Saturday Series: The Rialta Coffee Tour, Part 7

The Ultimate Coffee Road Trip Across the United States.

This week:  Virginia to Florida

Editor’s note:  We began publishing reports from Don Niemyer about the cafes he visited on his cross-country coffee tour back in the summer of 2013, and we’ve loved following his journey, learning about amazing coffeehouses out there in the United States, ever since. We’ll be publishing reports from Don about his recent journey around the Central and Northern states every Saturday this fall. To catch up on Don’s earlier posts about his explorations of coffee culture throughout the Western United States, click  HERE. Following are links to Don’s posts from this current Saturday Series:

Part 1: Oregon to Amarillo, Texas
Part 2: Oklahoma to South Dakota
Part 3: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Part 4: Wisconsin to Michigan
Part 5: Chicago, Illinois
Part 6: Indiana to Washington, D.C.

We hope you continue to enjoy Don’s reports as much as we do!

By Don Niemyer
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. I was in a coffee shop (of course!) and we had set up our meeting for 11 a.m. I was new in town, looking forward to meeting some new people, and truth be told, I was pretty nervous. Would she like me? Would she think I fit in? So much seemed to be riding on this meeting. But I was confident. It was going to go great.

œDon?  I heard my name and looked up to see a cute blonde in her mid twenties, with sparkling eyes and an infectious smile, looking at me. œI’ll be right there,  she said, standing behind a counter at the far end of the shop. She turned to talk briefly to the barista beside her, then waddled around the corner ”all 190 pounds of her. No one had bothered to tell me she was eight months pregnant! But then again, it wasn’t really my business. This was the Starbucks that she managed, and I was here for a job interview. I would never have guessed at that moment that we were going to be lifelong friends.

Over 13 years ago, Gail gave me my first job in coffee, and we're still good friends today. There was no way we were going to travel the nation without getting in some hang time on her front porch in Savannah, Georgia.
Over 13 years ago, Gail gave me my first job in coffee, and we’re still good friends today. There was no way we were going to travel the nation without getting in some hang time on her front porch in Savannah, Georgia.

Nevertheless, here we are. Thirteen years, four kids, and five relocations between us later, we’re still thick as thieves. Gail now lives in Savannah, Georgia, and no longer works in coffee, but she’ll always be the person who gave me my first job in the industry, and when we were planning the Rialta Coffee Tour, seeing her was one of those non-negotiable stops. So this week, come along with us as we head south through Virginia and the Carolinas, hang out in Savannah a few days, then head on into Jacksonville, Florida. It’s the southeast edition of the Rialta Coffee Tour! Let’s get going!

