When I lived in Long Beach, CA, Tom and I were fond of a local coffee shop called Polly’s Gourmet Coffee. The wonderful thing about Polly’s is that they roast their own coffee daily, right there in the store, using a 1929 roaster brought over from Germany after WWII. You could smell the freshly roasted coffee from a block away. When you entered the store, there was a chalkboard that would tell you what coffee was brewed that day, and each of their many varieties were all labeled with the roasting date.
So, when we moved to Philly, we made an effort to seek out locally roasted coffee. I found an article in the Philadelphia City Paper that set me on the right track. I would say that there’s nothing quite like Polly’s, but there is a great deal of locally roasted coffee if you know where to look. In this post I’ll share what I’ve found so far.
Green Street Coffee Roasters is a Philadelphia-based, small batch, specialty coffee roasting company. Tom and Chris Molieri started Green Street Coffee Roasters in July of 2011; Chris had acquired a passion for coffee roasting after spending a year living and working in Portland, OR. I’ve only seen the coffee in a handful of places, but my favorite spot to buy it in Center City is Metropolitan Bakery. [Update 11/7/12: Green Street is also available at the Rittenhouse location of Di Bruno Bros.] You can also buy their beans online.
Re-Animator Coffee is a small, locally owned and operated micro-roaster based in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia, started in 2011 by roaster Mark Corpus and partner Mark Capriotti. Their coffee is also only available in a handful of places, but I usually get it from Sue’s Produce Market or Green Aisle Grocery. You can also buy their beans online; within Philadelphia, it is delivered free via bicycle.
Philly Fair Trade Roasters specializes in small-batch organic Arabica coffee, hand-roasted locally in Philadelphia on a daily basis. Roastmaster Joe Cesa has been roasting coffee in Philadelphia since 2002, previously as the proprietor of Joe Coffee, which closed in 2009. I find the PFT coffee a little easier to come by than Green Street or Re-Animator; I usually get it at the Fitler Square Farmer’s Market or Pumpkin Market. You can also buy their beans online.
Rival Bros. is a Philadelphia roaster specializing in custom blends of small batch roasts. Lifelong friends Jonathan Adams (of Pub & Kitchen) and Damien Pileggi started Rival Bros in 2011. You can enjoy their coffee at their mobile coffee truck, or you can order their beans online. I usually get it from the truck, but I did order online once and it arrived promptly after roasting day.
Old City Coffee is a 100% Philadelphia operated business, roasting only high grade Arabica high-grown coffee, in tiny batches. Old City Coffee, Inc. was founded in 1984 as a one-person operation, by Ruth Isaac, at its original location on Church Street. It opened its location at Reading Terminal Market in 1988, where all the roasting takes place currently. You can buy their coffee at either of the two locations or order online. Of all the coffee places in Philly, the Reading Terminal Market location of Old City Coffee is the one that reminds me most of Polly’s in Long Beach; I just wish I were able to go more often when they’re actually roasting so I could inhale that aroma of fresh roasted beans, and I wish there were a more relaxing spot in the busy market to sit and enjoy their coffee.
Chestnut Hill Coffee Co. is a café and roastery based in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. Inspired by the best of European and Seattle cafés, the café opened its doors in 2005, and in-house roasting began one year later. DiBruno Brothers used to carry their beans, but I can’t find them there anymore. In Center City, their coffee is served at Marathon Grill and at Cake and the Beanstalk, but I’m not sure where you can buy the beans other than at their café in Chestnut Hill (conveniently located near the regional rail station). They have an online store, but at the time of this writing, it is not yet operational.
Blue Water Coffee is roasted in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. I know very little else about it, but you can buy beans from Ants Pants Café, either in the restaurant or online.
I have also heard it is available at Café Estelle. [Update 11/7/12: Café Estelle is now closed.]
La Colombe is probably Philadelphia’s most widely known local coffee. Founders Todd Carmichael and Jean Philippe Iberti conceived the idea of “culinary coffee” in 1985 while attending school and working in Seattle’s coffee industry. In 1994, they set up a roasting facility in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood. La Colombe is very popular in Philly, so you can get it pretty much anywhere, but I prefer to buy it from their Rittenhouse Square café. You can also buy it online. Unlike most of the other, smaller roasters I’ve mentioned, the La Colombe beans aren’t labeled with a roasting date, so I’m quite wary about buying it at most stores, not knowing how long it’s been sitting there. I hesitated in including it on this list, as it is much more large scale than the others I’ve mentioned, with cafés all over the world, but it is certainly a very important part of the Philadelphia coffee scene.
So, after identifying the above, we’ve made an effort to get something different each time we buy coffee for consumption at home. I’ve avoided giving specific coffee “reviews” to any of the above, as it doesn’t seem fair after only trying each roaster a few times, with a different blend or variety each time. However, I will name a few favorites. By far our mutually agreed favorite is the Green Street Organic Mexican. It makes us say “wow” with every cup. We also really enjoy the Blue Water, both when we enjoy it at Ants Pants and when we buy it to brew at home. La Colombe’s Lyon was exquisite. We liked the Old City Blend from Old City Coffee, and I look forward to trying more of their selections. All in all, it’s really fun to keep trying new things. Lately, we’ve expanded our horizons to include New Jersey; currently we are enjoying an organic Guatemala roast from Grover’s Mill, and we’re also fans of the Garces Trading Company blends from Rojo’s Roastery.