RVA Coffee Culture in 2010
For many people, a cup of coffee doesn’t have a lot of meaning beyond a beverage we like that happens to give us a burst of energy to recharge the mental and physical battery after whatever debauchery we got ourselves into the night before.
I am not one of those people, and I’m fairly confident I’m not alone. My life and work revolve around the humble roasted bean, which certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but there are many folks out there deeply immersed in Richmond’s coffee culture; this look back on RVA coffee in 2010 is for you.
When taking a look at the Richmond coffee scene from the thirty-thousand foot view, you might not think a great deal has changed in 2010; but down here on the ground, in the trenches of the coffee culture world, there is something exciting brewing.
Over the past few years during all of our economic woes, we lost a lot of coffee shops. You may be hard-pressed to remember them (I know I am); that’s because they really weren’t all that memorable. All of our favorite, beloved coffee spots, however, weathered the recession. Outside of notable exceptions like Blackhand Coffee, GlobeHopper CoffeeHouse & Lounge and Ellwood’s Coffee, the past few years have brought very little growth or movement to Richmond coffee.
What made 2010 different?
Just a few weeks before January 2010, a new kid burst onto the Richmond coffee culture scene and immediately began to open some eyes, figuratively and literally. Lamplighter Roasting Company opened in a rundown filling station on Addison Avenue offering what locals might consider a radical approach to espresso: serving ristretto espresso with their own fresh roasted beans. A funny thing happened; all of the neurotic coffee obsessors came out of the woodwork to drink this new brew and, oddly enough, they began to talk about it. Talking led to writing and soon the bulging community of Richmond bloggers and writers was doing something new; emphasizing our indie coffee scene.
Lamplighter (latte pictured) plowed through the winter months of 2010 winning customers and forcing other, more established coffee houses to raise their game. I, personally, saw a notable improvement in drink quality at most coffee houses around town because the town was talking about the espresso they had yesterday at “Lamps”.
Spring arrived bringing Richmond something completely different. A couple of local coffee pros joined forces with Ellwood’s Coffee to promote and produce the city’s first ever competitive barista event, RVA Barista Jam. RVA Barista Jam invited baristas from shops all around Richmond to meet one Wednesday evening at Ellwood’s Coffee to pull espresso and craft lattes for a panel of judges and their friends.
The baristas were competing for cash prizes as well as auctioning off their specialty drinks to the impressive crowd that gathered for the event. After a resounding success at Ellwood’s, RVA Barista Jam had an encore event at GlobeHopper CoffeeHouse & Lounge a month later which drew an even larger audience.
Unfortunately, plans for a third event were derailed by location scheduling issues so the organization decided to wait out the rest of the year and regroup in 2011. The result of the event, however, was clear: people were getting excited about independent specialty coffee in Richmond and the industry was ready to grow.
The year continued to produce great coffee news with GlobeHopper ladies, Kimmy and Erin, competing in a Barista Championship Regional, Demolition Coffee opening to great acclaim in rundown warehouse space on Bank Street in Old Town Petersburg, and TaZa Coffee & Creams taking over the Blanchard’s Coffee retail space on Forest Hill Avenue with a full service coffee house. Lowered real estate prices and the growing buzz over coffee culture has existing cafes looking to expand and new comers eager to be a part of an ever more exciting culture.
What has really happened in the Richmond coffee scene in 2010?
People are starting to see what the coffee culture here could be, from owners to baristas to consumers. A great cup of coffee in a café with cool vibe and engaging baristas is pure luxury for a relatively small investment. In the past thirty years, Starbucks has pioneered the idea of the “Third Place”, a place of rest outside of your home or work, and now our local businesses are in prime position to take the reins. 2010 was a great first step forward for Richmond coffee culture and I’m excited to see what 2011 brings. I hope to see you in a local café soon; cheers and happy New Year.
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