Brussel’s Cafe

29 Sep

Happy Coffee Day! Yes, that’s what today is, so that’s why I’m posting this now…two weeks or so from when I actually made the journey to this place that rocked my caffeinated world. Visiting this cafe was the culmination point of a long-planned road trip. The destination was Chambersburg, PA, and while the town isn’t known as a vacation spot nationwide, there’s a case to be made that it really should be. OK, so there are no beaches and such; it’s nestled between two ridge lines surrounding the Cumberland Valley and is a town you go through on the way south if you don’t want to take I-95. It is, however, a center of Pennsylvania historical preservation and with good reason. Before and during the Civil War, the town was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Free blacks lived there in large number, and famous anti-slavery activist John Brown himself stayed there in the summer of 1859 while planning his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Their actions helped to continue the American Revolution towards its still-overdue endpoint of civil rights and civil liberties for all. Needless to say, this was a good time to visit.

I came upon Brussel’s Cafe by pure happenstance. I was going to the town anyhow and before I left my dad said “Hey, maybe you’ll find a coffeehouse to write about.” I acted all cool like “Yeah you bet, that’s why I’m going.” Unfortunately I had totally forgotten the fact that I had no idea where to get coffee in Chambersburg and would be half asleep during the drive home. Well, a quick map search produced the Brussel’s Cafe.  It’s like the apostrophe in the Pagan’s MC. It just kinda lives there. The owner, Alex, kinda seems to live there too. He’s lived a lot of places around the world, including his home in Brussels Belgium, after which the cafe is named. That’s where the history of Brussel’s Cafe begins. A cart full of coffee being wheeled around Brussels by his great-grandmother in 1846 was the genesis point for the cafe. Those are some deep roots, but then again coffeehouse culture in Europe has very deep roots indeed. When I started out this blog I had firmly in my mind the ideal of a coffee house. It’s supposed to be a gathering place of friends; also a center for strains of intellectual thought to brew and a haven both in the town and of the town. Brussel’s Cafe checks all the boxes.

The owner is only too happy to share the story of how the coffeehouse came to be, but it wasn’t just a story that I got this time, rather a guided tour of the place which held some interesting secrets. The cafe is located right next to a red brick alleyway which, in good European fashion, is being turned into an outdoor sitting area, with plans to decorate it with…well I’ll leave a few surprises. One thing I’ll disclose is the presence of a red phone box from England, so if you’re like me and enjoy a good Doctor Who flashback be sure to check that box perched atop the pavement. Chambersburg itself has a bit of an Old World feel, so that only adds to the effectiveness of the project to turn this little portion of the street into a haven for human contact amidst a bustling burg.

Back to the coffee. Unfortunately I was warned after the fact that I had chosen my coffee wrong. I got my usual house blend that I tend to use as a litmus test. Apparently they make a point of producing craft lattes to order. Oops. I’ll have to remember that. The coffee itself is a single source roast from Belo Horizonte in Brazil, which is where Alex met his business partner and a pipeline of fresh coffee was formed between South America and Pennsylvania. South American coffee is generally rich and often earthy. It can be either really rough and overpowering or it can be the height of smoothness. This was specifically a breakfast roast so I didn’t know how this would play out. Oh, the art. Yes, you can tell it’s special. Now, Brazil is the supplier of a third of the world’s coffee, so when we talk about Brazilian coffee we could be talking about the source of any of the mainstream, mass-produced brands. This was not those brands. This coffee is locally sourced exclusively from one specific area and the care put into the terroir (the ‘place-ness’ of the farm, a term long used in the wine industry but equally applicable to all agriculture) was telling. If the place were you grow something is unique, the thing that you grow will be unique. This coffee was uniquely buttery and smooth. There was a hint of nuttiness, but the airy floral taste that I just could not place is what really makes the tongue want to dance. I can only imagine what the latte must be like.

I’m coming back here for Halloween and Christmas. Those are the two times of year when Alex said that the place really shines and I believe him. Every Halloween the interior is covered in orange decor, and on Christmas they bring in a 20 foot tree and have rides and activities for the kids. If there’s one thing that says ‘magic’ to me, it’s that image of a continental Christmas with frost-rimed windows and beautifully baroque decoration. I have high hopes that Brussel’s Cafe will been an eruption of that beauty into the Central Pennsylvania holiday season. Until next time, stay caffeinated.

the sign and flag…

the promise…

the history…

the alley…

the perspective…

the phone…





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Posted by on September 29, 2020 in Uncategorized


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