Ride Like The Wind. That’s a song by Christopher Cross, and it was playing in my head from the moment I woke up on April 13th. The sun was streaming in my bedroom window and the temperature left no excuses not to hit the road. Time to head out on another leg of the Journey. This one took me exactly where I expected…to a new spot called The Old Mill Coffeehouse just to the northeast of my last foray. That was the location deep in Amish country suggested to me by the patrons of the last stop, Stan’s Coffee Company.
It’s easy to romanticize the Pennsylvania countryside when you’re looking at it on a map. You look at it and see the endless hills and the roads stretching into them and you imagine a slew of lost towns and adventures to be had. There are those. Oh, yes, there are those aplenty. But there are also, as we say in Pennsylvania, miles and miles of miles and miles.
Sitting right in the middle of those miles is The Old Mill Coffeehouse in Richfield, near Thompsontown. I must admit, I’m still packing my expectations right along with my trail rations. I thought that, because “Old Mill” was out in the countryside, away from the main drag of Route 22, it might be a bit sparing, or at least reflective of the rural economy and its characteristic lack of demand for fancy coffee. It did nothing of the sort. This old mill would not have been too out of place in the urban jungle of cafes and arthouses that I’m used to.
The aging exterior belied the sophistication of the interior. I couldn’t even find the place on the first try, the small signpost barely registering among the entreaties of the local general store. The original scales from the original Richfield Feed Mill are still onsite. Once I got inside, though, I was treated to a feast for the eyes. Dark, lacquered hardwood everything. Hand-drawn signs. Cozy tables. A bar along the broad windows with stools. If it sounds like I’m hard-selling the ambiance, you’ve got good eyes. I can’t be unbiased about the architecture.
At least, those were my thoughts regarding the state of the ground floor. The second floor and basement are still under construction. Old Mill opened last October on the 17th, and the family that runs it has some grand designs for the future. A business conference center, a stage, and an event space. There’s already a drive-thru option. Now, that’s ambitious. But having met the owners, I can tell they’re serious about this project…which brings us to the coffee itself.
Now, as you know, I’d been told that there were emerging coffee roasters out here in the countryside. Rewinding to my last post, these folks in particular were lauded by a few locals. The coffee is indeed local and proprietary; roasted by the apparently affiliated Greater Heights Coffee right down the road and roasted well as I was to find out. I was told of a wood-fired coffee roaster. As per usual I asked for the current house blend. Flash forward: I ended up buying it. The coffee, called Thrasher, was a dark roast, not your typical medium. In fact, the girl at the counter was a bit disdainful of medium roasts and pointed out that it was easier to moderate too-strong coffee than beef up a weak brew. I wholeheartedly agree. I could not put my finger on the flavor profile I was getting here. It was dense and rich for sure with the mouthfeel of a Columbian but also having a pronounced umami flavor. Yes, there was a pear-like umami there, I’m sure of it. Strangely, it wasn’t nearly as evident when I ground and brewed the beans myself. In the bouquet, yes. In the cup, no. They’re doing something special there, I just know it, and I’ll probably never find out what their secret is.
Old Mill Coffeehouse, even more than the last few, exemplifies the narrative arc of this leg of the Journey. Namely, the coffee revolution happening in small-town Pennsylvania. To illustrate the point, the only other customers were two Amish women in traditional dresses sitting at a table chatting. Another intersection of traditional Christian rural life, and the expression of modernity that constitutes coffee culture. The old mill itself is a metaphor set in stone. A classic building not destroyed, but modified. A foundational landmark of country pride remade but preserved both in spirit and fact. By now, I don’t have to tell you it was well worth the drive.
So what’s on tap for next time? West and something. Either south or north is a possibility. Going back across the river into the hills can either take us down the Cumberland Valley to South Mountain and the Appalachian Trail towns in that area, or it can bring us further northwest towards the State College region. I’ll get to both, but which one will be first is the question. Any suggestions? Until a few weeks from now when either I or my readers (a.k.a: you) make up their minds, keep exploring the scene…and of course, stay caffeinated.