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Hotspots: Where Community Percolates: Freshly Roasted, And Face-To-Face

Karen McRee owns South Glastonbury Coffee Roaster, also known as "So. G." [Photo by Leonard Felson for Hartford Magazine]

Warren Jessen and Melvin McGowan, cups of coffee at hand, are leaning over their little café table focused on a book of crossword puzzles, working one hard.

They’re retirees, noon-to-2 regulars at Daybreak Coffee Roasters in Glastonbury.

“It’s a group project,” says Jessen, 80, a former high school English teacher in Middletown. McGowan, 79, was a Pratt & Whitney technician in East Hartford. Almost on cue, two more regulars join them, including Glastonbury resident Lynne Pierson, a retired superintendent of schools turned international education consultant.

From left, Lynne Pierson, Melvin McGowan, and Warren Jessen work on a crossword puzzle at Daybreak Coffee Roasters in Glastonbury. [Photo by Leonard Felson for Hartford Magazine]

From left, Lynne Pierson, Melvin McGowan, and Warren Jessen work on a crossword puzzle at Daybreak Coffee Roasters in Glastonbury. [Photo by Leonard Felson for Hartford Magazine]

From left, Lynne Pierson, Melvin McGowan, and Warren Jessen work on a crossword puzzle at Daybreak Coffee Roasters in Glastonbury. [Photo by Leonard Felson for Hartford Magazine]

In an age when virtual platforms ― from Facebook to email to webinars ― are usurping face-to-face time, a growing number of independent coffeehouses throughout metro Hartford are luring residents not only for freshly roasted coffee, but for real personal experiences, whether to fulfill social needs or business purposes.

Daybreak Coffee at 2377 Main St., which opened 30 years ago was one of the first locally owned coffee spots to open east of the Connecticut River. The web was barely a concept back then. Over the years, more than a dozen new, community-oriented coffeehouses have sprouted in Hartford and many surrounding towns. In effect, they’ve become the go-to meeting places for everything from heart-to-heart talks to job interviews to deal-making business and political decisions.

It’s 9 a.m. on a recent weekday. A steady stream of men and women, many dressed in smart business attire, are ordering hot drinks at Story and Soil, a snug 484-square-foot Hartford coffee space at 387 Capitol Ave. in Frog Hollow. It opened the summer of 2017, a few months after Capitol Lofts, a recently converted 112-unit apartment project, opened in a long-vacant building, four blocks from the state Capitol.

“We wanted a place where people are connecting and sharing their story and staying for coffee,” says co-owner Michael McCoy.

A mile away, at Blue State Coffee, downtown at 777 Main St., Reed Rathgeber, head of Mooreland Hill School, an independent kindergarten-through-ninth-grade day school in Berlin’s Kensington section, is sipping coffee with Lorie Brewer, the school’s business manager. The two joined students and their teachers on a field trip to the Capitol, and escaped for a no-interruptions business meeting.

Brewer explains that her husband, who used to work at Traveler’s on the other side of Main Street, told her, “’Go to Blue State.”

Blue State opened across from the Old State House four years ago, about the same time the former Bank of America building, a 26-story, 1960s-era tower, was converted into 285 apartments.

“We love being in Hartford, being part of the city’s revitalization,” says company CEO Carolyn Greenspan. It’s the independent regional chain’s eighth shop. Three are in New Haven near Yale; two in Providence near Brown University and two in Boston. All its coffees are roasted in South Windsor.

Ask friends around the region where they go for coffee when they want to meet someone to hash out an idea or talk about what’s going on in life, and you’ll get enough recommendations for a tour that could take days to complete. It would include Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe at 537 Farmington Ave. in Hartford ― a coffee shop by day that morphs into a lounge serving Asian-fusion fare and caffeinated cocktails at night.

Add to the list either of two Hartford Baking Company shops in West Hartford ― its flagship store at 625 New Park Ave., and another at 965 Farmington Ave., with second-floor space overlooking West Hartford Center.

Also, J. René Coffee Roasters, an artisanal coffeehouse, 320 Park Road, West Hartford; Giv Coffee Roastery & Café, 194 Albany Turnpike, Canton; Dom’s Coffee, 20 W. Main St., Avon; Silk City Coffee, 763 Main St., Manchester; Rebel Dog Coffee Co., 393 Farmington Ave., Plainville, and Central Café, 54 West St., Plainville. Not to mention about two-dozen Starbucks and more than 100 Dunkin’ Donut outlets in metro Hartford.

“It’s a pretty special thing what coffee shops will do,” says Karen McRee, owner of So. G, a shop that opened in South Glastonbury in 2010, a place one customer described as where farmers and suburbanites collide.

Last June, McRee was diagnosed with lung cancer, though she never smoked. She had two surgeries over the summer, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Customers rallied to her aid, setting up an organized meal train, coming together as community. Recalling the effort, McRee chokes up. “I’m going to start crying,” she says.

She calls her customers by name, including four men sitting around a table one recent morning. One designs conservatory sunrooms; another is a lawyer, the third an arborist, and another a Glastonbury cop.

“You usually come in with a problem and leave with a smile on your face,” says one of them. “It’s like the bar in ‘Cheers’ only with coffee.”

This essay originally appeared in Hartford Magazine.


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