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Ask Matt ... where to get a cuppa joe

The Coffee Garage on Hendersonville Road in Fletcher offers 10 types of drip coffee for $2 a cup. The Coffee Garage on Hendersonville Road in Fletcher offers 10 types of drip coffee for $2 a cup.

Q. Where can you get the best cup of coffee in town?

 

It’s a good question but I think good coffee is much like good pizza – follow the crowds. On the question of taste I did some quick research and found it’s all about the beans. Coffee trees that bear those beans are affected by soils, climate and the farmer’s care. Many say the Arabica coffee tree has the best taste. Discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century, it’s now grown around the world. The name on a bag of coffee (Colombian, Kona, Sumatran, Costa Rican, etc.) doesn’t always mean it all comes from the same place. Most coffee is blended and not all coffee is brewed the same but that’s another variable. So to help readers navigate the coffee scene I broke it down to three areas: grab and go, coffee shops and coffee roasters. You are on your own now.

Grab and Go Coffee

I looked at three local chains that sell coffee. All offer three sizes (12, 16, and 24 ounces) but I’m only comparing the 12 oz. size. McDonalds “McCafe” is the cheapest at $1.39 a cup and may have the best quality. They use Gaviña coffee from Arabica trees. The blended beans are grown in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Krispy Kreme sells its brand for $1.79 a cup and Dunkin’ Donuts sells theirs for a dime less. Dunkin’ has a house brand that costs $6.67 for a full one pound bag. Sorry, but you can’t buy a bag of Krispy Kreme at their restaurant but Ingles sells it across town. A “new generation” Dunkin’ Donuts store in Charlotte is now offering espresso coffee and lattes. Don’t look over your shoulder, Starbucks.

The Fresh Market is a coffee lovers paradise. Shoppers can pick from 40 self-serve whole bean dispensers or among 20 packaged 12 oz. bags. Most are priced at $11.99. Lavazza, an Italian dark roast favorite, costs $7.99 on sale. The Fresh Market has a table where you can fill a paper cup with hot coffee for just a $1.49 but you must pay at the check-out counter. The free coffee samples remain popular.

Six of the Ingles stores in the county plus Harris-Teeter have an in-store Starbucks coffee bar. A small 12-oz. cup of Starbucks dark roast costs $2.45 and a cappuccino goes for $5.25. Ingles sells its self-serve “Gourmet” house brand for $6.98 per bag and Harris-Teeter offers eight choices of their “H.T. Traders” brand for $9.99. Publix has a wide range of bagged coffee. They have a deli counter but surprisingly they sell no coffee by the cup. Nor does Sam’s Club. But a savvy shopper can skip out with a big red can (3lb., 3 oz.) of Folgers Classic Roast for $6.98. This should yield 200 twelve ounce cups. That’s a lot of coffee so if you are not a big consumer, you might want to think about freshness. They say coffee hates oxygen like Superman hates kryptonite.

Coffee shops

You won’t find any Bohemian coffee houses where you can write poetry and plan revolutions in Henderson County but I found six that met my definition. Each basically offers three or more types of quality coffee plus espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. They all sell some eats of some kind, usually cakes or muffins. Each coffee house on my list caters to the casual drinker whether it’s a meeting of friends or business associates or just a patron with a laptop.

Appalachian Coffee Company on 5th Ave East occupies a handsomely renovated building next to the proposed Ecusta rail trail. They have indoor and outdoor seating, plus a meeting room in the back. The shop offers three house brews plus. A cup of Sumatra coffee costs $1.97. Appalachian gets its beans from a Michigan roaster but they have plans to roast their own. They have a large menu that includes breakfast cereal, wraps, cheese plates and even avocado toast not to mention seven beers on tap.

The Art & Coffee Bar on Fifth Ave., recently featured in the Lightning, sells coffee for $2.35 a cup. Owner and barista Sondra Smith-Vaniz says her market is an adult clientele. Her coffee bar has tables and soft chairs, tasteful art, background jazz music, treats and an assortment of magazines.

Black Bear Coffee Company, recently renovated, is under new ownership but has been a fixture on Main Street for more than 25 years. A small cup of joe costs $2.25 and you can order a bagel or muffin too. The coffee house offers indoor and outdoor seating. Black Bear has an ABC permit and they do catering.

The Coffee Garage on Hendersonville Road is a favorite with the Fletcher crowd. Owners Tom Pethtel and Heather Merrill offer 10 types of drip coffee for $2 a cup. Surprisingly their best sellers are the Bourbon Truffle and Blackberry Cinnamon brews. Thursday evening is open mic night at the Garage but the stage is always open for anyone who wants to do a little jammin’ for the patrons.

