When is a coffeehouse not a coffeehouse? Well, I’m really not sure. What exactly is the Platonic ideal of the coffeehouse if you had to gather an image to mind? At the start of this blog, I laid out some basics of what I think makes a ‘real’ coffeehouse. Now, I expect to be accused of engaging in a bit of gatekeeping there, but I stand by the idea that ‘the coffeehouse’ is something authentic and specific: both an aesthetic ambience and a perpetuator of the Enlightenment zeitgeist of making art and asking questions. If that’s the case, then Appalachian Mountain Coffee exists in a sort of borderland. The coffeehouse spirit exists here but it exists in potentiality only. A coffeehouse waiting to become.
Perhaps a bit of introduction is in order: I learned that this roasting company existed due to a chance encounter at a small, outdoor market back in August of last year. I wasn’t even looking for coffee at the time, just enjoying the fact that there were people doing a thing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a makeshift stand bearing the name of a coffee roaster I’d never heard of. Now, I’ve been buying coffee for a long time and I thought I knew about every operation there was to know in these parts. I was quite mistaken. It turns out that Appalachian Mountain Coffee is a geographical oddity. Look them up online and you’ll swear that Google Maps is drunk. They’re not in a town or a village or even one of our many ‘census-designated places’ that pockmark the Pennsylvania countryside. Appalachian Mountain Coffee is in a small building on a small hill in the middle of a large, farm-blanked county. A red dot at the end of a long blue directional line that winds west from Port Trevorton on the Susquehanna River, along one-lane roads (yes, one) up into the hills. That’s why I hadn’t heard of them previously, and also what drove me to learn more about them. I felt like I was in on a secret. That, and the fact that their coffee turned out to be utterly phenomenal.
I’m not entirely sure how Merle does it. That’s the name of the owner and mastermind behind the coffee crafting here. As I drove up the long, narrow road to the home that houses both his family and his coffee, I noticed that there was precious little in the way of infrastructure. After greeting me at the door in his overalls, fresh from dinner with the family, he led me to the little store attached to the roasting room (and the dining room) from which he sells his bags of coffee. He assured me with much pride that his operation was entirely off the grid. It is entirely off the grid. Local water, local power, and absolutely no computerization involved in the production process. You have to understand, this is Amish country. People who live here choose to meet modernity on their own terms, not the world’s. Let’s just say that the last year has endowed me with a certain empathy for that position. The quality of his coffee makes a good selling point for his lifestyle as well.
The only coffee that I actually tried in-shop was the nitro cold brew, which was creamy and fantastic even without milk added. It had an almost liqueur-like quality that was sublime. That was the only coffee available in a glass; everything else was sold by the bag, either whole-bean or ground. I got two bags of ground coffee, a Colombian and a Sumatran French Roast. I tried the Colombian when I got home, and it was just as smooth and refined as the cold brew had been. The only mistake I made was not putting enough in the coffee maker; it really is a medium roast and is a bit more subtle than commercial Colombians tend to be. Note that I said subtle, not weak. The lack of punch was no doubt a deliberate price paid for intricacy of aroma. Good choice. The Sumatra really is a very bold dark roast, as he had warned me…though I let him know forthwith that this was a selling point to me, not a warning. The Sumatra looked as black as soil in spring and was every bit as rich. It’s worth noting that you can smell both of these coffees right through the sealed bags; there’s that much abundance of flavor.
As I left (with a few free samples added into my bag by the far-too-generous Merle), I addressed the elephant: the fact that this place isn’t a coffeehouse and few people even know it exists! Well, there is an online presence, run through a friend of his apparently. The cost of coming down to Harrisburg can be prohibitive…but then again, so can the logistics of coming up to this area. That seemed to be the main issue; he expressed a bit of skepticism regarding how likely people would be to come up to his forested little hill amidst the hills just to visit a coffeehouse should he open one. Two things counter that notion: The coffee alone is clearly worth the hour-long trip from southern Dauphin county, but the bucolic beauty of the region in which it sits is the real draw. Remember how central it is to the coffeehouse experience to induce contemplation in people? Places of peace are becoming all too rare in this world. This is one of them. It may not draw all people, but it would draw the right kind of people. Ones who care less about fleeting fashions and trendy locales and more about getting back to the roots of things. Until next time, stay caffeinated.