (Raleigh) for the Dark Roast and Espresso.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

Top-quality equipment maintained consistently. Employee training. Uncompromising quality and ingredients

What is your most popular drink offering?

Ghirardelli white chocolate iced latte. 100 percent crushed fruit smoothies, Frappe Amore with Reese’s Peanut Butter.

What’s special about your baristas?

Every employee is service-oriented and sincerely concerned with pleasing the customer. We hire personable people.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?

Cranberry, orange, and walnut dark chocolates (Blue Ribbon), Frappe Amore which is Reese’s peanut butter, Ghirardelli chocolate and a secret ingredient.

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

Too many new shops in Pittsboro. Someone will shake out before too long.

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

We provide the best quality at a surprisingly fair price — which sharing expenses with other Arts Center Organizations allows us to do. Stand-alone shops just can’t provide our quality ingredients and make a profit.

Courtyard Coffee at Peppercorn

Location & Hours:

138 N. Chatham Ave., Siler City

(919) 663-2152

www.facebook.com/courtyardcoffeeandsoda/

Monday - Friday: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Saturday: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Owners & Contact Information:

Joan Underwood

Joan@peppercorncoffee.com

Date Opened:

July 2008

Describe your shop’s ambiance and atmosphere in 20 words or less:

Open, bright, comfortable, artsy, family- and kid-friendly, always good music playing.

What makes your shop unique?

We have a large venue that has several spaces to sit and work or relax, spaces for meetings and private after-hour events

Spilling the beans — what coffee beans do you use, and what’s unique about them?

We use beans roasted by Fortuna in Greensboro. The beans are consistently roasted with a smooth, not bitter or burnt taste.

What do you do on-site that’s unique in terms of preparation?

We make sure our beans are always freshly roasted. We taste and tweak our brewing and recipes for flavored drinks so they are always the best tasting they can be.

What is your most popular drink offering?

Cafe mocha - hot in the winter, iced in the summer.

What’s special about your baristas?

They are very friendly and always eager to make sure their customers get the best drink possible. Chris can get your drink made in a flash; Jake can draw you a picture after he makes you a drink.

What can I get there that I can’t get anywhere else in Chatham County?

Affogato

Your take on Chatham County’s coffee scene is...

Lots of new shops but we are the premier shop and the best in the county — our sister shop Blue Dot is right there with us!

And finally — why own and operate a coffee shop? Why are you doing it?

Courtyard Coffee started in 2008. At the time, full service coffee shops were few if any. Siler City had few opportunities for downtown community gathering where neighbors, friends, and locals could meet, relax, and enjoy their day. Courtyard Coffee has always been about community. In our new and larger space as Courtyard Coffee at Peppercorn, we continue our community spirit, as well as offering the highest quality coffee drinks, teas, and Italian sodas and baked goods from local bakers Joan and Ellen Thompson. We support the Junior Appalachian Music program, the monthly community meal, as well as free meeting spaces for area non-profits. We offer work spaces with free internet while you enjoy our coffees and baked good and encourage you to stay with us as long as you need to accomplish your goals and tasks at hand. As the community hub in Siler City form 2008 to present, we look forward to your support and friendly face each day. Look for the Coke mural and find a great atmosphere, the best and original Siler City coffee shop, your friends, and your community.

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