The “stand alone” Starbucks on Four Seasons Boulevard makes my list of coffee houses. Proximity to I-26 may explain why their drive-thru business is twice that of the in-store. Starbucks offers all types of drinks, bagged coffee, plus a variety of eats. A cup of drip coffee costs $2.30 which is actually 15 cents cheaper than the same size drink at the supermarket Starbucks bar. After returning from a trip to Italy, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz relabeled two of his cup sizes — a “grande” is 16 ounces, a “venti” is a 24 ounces while a “tall” cup of his coffee is only 12 ounces. Got it?

The Ugly Mug on Asheville Highway offers their customers everything – comfortable chairs, booths, TVs, a drive-thru window and bagged coffee to go. A cup of drip costs $1.95 coffee. All their beans are from Colombia, something that would make Juan Valdez smile. The Ugly Mug (named for a bulldog’s face) has been serving customers for 15 years.

Although Joey’s New York Bagels offers espresso coffee and other coffee drinks, it is more of a restaurant than a coffee house. That said, they do offer drip coffee for $1.70 a cup and a extensive menu of breakfast and lunch offerings including a dozen flavored cream cheese spreads for your bagel. Mean Mr. Mustard Cafe is another hybrid. They meet all my criteria for a coffee house (espressos, latte’s, etc.) but again they cater to a breakfast and lunch crowd.
On the go? You can grab a cup for $2.50 from the café’s drive-thru window.

 

Coffee roasters

I located three local coffee roasters. The largest by far is Pisgah Coffee Roasters, whose ordinary metal building is on US 280 just a mile inside Transylvania County. Marketing manager Carrie Prado explained the process. Green coffee beans are heated in towering roasters where the beans can lose up to almost half their weight. After setting (degassing) for 24 hours the dried beans are packaged in air tight 12 oz. bags. Pisgah roasts seven varieties of beans.

The roastery boasts a unique connection to the bean. Head roaster, Jotham Lipsi, grew up in Brazil. His ancestors left Italy in the late 1800s to work in the coffee industry. Jotham had attended Brevard College and became attached to the mountains. In 2010 he and his father started a coffee import and roasting business sourcing only from the old family farm in Brazil. The business model is called “farm direct” which means they cut out the wholesaler and can offer quality coffee at lower prices. The Lipsi’s take pride in knowing the Brazilian coffee farmers are paid a living wage, a claim not often made by large coffee importers.

“The Brazilian Arabica is our specialty,” said Prado. “It’s a low acid bean whose coffee is enjoyed by people with sensitive stomachs.” Each of Pisgah’s brands carries a local name including DuPont Dark, Ridge Line and Shining Rock and those brands are sold at local stores such as at the Fresh Market. “Our business is booming,” said Prado. “We just installed a new roaster.”

Pisgah Coffee barista Luana works behind a long counter and also runs the drive-thru window, an unusual feature for a roastery. Her favorite is a dark espresso but she can make about any coffee drink you want. Bagged coffee is $11 and a 12 oz. cup of dark roast costs $2 but it’s only a buck if you bring your own mug. Patrons at the shop can sit, drink and enjoy looking at a live coffee tree which, if it were producing, would yield a pound of coffee beans every year.

Matthew Hickman and Lisa Hoffman of Underground Baking Co. fame launched Independent Bean Roasters in 2017. They snagged a previously used half-ton coffee roaster from New York and then learned the roasting business. “The height of flavor is within 48 hours of roasting,” said Hickman. “The taste is spectacular.” Independent Beans is not a typical coffee house because of the small size and limited hours but they do sell some very unique coffee grown on four continents. A small cup of “Indie” drip coffee or an espresso costs $2.00. Hickman roasts about 150 pounds of beans two or three times a week and his favorite is a smooth blend from Chiapas, Mexico. You can buy their packaged brand at their Seventh Avenue café and at Community Co-op. Prices begin at $12.95 per bag.

Edneyville residents can wake up and smell the coffee thanks to Zach Pritz’s venture into the coffee roasting business two years ago when he started ShareWell Coffee Company. “We are the hardest to find espresso bar in Hendersonville,” said Pritz. “Our operation is literally in a barn directly underneath Appalachian Ridge Artisan Cidery.” Actually, ShareWell was born in a back corner of the former Purple Sage shop on Main Street in 2016 but moved to Chestnut Gap Road earlier this year.

Josh Dunkin, the head roaster, runs 10 pounds of green coffee beans through his “Buckeye” roaster set at 400 degrees. Fifteen minutes later the beans are ready for the cool down or what he calls the “bloom.” A batch of roasted beans yields about 10 packaged bags. ShareWell’s biggest buyer is the Community Co-op where you can sample the brand. ShareWell gets its beans from Mexico and Sumatra. A bag of the signature brand, Mad Mountain Mama, costs $13. You can get a small cup of coffee for $2 and refills are free. If you want to take a class in the art of coffee roasting, check ShareWell’s website for classes. Co-owner Candace Pritz said that the roastery has limited hours because everyone involved has other jobs.