Choosing Local Coffee
BY Assistant Mosaic Editor
Every day, Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee. They slurp iced concoctions with wide-mouthed straws, sip dainty dark roasts and chug pre-bottled sugar bombs across all 50 states. But where, exactly, are these people getting their coffee from? According to a report by Allegra World Coffee, it’s almost certainly from a chain.
Of the 37,274 coffee-focused stores in the US, 78% of them were owned by Starbucks, Dunkin, or JAB Holding Company, which owns stores such as Panera, Peet’s, and Caribou. Hidden in the shadows of these big-box chains are the quaint but vibrant local coffee shops that add both nuance and personality to the coffee industry.
One such place that exemplifies the energy of local cafes is Brewed Awakenings. Tucked away on the second floor of 64 E. Main St, customers ascend a narrow stairway and flow through a rickety door that opens into the small shop.
J.D. Willets, the owner of Brewed Awakenings, purchased the store in 2015 with a vision of creating a non-profit, community-based coffee shop that caters to a large demographic of customers, including university students.
Chris Champion, who has been the manager of Brewed Awakenings since it first opened, explained that the primary purpose of the store is to create a friendly, safe space for all.
“We have a really welcoming atmosphere here where diverse groups of people feel comfortable coming,” Champion says. “We see it a lot where people come in and cross paths with people they wouldn’t necessarily cross paths with in other places and are able to experience a safe community.”
Looking around the cafe on a casual day, the diversity of customers who flock to Brewed Awakenings is demonstrated by its crammed tables that act as study spaces for students, board game stations for retirees and entertainment centers for toddlers.
One of the primary ways the store accentuates its neighborhood feel is by spending time building individual relationships with each and every customer.
“We have a familiarity with our customers and this sense of being a neighborhood space where we try to get to know customers and interact with them and find out how they’re doing,” Champion says. “They don’t feel like just another nameless customer.”
Just a few blocks away at 16 Haines St., the bright purple emblem of Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co. represents another local coffee option for Newark residents. Similar to Brewed Awakenings in its homey, neighborhood feel, Little Goat adds in another layer of the coffee experience by roasting their beans on site.
This aromatic process fills the entire shop with the rich scent of caffeinated perfume. Olivia Briton, the co-owner of Little Goat, places a heavy emphasis on keeping all of their product production strictly in-store to ensure the highest quality products.
“We make all of our serums here and roast all of our coffee here,” says Briton. “We’re doing everything with a really mindful approach to the whole product, which creates a much better experience for customers, in general. I think a lot of students value that over corporate whitewash.”
Both Little Goat and Brewed Awakenings emphasize purchasing beans from companies that are not only of high quality, but that also make ethical promises to support small farmers. Practices such as Fair Trade ensure that farmers who operate independent, smaller and non-industrialized businesses are able to make a living wage off of their beans without having to sell out to larger companies.
Everything from the atmosphere to the menu at these local cafes are designed to provide customers with the ultimate coffee-drinking experience. Beyond that, however, shopping local means investing in your community.
“By coming to a local coffee shop,” Briton says, “You’re supporting your local economy, which ultimately makes a more resilient community. It keeps the investment back into the community rather than if you go to like, Dunkin’ Donuts, where that expense is not going to ultimately be spent again in your community.”
Champion echoed Briton in explaining why students should shop local as opposed to outsourcing their business to large coffee chains, such as Dunkin’ and Starbucks.
“By coming [to Brewed Awakenings] you get something a little bit different, but also get to contribute to something local,” Champion says. “Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, they have locations all over the world, but this is the only Brewed Awakenings. When customers are here, they’re not only supporting our shop, but also Main Street and small businesses.”
The warm and welcoming atmospheres of these local cafes goes beyond being a good place to get your morning cup of joe. It’s a place to interact with new people, a place to explore flavors and community opportunities. By supporting your local coffee shops, you are going beyond caffinating yourself, but helping small businesses compete against the big-chain moguls that dilute the coffee market with sugar alcohols and artificial flavoring.
For those tired of waiting in the hour line at “Smithbucks,” the Starbucks in Smith Hall, and for those interested in promoting community growth while giving their taste buds a unique and flavorful experience, local coffee shops are the way to go.
“Students should come here, because if they don’t, we won’t be here,” says Briton.