This post changes everything. Actually, it kind of reverses everything. Remember when the Journey went into the border hills of the Allegheny/Pennsylvania Appalachian ridgelines and then abruptly went back to Harrisburg because of a major post-plague boom in coffee spots? Well, we’re back on the road to the west again. This development comes thanks to a misclick on Google and some unexpected advice while on the road. Let me explain:
I was trying to find good places for coffee near some old hiking haunts of mine. Now that the weather is finally something other than gray and white and cold, I plan to head out on the trail in the near future. Mind you, I already have visited all the current coffee spots in those areas, but I just wanted to double-check in case I missed something. I centered the map too far to the north in error and hit the coffee button. That was no bug. It was a feature. Turns out there is a fine new coffee shop (or, rather, a new shop for fine coffee) along the very same road I took into the same mountains all those months ago. That’s an understatement, actually. More on that later.
I decided to make the trip on March 16th because the date was right between two storm systems, and you do not want to be stuck on Rt. 22 North when those winds kick up. Stan’s Coffee Company is located right in the heart of Thompsontown, PA, a quick exit off the aforementioned Road of Peril. There isn’t a well-defined downtown here; only some building density at the intersection of Mill and Main Streets. There is, however, a coffeehouse that clearly belongs in one. Stan’s would not be out of place in a hip college town’s main thoroughfare. Thus, I’m immediately reminded of the very (seeming) contradiction that started me on this journey years ago: the juxtaposition of urban and rural life.
Another layer was added to this concept the minute I walked inside. Several layers, actually. On the one hand, there were beautiful hardwood shelves lined with books and Edison lights. On the other, I heard joyful Christian music coming from the radio. The former would be right at home in Harrisburg. The latter would not. Everything had the feel of being freshly minted, yet the building has been in existence since the 1860s. Contrast followed contrast. Stay with me, there’s more of this theme to come.
The woman at the counter, Mary, is co-owner with her husband Ben. She kindly filled me on on the whole story surrounding the emergence of the shop (I did a bit of digging on my own and Stan was, I believe, the name of Ben’s grandfather-these folks have been in the community for generations). Stan’s itself is incredibly new, having opened the day before New Year’s Day this year. The coffee is a product of Cedar Shed Coffee Roasters. Guess where that’s located. Nearby East Salem. The entire operation is local.
The coffee I had was a very smooth Colombian roast. Here’s something I found unique: It didn’t appear to have high acidity. That’s a characteristic of most Arabica beans (the other main coffee bean type being the lesser quality Robusta). Yet, this was still clearly an Arabica judging by the high quality of the roast. I and many others tend to brew Colombian Arabicas darker, whereas the average breakfast blend tends to be a light-to-medium blend of beans. This particular roast combined the qualities of being light and full with a minimum of astringency. There was some, but it was mellowed somehow on the palate. It’s rare to see that done, or at least done so dynamically.
Following the conversation I had with Mary immediately after the tasting, I understood where that degree of care came from. She informed me that there was a recent groundswell of local roasters, especially Mennonite outfits. Recall, I already reviewed one of those locals: Merle from Appalachian Mountain Coffee. When I name-dropped him, another patron (a fellow coffee nut) engaged with me and we were off on a long-winded exposition regarding the virtues and flaws of the Central Pennsylvania coffee scene! There have been some successes and setbacks along the way, but that’s what you get with an emergent industry. The fellow I mentioned pointed me in the direction of a particularly good bet: Greater Heights Coffee Roasters in nearby Richfield.
In summation, this lovely blue shop represents the tip of a coffee iceberg. The official website describes it as “quaint.” I would beg to differ. Stan’s is actually quite cutting edge, from the effective networks with local roasters they’re building to the polished interior. There’s no nostalgia here, but rather a fully authentic melding of the rustic and modern, not in terms of mere aesthetics, but baked into the culture itself. Out here, farm and family are the lifestyles. I like that. The next stop will either be Greater Heights or somewhere near South Mountain. Either way, it’s likely westward-ho. Until then, stay caffeinated.