Appreciating the local coffee and community
Coffee shops of all kinds have exploded nationwide, now estimated at over 50,000. A trade association estimated that almost half of all coffee was consumed outside the home, and over half of that was specialty coffee. The increase in people working from home, with more gourmet coffee being consumed by people under 30 years old than by other age groups, and with specialty drinkers averaging three cups per day now, and you have all the statistics that reinforce the business opportunity. However, that doesn’t work if you can’t develop and execute a business plan that appeals to customers.
Bolton Bean has joined this fray, as a family-run business nestled in the central Massachusetts town of Bolton, with a slew of apple orchards in the surrounding towns. Driving there from almost anywhere can be scenic and coupled with other pit stops along the way. Aside of apple picking and homemade ice cream, some ideas include lunch at Battle Road Brewing, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, intermittent activities at the Bolton Fairgrounds, and kayaking in Concord.
Bolton Bean sits in a newly renovated building, combining a new feeling with classic colonial style. It has a comfortable, fresh, and friendly feel. This is very much in keeping with the broader gourmet coffee movement.
We found the place happily packed when we entered on a rainy day. There were different zones, from leather seats to tables to pub seats lining the front windows, along with the expansive counter and an area with ready-to-go food and drinks. Despite the crowd size, the staff offered cheery smiles and kept the lines moving.
That trend about increasing coffee consumption and more people working from home means that these sorts of places become meaningful as interesting social hubs, part of the communities, or unique settings and producers of gourmet coffee. Bolton Bean certainly meets this need. The mix of couples, friends, and families, from high schoolers to senior citizens, created a diverse crowd. A woman played guitar and sang in the corner of the coffee shop, adding to the enjoyable ambiance.
Back to the foundation of Bolton Bean, they serve George Howell coffee, roasted locally in the nearby town of Acton. Whether drip, cappuccino, espresso, or however you wish to consume it, this small batch coffee will hit the spot. However, the selection of teas, chai, lemonade, iced tea, and smoothies round out their ability to meet the preferences of kids or others who seek to enjoy the vibe but with something aside of coffee.
The food creates further reason to linger: in addition to the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches to start your day, the lunch menu is nicely varied. We saw a variety of salads, such as creative kale or fall harvest options. A large array of paninis offered something for any palate (meatloaf with a jalapeno aioli is worth trying). Interestingly, you can also build your own poke bowl. These are traditional Hawaiian dishes served cold over brown and white rice and two examples include sweet chili chicken and raw Asian tuna along with other toppings such as sprouts, avocado, coconut, wasabi, pineapple, and more. Gluten free lunch options are appreciated, allowing those with dietary restrictions to still have choices.
The only critique is actually a compliment: it closes at 3:00 on Saturdays and isn’t open on Sundays. This precludes some afternoon or weekend opportunities to reinforce its community and social value, and, since I hadn’t looked ahead of time, is why it took a couple of attempts to visit.
That being said, the ambiance, gourmet coffee, quality food, and cheerful service are all reasons why Bolton Bean is establishing itself as a community hub. Those are all reasons for locals to frequent it, and others to visit when in the general area. As always, the disclaimer is that we aren’t getting paid or anything, so when saying that Bolton Bean will be worth your time and money, it’s solely because we very much felt that way from our own time there.
Witnessing the evolution of a place over three centuries
Sometimes, great things are easy to go unnoticed. So was the case with Armeno Coffee Roasters, on the border of Northborough and Westborough, Massachusetts. Tucked away in a small building on a side road, it’s easy to drive past without a second glance. But if you stop and go inside, you’ll be quickly rewarded.
The site itself has a long history, stretching back almost three hundred years. The store is on the site of a mill dating back to 1727, adjacent to Smith Pond. Over the centuries, the site operated first as a saw mill before evolving into a grist mill. The namesake stemmed from the next incarnation of the site, into Armeno Cereal Company, before its current iteration as Armeno Coffee Roasters began in 1994.
The store has a great ambiance, with many signs of its past. These range from the original Armeno Cereal Company sign and equipment to storage bins and equipment used in separating wheat from chafe during its earlier years. Beyond the front room where coffee is sold, the middle of the building where the roasting takes place can be seen; you can walk around, checking out the burlap coffee bags from around the world, lots of old wood, and equipment supporting the roasting operation.
The coffee business was the brainchild of Paul Kalenian, who sold it a half-dozen years ago to loyal and trusted employees Chuck Coffman and John Parks. But they’ve continued to grow the business. At this point, there are typically about 50 coffees to choose from, sourced from around the globe and fresh roasted daily to maximize the quality and flavor. These are available for in-store or mail order purchases.
The owners have also diversified; beyond the roasting operations is a temperature- and humidity-controlled room filled with a small but enticing wine selection. Wines are sourced from the world over, while also including local, boutique wineries such as Broken Creek, Zoll Cellars, and Turtle Creek. Armeno’s holds wine tastings most Saturdays (monthly during the quieter summer days), from 1:00-4:00, and offers attendees discounts from 10-20% on individual, half-case, and case purchases.
Also, across the street is the Berberian farm stand, with local produce; combining the two into a single stop can allow for a quiet, fragrant break in an historic building, followed by enjoyably searching for just the right local wine and food for a nice dinner on a Saturday night, all of which supports local businesses and farm-to-table concepts. So, if you get a chance, pop into Armeno Coffee Roasters and enjoy the setting and the sips!
Enjoying a cup of coffee with a side order of bliss.
As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, a hot afternoon pick-me-up could be just what you need. As a coffee lover, I enjoy a good cup of Joe. As a fan of supporting local, small businesses, I enjoy a good local coffee shop even more. Sorry, Starbucks.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, we paused at Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters along scenic Route 6A (Main Street) in Brewster, MA. This charming, locally-owned coffee shop welcomes you with its open floor plan, comfy couches, and friendly servers. It opened in 2015, expanding the building’s footprint originally occupied by Great Cape Herbs in 2015. The two businesses blend well, and the decor is rustic, with lots of exposed wood, reclaimed from local barns. You can even sit and sip your selection while watching a fresh batch of coffee roasting behind the bar.
Sara was delighted to see that she could order her dairy-free cappuccino with almond milk for no additional charge. I ordered the brew of the day, the aptly named “Jaws” blend... "looks like we're gonna need a bigger cup." Snowy Owl also offers “Captain Crosby” (named after the well-known Cape Codders, the Crosby family of Crosby Cat Boat fame), “Brewster” blend, and “Decaf”. We selected a bag of “Captain Crosby” to take with us, after perusing the shop’s retail selection of coffees, T-shirts, and accessories. While we didn’t eat there, you can also enjoy food items for a light breakfast, lunch, or snack, from their partners, Pain D’Avignon (Hyannis) and White Lion Bakery (Mashpee).
The coffee shop hosts events including Open Mics and acoustic music on Sundays. Additionally, Great Cape Herbs is tucked behind the serving area, offering all natural herbal remedies in an intimate — small and personal — setting.
I can’t wait to enjoy my coffee at home…and to return soon to Snowy Owl, perhaps for some live music and a snack.