It’s time to confess: This writer gets buzzed every morning.
Upon waking, mere minutes go by before introducing the necessary drug to get up, get moving and get the writerly wheels turning. The process takes a bit of time—grinding, steeping, pressing—but as all addicts are keenly aware, any amount of labor is well worth the payoff, particularly in service to a ruthless habit.
Fortunately, the substance of choice here is relatively safe, legal and readily available. In fact, Loudoun County is an excellently supportive place when it comes to the stimulation of one’s system in the day’s earliest moments or, practically any time of day.
Of course, we’re talking coffee here. These days, the beverage is taking its rightful place alongside wine, beer, cider and spirits already making headway as some of Loudoun’s most lucrative beverage business ventures. The county boasts many spots to buy a simple cup of Joe, but increasingly, it’s becoming home to a growing pool of specialty roasters and purveyors who are keen to provide a beverage that is very different from what you’ll find at the nearest Starbucks.
Spots like LoCo Beans, Catoctin Coffee, King St. Coffee (a.k.a. Lone Oak Coffee Co.), LoCo Joe, and Bean Bar are known for sourcing the highest quality beans, roasting them to perfection and crafting coffee beverages to wow even the most experienced consumer. Some specialize in the acquisition and roasting of the bean, while others have their steaming wands in additional aspects of the industry like creating craft beverages. Whatever the focus, all share one overarching goal: to provide local patrons the best possible coffee buzz.
“Like all engineering fields, coffee roasting is about identifying and controlling variables,” said Paul Modolo, one of the two masterminds behind LoCo Beans.
Anyone lucky enough to pass by Modolo and business partner Chau Pham’s little red silo at Leesburg’s Market Station during roasting time has certainly smelled the expertise behind the spot’s growing success. Both engineers by trade, Modolo and Pham took their penchant for scientific rigor and parlayed it into a “professional hobby” that incorporates their love for both science and coffee. “[Roasting] allows us to exercise the engineering trade in a new and very different way,” said Modolo, while noting neither he nor Pham intend to transition to full-time roasters. “Once you [identify variables in the process] you can perform meaningful experiments, develop baseline roasting profiles for each cultivar and get into a continual refinement cycle. … We’re not attempting to compete in the marketplace with inexpensive coffees; neither do we want to price our coffee out of reach for most people. Retaining our full-time jobs allows us the flexibility to maintain very affordable price points and instead focus on quality.”
LoCo Beans buys green coffee beans that have never seen a roaster. They do this in relatively small batches from trusted farmers and importers in a wide range of locales, from New York to Louisiana, Washington, DC, and Hawaii. Using tightly controlled experiments and “cupping” sessions (a process of sampling brewed coffee that can be compared to a wine tasting), Modolo and Pham developed specific roasting profiles for all their offerings.
“We regularly offer single-origin coffees from Ethiopia, Brazil, Kenya, Colombia, Sumatra Kona and Guatemala. … Our best-selling products are our blends: a full-bodied and balanced House Blend, a 20-percent Kona Blend, a +3dB Blend … and a Masters’ Roast that is dedicated to our friend and roasting mentor, Ed Sowa,” Modolo said. “Other coffees are offered on an ad-hoc basis as they become available such as El Salvadoran and Vietnamese.”
Equally meticulous care goes into the packaging and selling of LoCo Beans—“We log and label our roasted beans to ensure that we are providing quality, fresh-roasted beans to our customers,” Modolo said. “The beans are packaged in sealed canisters or bags from the time of roasting to protect them from the damaging effects of oxygen, moisture and light.”
Customers frequently ask for storage and brewing tips and, increasingly, many groups are interested in learning more about the roasting process and if it can be replicated at home. Modolo and Pham have hosted Boy Scout Troops, large families and even bachelorette parties who wanted an up-close peek at the magical process that turns a small, impossibly hard green bean into the gorgeous little brown, round pocket of aroma, taste and energy with which most of us are familiar.
Although there’s no brewing going on in that small cylinder, those who want to drink before they buy can find LoCo Beans products in liquid form at Trinity House Café, Los Tios and MacDowell’s Brew Kitchen, or, dive right in and buy whole beans at the silo. Modolo and Pham also offer a number of additional tips, facts and anecdotes about their business, including regular roasting hours, at locobeanscoffee.com.
Equally passionate about his java is Sam Kayser, co-founder and operator of Lone Oak Coffee Company. Monitors of the local coffee scene may know his business as Hopscotch Coffee Roasters—the name was changed this summer when the business partnership, originally between Kayser and two friends, expanded to include a fourth. Although the roasting is done out of Lone Oak’s Winchester storefront, Hopscotch Coffee & Records, Leesburg-based coffee connoisseurs can sample fresh coffee and craft beverages at the King St. Coffee storefront or, further west, at Veloville USA – Bicycles & Coffee in Purcellville.
