No matter what anyone says, coffee shops are all about the coffee. Gas stations, fast food restaurants, diners and of course the big coffee chain stores serve varying qualities of the famous caffeinated (or not) beverage Americans crave, but it is only in the true, independent coffee shops, coffee cafes and especially coffee roasters where the bean is treated with the honor and care it truly deserves. Connecticut is fortunate to have many such places for the coffee connoisseur, places that also understand that a really good cup of coffee goes best with a fresh-baked cake, muffin or other sweet.
12 S. Main St.
The name on the awning says it all – this is a coffee bar where if coffee is king, chocolate is his queen. Pastry chefs and chocolatiers work in full view of the patrons, who can sip their premium Cafés do Brasil while browsing the gallery where owner and creator Fritz Knipschildt displays his chocolate art – which includes dresses decorated with chocolates that have been worn at the Chocolate Show in New York. The list of “chocolate creations” is a long one, and requires at least a second cup of the café’s fine Brazilian coffee to study. The café also offers salads, crepes, paninis, quiches and other savory dishes to complement its signature chocolate sweets.
O’Neil’s Sandwich and Coffee Bar
114 Greenwood Ave.
For those in the Bethel area who need their coffee fast, hot, strong, tasty and early, O’Neil’s Sandwich and Coffee Bar is the place start their day. The coffee comes from Redding Roasters, which is quite literally just down the street at 81 Greenwood Avenue in Bethel. How can any coffee shop get more local than that? Redding Roasters Coffee Company has more than 60 coffees to choose from, many of which are available by the cup at O’Neil’s, which has its stock favorites but also brews up some of the more exotic of Redding’s flavors (like “Jamaica Me Crazy” and “Hylander Grog”). Open at 6:30 a.m. weekday mornings (8 a.m. on weekends), O’Neils serves up a grand cup of coffee for breakfast, lunch and a little later into the day (it closes at 3:30 p.m. weekdays and at 3 p.m. on weekends). As its name clearly states, O’Neils is also a sandwich place – although it goes a bit beyond that, offering pancakes and French toast for breakfast, as well as a lengthy list of hot and cold sandwiches. It also has a catering department with a “full service barbecue”
The Vanilla Bean Café
450 Deerfield Road
Pomfret, CT 06258
From 7 a.m. weekdays (8 a.m. weekends) until noon, “The Bean,” as the locals call it, is Pomfret’s signature coffee shop. The morning menu is coffee, and lots of it, with fresh-made pastries and other home-baked goods available as the menu warns “while they last.” When they are gone, they are gone. Fear not, for by 11 a.m. when the last of the baked goods is but a memory, it is time for lunch, and that is when the cast and crew at “The Bean” fire up the grill (and make stacks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids who invariably stream in with their parents and grandparents on holidays, weekends and during the summer). Unlike most other coffee shops, The Vanilla Bean also has a lot of vegetarian and vegan offerings, as well as a strong selection of local, seasonal fruits. In the evening, the coffee shop turns into a slightly more formal café, with a full dinner menu.
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Willoughby’s Coffee and & Tea
258 Church St.
New Haven, CT 06510
In the ElmCity, there are many places to get a cup of Joe, but thee place for a great cup of coffee (or tea) is Willoughby’s on Church Street. The coffee is strong, especially the French Roast, and the baristas make a lovely latte, provided you have the time to wait in line (many people just come in for a quick pump-and-go from the constantly freshened serve-yourself pots). This is fair trade coffee, so it is a bit pricey, but patrons and critics alike agree it is worth every penny. Willoughby’s warns that its coffee is “serious coffee,” as its select special coffees from around the world are shipped to the cafe often the same day they are roasted. The Costa Rican Helsar Organic, for example, comes from a single farm 6,000 feet up in that country’s mountains. The Guatemalan Antiqua La Tactica similarly comes from one farm, which for four generations has been worked by the same family. While the coffee by the cup and by the pound is why the coffee lovers of New Haven flock to this grand establishment, Willoughby’s understands that strong coffee often begs for a sweet to offset the power, punch and bitterness of the caffeine. At Willoughby’s, there are many pastries and other sides to choose from, among which its red velvet cake is quite rightly famous.
1096 Main St.
Branford, CT 06405
Common Grounds in Branford is a coffee shop in a beach town that is not meant for the beach crowd. This is real coffee – not the donut, dash-and-go type. There is a full menu of sandwiches and other savories for those inclined to sit and dine, as well as sumptuous desserts – notably the indescribably sinful Grand Marnier Cake or the sweet snicker doodles – that just beg to be eaten slowly while sipping one of the lovely fresh and/or flavored coffees. Common Grounds is a roaster, and a “small batch” one at that. Family owned and operated, it knows its customers and their tastes, and caters to them.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.