Coffee culture is highly evolved at area shops, where the beans, flavors and brewing techniques are anything but ordinary
From the September 2018 issue
When Amy Felker and a partner opened the Lewes Bake Shoppe in 1990, many customers ordered coffee along with their sticky bun. “It was regular or decaf,” recalls Felker, who is now the sole owner of the downtown Lewes business.
Limiting offerings to two kinds of coffee was not good enough for Felker. In 1991, she put a roaster in the dining area and started Notting Hill Coffee Roastery right in the bakery. Shelves to the left of the front door began filling up with small brown bags. Today, Notting Hill has more than 125 kinds of coffee, many of which you can also buy online.
While Starbucks fueled a national awareness for lattes, cappuccinos and other specialty coffees, Felker helped kick-start the scene by the sea. Like a double espresso, the trend has had staying power.
Serving a good cup of Joe at the beach has advantages. Gourmet coffee shops are part of a vibrant culinary scene, and regional roasters like Notting Hill can offer a taste of local flavor to tourists; as a bonus, area residents become regulars.
But given the influx of national chains that serve a variety of coffee (such as Starbucks, Wawa and Royal Farms), these businesses must also stay on the cutting edge — or sport a distinctive difference.
The quest for quality coffee
The number of Americans who drink coffee daily is at its highest level since 2012, according to a 2018 survey commissioned by the National Coffee Association. Young adults, in particular, are comfortable with latte lingo.
Some of the growth comes from the proliferation of home machines like Keurig and Nespresso. However, consumers are also enticed by gourmet beans and brewing processes. A can of Maxwell House — no matter how fragrant — simply won’t do.
Just ask Thierry Langer, who with wife Nathalie owns Kaisy’s Delights in Rehoboth Beach and just outside Lewes. “We come from Europe. We are coffee snobs,” he admits. “We use one of the best coffee roasters in America: La Colombe.”
Good coffee beans are a lot like wine, notes Kim Kneipp, general manager of The Point Coffee House and Bake Shoppe at the entrance to Rehoboth Beach. “There are notes that come out when you roast it a certain way, when you brew it at the right temperature, when you have the right amount of water, and when you use a good filtration system — all of those things make a difference,” she explains.
The Point brews up to 10 different kinds of coffee each day, and up to 20 types of beans are available for sale. The beans come from a private roastery that creates the blends just for the shop.
Surf Bagel, which has locations near Five Points and in Midway Shopping Center, once featured Green Mountain Coffee. “It was a cool little roastery up in Vermont,” says co-owner Dave Vitella. “Then they exploded and got really big. Customer service went downhill for me. It motivated me to say: ‘Hey, we can do it.’”
In 2014, he and fellow surfer Drew Johnson started Swell Joe Coffee Co. a few doors down from the Five Points Surf Bagel. The company offers up to seven coffees, including A-Wake, which is 100 percent Guatemalan; Blue Kai, which is Ethiopian; and Mor-feen, a blend of Colombian, Guatemalan and Sumatran beans.
In addition to Surf Bagel, the coffee is available at such local restaurants as The Backyard, Matt’s Fish Camp, Fish On and Baked, as well as in the Bad Hair Day salon, among other establishments.
Locally roasted coffees appeal to those who either want to support area businesses or bring home a souvenir with flavor. Felker of Notting Hill offers a medium-roasted breakfast blend known as Cape Henlopen and flavored coffees such as the cinnamon-scented Boardwalk Blend.
Stopping in at a particular coffee shop has become part of many visitors’ vacation ritual. “We see the same people during the same week of each year,” Felker says.
Many are grabbing a coffee before or after an early morning walk beside the water. Says Aileen Hearn, who with Kyle Ten Eyck owns Mug & Spoon, just steps from the Rehoboth boardwalk: “We open at 7 a.m., and there are days when people are waiting on the benches or knocking on the door as we get ready to open.” The shop opened in time for the 2017 tourist season, and this summer Hearn has seen repeat visitors. “They said: ‘This was so amazing last year that we decided to come back.’” Many confide that they go out for coffee because they don’t want to use a hotel’s in-room machines.
Locals, however, also have their preferred places. “We see the same people at our drive-through in Lewes,” notes Langer of Kaisy’s Delights. “They’re going to work most of the time. You need your coffee to start your day.”
Other area residents come for a macchiato and a side of conversation. Ladies in the local Red Hat Society often request the private room in the Lewes Kaisy’s Delights. “They ask if they can use it, and we say: ‘Yes, of course,’” Langer says. “They enjoy the afternoon with their coffee.”
On most Mondays, a book club gathers at The Point. There’s also a reserved table for local retirees who regularly arrive at the same time, Kneipp says.
Considering that Mug & Spoon is located in Schell Brothers’ new-home gallery, it’s not surprising that some customers work on their laptops while sipping a latte.
And now for something completely different
Regardless of whether they’re locals or vacationers, customers love being adventurous, Hearn says. “Even regulars who think they know what they want are trying new things, which is cool.”
That’s easy at Mug & Spoon, which is more than a coffee shop. Customers can also buy fanciful milkshakes. The Mermaid Shake, for instance, is a pink or blue vanilla shake topped with colorful candy, pearl sprinkles and edible glitter. The ice cream is from Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin.
But even the coffee from Wilmington-based Brandywine Coffee gets the creative treatment at Mug & Spoon. Specialty lattes are named for Schell Brothers’ communities, such as the Ellis Point, which includes mocha and raspberry.
The shop also has a machine that prints high-resolution photos, designs and messages atop the foam on lattes, cappuccinos and other espresso-based drinks. It will also work on smooth, flattened ice cream.
“It works like an inkjet printer,” Hearn explains. “The other day we heard that Joe Biden was in downtown Rehoboth, so we put a picture of him on a cup of ice cream because he loves ice cream.”
The latest trend is cold-brew coffee. “It’s ground coffee that steeps in cold water for 18 to 24 hours. … It’s never touched hot water,” The Point’s Kneipp says. “It brings out the great tastes of the coffee. I’ve had great chocolate notes come out of our cold brew with no chocolate added.”
Mug & Spoon sells nitro coffee, which is a cold brew poured into a keg and infused with nitrogen gas. It’s served from a tap like beer, which makes it frothy and creamy.
Kneipp says many of her customers are now concerned about coffee made using fair trade growing practices, which are designed to encourage sustainability and benefit coffee bean farmers.
Many customers also want certified organic products and beans that come from a single source — much like wine made with grapes from one vineyard or region. And they value freshness. Vitella of Swell Joe roasts only 15 pounds at a time, using freshly delivered coffee that “hasn’t been on a shelf for six months.”
Felker at Notting Hill covers all the bases, from organic to fair trade to flavored to beans that meet Rainforest Alliance standards.
While she pays attention to what other coffee shops are doing, this owner is not about to change what’s worked well for 30 years — even if it means working nights to roast the beans that fill the shelves or coming up with more fun flavors.
Says Felker: “I guess I march to the beat of my own drum.”