Although his business is but a few years old, Kayser’s love for and fascination with coffee goes back a long way. “There’s ‘coffee’ and then there’s ‘specialty coffee,’” Kayser said. “I’ve been drinking coffee since my early teens, but my first cup of specialty coffee happened in 2009. It was a coffee from a Chicago-based company called Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters. I was hooked. It tasted unlike any other coffee I ever had. I had a revelation about food and beverage at that point, about quality and sourcing, about taste. It opened my eyes to what ‘good’ truly meant.”
Knowing, then, that his future would be in the coffee business, Kayser set about nailing down all the particulars that would assure he was living up to the expectations of that first Chicago cup. Lone Oak deals in direct fair trade when sourcing its coffee beans, eliminating the middle man and negotiating personally with farmers across the globe. “By building these relationships based on ethics, we are able to ensure the coffee producing farmer is duly rewarded for their hard work,” he says. Once settled on what varietals to purchase, Kayser and his partners order approximately 1,000 pounds of beans per week, which are stored in a warehouse facility before being roasted and disseminated for brewing and purchase.
To that end, Kayser can commonly be found situated near Lone Oak’s 12K infrared Diedrich Roaster, watching the beans snap, crackle and pop, or at a weekly cupping session every Thursday at noon, both at Hopscotch Coffee Bar & Records. “We discuss coffee culture, coffee flavors and roasting techniques, as well as answer any questions about coffee,” he said of the cuppings. And, when asked to reflect on the growing number of cafes offering his venerated “specialty coffee,” Kayser’s view was roasty, toasty and positive. “Coffee is an ever-changing product/industry,” he said. “As we enter this new era of coffee culture, I am constantly surprised at the rapidly growing interest in our company. It’s a very tight-knit coffee community and everybody is very supportive of each other.”
At LoCo Joe in Purcellville, partners Juanita Tool, Stefano Frigerio and Dusty Lockhart are perfecting the art of showcasing fine coffees and pairing them with high-quality snacks and pastries. Although they don’t do the roasting—Alexandria, Virginia-based M.E. Swing Coffee Co. and Annapolis, Maryland-based Ceremony Coffee see to that task—Tool, Frigerio and Lockhart express their java love by brewing only the finest coffee, espresso and milk-based drinks. “Our baristas receive extensive training in coffee as every stage of creating a great cup of coffee or making an espresso drink is important from the roasting of the beans to the size of the grind, length of brew, water temperature—among other things,” Lockhart said.
How do they stay afloat, one may wonder, in an age where a Starbucks, Peet’s or Panera is on practically every corner? “[People who] care about the quality of their food are attracted to our shop because of the care we take in offering them a superior product,” Lockhart said. “Competing with national chains is tough, and to be honest, operating in small towns will never generate enough revenue to be a full-time job for any of us; however we all fervently believe that locally operated, independent business is what defines towns like Purcellville, and we will put everything we can into making sure places like LoCo Joe are available to our community.”
All these passionate entrepreneurs take a slightly different approach, but the benefit to the consumer is universal. Their care—from source, to roast, to packaging and brewing—truly is the cream in our coffee.
Top Tips for Your Morning Jolt
“Always buy fresh-roasted coffee and grind just enough for immediate use. Your coffee will retain its flavor for a longer period of time.” — Sam Kayser, Lone Oak Coffee Co.
“It’s generally best to grind your coffee beans right before brewing to limit the bean’s exposure to oxygen, but not all grinders were created equal. We gently recommend a Burr grinder for consistent particulate size optimized to your brewing method.” — Paul Modolo and Chau Pham, LoCo Beans
“Step back from the Keurig Cups and traditional coffee makers and try out a slow-brewing method — a pour-over or a Chemex. There’s nothing like a good pour-over—no need to mask the coffee with cream or sugar because it is so delicious.” — Dusty Lockhart, LoCo Joe
Other Excellent Coffee Resources
In addition to the three roaster/brewer/purveyors detailed here, there are many other spots in Loudoun where you can find quality, responsibly sourced beans, knowledgeable staff and delicious drinks. Here’s the buzz:
Fresh, locally roasted artisan beans are available by the ounce to go and seasonally available single-origin coffees from Ethiopia, Sumatra, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, or Mexico.
19382 Diamond Lake Dr, Lansdowne, VA 20176
Artisanal roasting by Kellie Capritta, with freshly roasted beans available at many storefronts around Loudoun County. More information online.
Bean Bar Loudoun
Fine crafted coffee beverages, including pour overs, lattes, espresso and more.
1601 Village Market Blvd., SE
Leesburg, VA 20175
Coffee roasted to scientific perfection by engineers Paul Modolo and Chau Pham—brewed coffee available at select area outlets.
Market Station, Leesburg
Lone Oak Coffee Co.
Artisanal roasting with brewed beverages available at select area outlets.
Regionally sourced, small-batch roasts by the bean and craft coffee beverages, snacks and pastries.
550 E. Main St.