I was living in Vermont in the early 90s. It was the onset of the modern coffee culture and I landed a job at the coolest place in town. Mocha Joe’s was a basement dweller’s paradise for reading, writing, discussing the aura-healing qualities of amethyst, and the general wasting of time.
Here, I learned important things: the difference between Costa Rican and Kenyan coffee, and that drinking flavored coffee was an abomination. It was somehow more acceptable to infect the beans with hazelnut flavor after they were ground and brewed than before. The flavor would come from a bottle of cavity-producing syrup, which was Italian so, obviously, correct. I was disappointed, but willing to adapt. So I started drinking lattes.
When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard, the first coffee shop I found was Mocha Mott’s at 10 Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Original owner, Mott Hinkley (whose smiling face still adorns the paper cups) was behind the counter at his simple, yet successful, subterranean storefront.
In 2001, Tim Dobel and Meredith Gallo bought Mocha Mott’s, keeping everything that was great about this neighborhood favorite: the upbeat and efficient service, the people-watching window bar, local artwork, eclectic music, Cape Cod Bagels, and of course, quality caffeinated drinks.
But the new regime also brought new energy, new ideas, and vast improvements to the food. Ms. Gallo and her staff produce fresh-baked goods every day. Muffins, jumbo cookies, biscotti, coffee cake, banana bread, and the best dog biscuits ever are all made in-house. Breakfast bagels and burritos give the morning rush of regulars a satisfying start to their day. Homemade soups, sandwiches, wraps, and salads are made with fresh, quality ingredients.
I like flavored coffee. When I recovered from my spell of shame and denial, I noticed that Mocha Mott’s, in defiance of serious coffee shop etiquette, offers three flavors plus a decaf flavor every day. “It’s not for me to pass judgment,” explained Ms. Gallo. “You want to drink flavored coffee, we have it.” I applaud her acceptance of my misguided palate. The flavored coffees are roasted at Andy’s Local Coffee on Cape Cod. These organic, fair trade coffee beans are produced and packaged with the help of Cape Abilities, a nonprofit organization that provides employment and other services to people with disabilities. The “real” coffee, which is 100 percent USDA organic and fair trade certified, comes from Dean’s Beans in Orange. This magnanimous company is as dedicated the well-being of the farmers and the environment as they are to the quality of their coffee.
Since 2004, Mocha Mott’s has spread the good coffee feeling to Vineyard Haven with their second location at 15 Main Street, former site of Get a Life Cafe and Bongo.
Recently, USA Today reported, “the Starbucks of the future” has arrived. Our nation’s popular coffee innovator has been experimenting with “living labs” and is ready to reinvent itself by introducing wine, beer, and “An expansive plate of locally made cheese — served on real china.” Hold on, Starbucks. Our local mover and shaker in the business is way ahead of you.
Espresso Love has served wine and beer since 2001, when they moved into the digs of the late-great swanky restaurant, Savoir Faire, in Edgartown’s Old Post Office Square. Their former 400-square-foot location in the Harbor View Hotel is, I believe, where the expression “hole in the wall” came from. The moment you got through the door you were at the counter, and the place was jammed. The sensory overload of baked goods could leave you stammering, lost in a world of coffee and cinnamon-smelling possibilities, freshly baked by owner Carol McManus and her daughter Maureen.
When Ms. McManus first opened the coffee shop in 1992, its concept was simple: top quality coffee, espresso drinks, pastries, and cold sandwiches. The move up Main Street nine years later was dramatic enough to inspire a George Jefferson style swagger. Ample seating, notably increased in warmer months when the garden area opens, suggests a relaxed, unhurried feeling.
The menu has grown both in size and status, resembling a cafe more than a coffee house. The morning begins with bagels, egg sandwiches, muffins, croissants, scones, cakes, cookies, and bars. At lunchtime, soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches (with great vegetarian choices), quiche, burgers, and daily specials are far more sophisticated than usual coffee-house fare. In 2008, Ms. McManus’s son, T.J., became an active partner in the business, managing the cafe and designing a casual gourmet dinner menu to enjoy under a canopy of stars in the summer.
Can’t get enough Love? Take it home with you. The popular coffee is sold by the pound both in the store and online. Tee shirts and mugs bearing the playful logo, and Carol McManus’s cookbook, are also available.
Our relative newcomer to the coffee scene is five year-old Beetlebung Coffee House at 32 Beach Street in Vineyard Haven (across from the Post Office). Although indoor seating is limited, the room has a cozy, bohemian ambiance with dark, natural wood surfaces accented by richly colored walls. On warmer days, outdoor seating under a lush arbor nicely accommodates any overflow.
Beetlebung serves coffee roasted by socially responsible, small batch roaster Barrington Coffee in Western Massachusetts. They’re kicking it old school — no flavored coffees here. Freshly roasted beans, high-performance Italian-made equipment, and well-trained Baristas all contribute to an exceptional espresso. And with free Wi-Fi available, what laptop-toting person wouldn’t want to stop in and sip a café au lait.
Signature Eggwiches, using all organic eggs, start the day. Baked goods include bite-sized treats like cinnamon buns and rugalach. Brownies and Whoopie pies and chocolate chunk cookies are provided by Cakes by Liz. Salads, pizza, and panini are all made to order. The North End: turkey, mozzarella, all-natural pesto, and tomato on sourdough is well worth sporting a bit of basil between your teeth. Lunch specials like the Shabu-Shabu Style Pot Stickers (boiled, not fried) are becoming a regular favorite.
Owners Renee and John Molinari have kept busy by opening three retail clothing stores (in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, and Menemsha) since launching their coffee shop. Yet Ms. Molinari reports that new additions are on the horizon. Soon, the coffee shop will offer an afternoon tapas menu featuring red and green chili specials. Stay tuned for details.
This concludes my adventure as the Good Taste writer. My decision to give up the column was a difficult one, however I need to shift my focus for the moment. Many thanks to Eleni Collins and The Martha’s Vineyard Times for giving me the opportunity, and to all of you who encouraged me along the way. I hope to contribute to the paper again in the future.