Heading Southeast: This week, we tackle the coast from Virginia to Florida.
Heading Southeast: This week, we tackle the coast from Virginia to Florida.
In Richmond, Virginia, we were delighted to discover Alchemy's Lab. Alchemy started as a trailer, and has recently opened their brick-and-mortar shop called The Lab.
In Richmond, Virginia, we were delighted to discover Alchemy’s Lab. Alchemy started as a trailer, and has recently opened their brick-and-mortar shop called The Lab.
Apparently being crammed into that tiny trailer got their creative juices flowing for maximum space utilization when Alchemy's owners opened the shop.  The front counter of The Lab has a couple of built-in display cases; the pour-over station offers a good half a dozen brew device options; and the condiment bar has custom shelves for things like napkins, sleeves, and even the cream pitcher, with built-in bus tubs to boot.
Apparently being crammed into that tiny trailer got their creative juices flowing for maximum space utilization when Alchemy’s owners opened the shop. The front counter of The Lab has a couple of built-in display cases; the pour-over station offers a good half a dozen brew device options; and the condiment bar has custom shelves for things like napkins, sleeves, and even the cream pitcher, with built-in bus tubs to boot.
The Alchemy crew directed us to another great local place, Lamplighter.
The Alchemy crew directed us to another great local place, Lamplighter Coffee Roasters.
Lamplighter has an on-site roasting operation, excellent coffee gear, and apple fritters. Don't step on my blue suede shoes, mess with my toot-toot (you can have the other woman) or jack with my apple fritters, and we'll get along just fine.
Lamplighter has an on-site roasting operation, excellent coffee gear, and apple fritters. Don’t step on my blue suede shoes, mess with my toot-toot (you can have the other woman) or jack with my apple fritters, and we’ll get along just fine.
If you start poking around for the best coffee in Charlotte, NC, pretty quickly you're gonna land at Not Just Coffee. Their operation is quite minimal (and you know I love me some minimalism), with a couple of kiosk-ish stands at indoor markets. But they are serious about making great coffee.
If you start poking around for the best coffee in Charlotte, NC, pretty quickly you’re gonna land at Not Just Coffee. Their operation is quite minimal (and you know I love me some minimalism), with a couple of kiosk-ish stands at indoor markets. But they are serious about making great coffee.
This is James, the owner of Not Just Coffee, making pour overs like a BOSS.  Other things they do like a boss: Espresso, cold brew, and smiling.
This is James, the owner of Not Just Coffee, making pour overs like a BOSS. Other things they do like a boss: Espresso, cold brew, and smiling.
Just across the border in Rock Hill, SC, we discovered Amelie's. Known more for their amazing French pastries, Amelie's also has a solid coffee program, offering custom branded beans roasted by their neighbors at Magnolia.
Just across the border in Rock Hill, SC, we discovered Amelie’s. Known more for their amazing French pastries, Amelie’s also has a solid coffee program, offering custom branded beans roasted by their neighbors at Magnolia.
Come for the pastries, enjoy the joe, but don't forget to look up, where you'll find chandeliers made from giant silverware. Nice touch, Amelie!
Come for the pastries, enjoy the joe, but don’t forget to look up, where you’ll find chandeliers made from giant silverware. Nice touch, Amelie!
Down Savannah way, we kept hearing about local roaster PERC. They are a four-year-old roastery with an occasional pop up presence but no full time shop, so we tracked  ˜em down and popped in for a visit at their roastery.
Down Savannah way, we kept hearing about local roaster PERC. They are a four-year-old roastery with an occasional pop up presence but no full time shop, so we tracked ˜em down and popped in for a visit at their roastery.
PERC is making a big splash with their excellent coffees, landing local shops as well as major accounts such as Whole Foods. This is barista and quality assurance ninja, Spencer, in the middle of making us a killer pour over from a totally unique Mexican coffee, which was delicious.
PERC is making a big splash with their excellent coffees, landing local shops as well as major accounts such as Whole Foods. This is barista and quality assurance ninja, Spencer, in the middle of making us a killer pour over from a totally unique Mexican coffee, which was delicious.
Speaking of PERC (notice their logo on the barista's hat?), while in Savannah we hit local superstar The Coffee Fox up for our own nice coffee time with my old buddy Gail.
Speaking of PERC (notice their logo on the barista’s hat?), while in Savannah we hit local superstar The Coffee Fox up for our own nice coffee time with my old buddy Gail.
The Coffee Fox and their sister store, Foxy Loxy, are doing their part to bring great coffee to Savannah.  Gail (who still drinks Starbucks Verona blend with tons of cream and sugar) said ”and I quote ” œThis is good.   Thanks Gail, for another resounding, life-changing endorsement.
The Coffee Fox and their sister store, Foxy Loxy, are doing their part to bring great coffee to Savannah. Gail (who still drinks Starbucks Verona blend with tons of cream and sugar) said ”and I quote ” œThis is good.  Thanks Gail, for another resounding, life-changing endorsement.
Not wanting to leave Florida out, but with limited time and resources, we popped across the border one afternoon in Jacksonville, just hoping to find something mildly acceptable to report on.  Instead, we discovered a thriving specialty-coffee scene with at least two excellent, enthusiastic operations. The first place we visited was Brew, so named because they offer excellent coffees AND a great beer menu.
Not wanting to leave Florida out, but with limited time and resources, we popped across the border one afternoon in Jacksonville, just hoping to find something mildly acceptable to report on. Instead, we discovered a thriving specialty-coffee scene with at least two excellent, enthusiastic operations. The first place we visited was Brew, so named because they offer excellent coffees AND a great beer menu.
Brew's coffee program is nothing short of excellent.  It was the only place on our tour so far where we ended up having an entire competition-style service.  After ordering a specialty beverage created by Mike, our barista, we ordered a cappuccino and then were surprised by a complimentary espresso just to round off the experience. We paired all this glorious coffee with a couple of their toast options, which pretty much sent our taste buds into orbit.
Brew’s coffee program is nothing short of excellent. It was the only place on our tour so far where we ended up having an entire competition-style service. After ordering a specialty beverage created by Mike, our barista, we ordered a cappuccino and then were surprised by a complimentary espresso just to round off the experience. We paired all this glorious coffee with a couple of their toast options, which pretty much sent our taste buds into orbit.
Super barista Mike assured us that we did not want to leave town until visiting Bold Bean, so we ventured down to see what all the fuss was about.
Super barista Mike assured us that we did not want to leave town until visiting Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, so we ventured down to see what all the fuss was about.
Bold Bean is a roastery with a beautiful café space and excellence all around. This is Chris creating a pour over from an exquisite Ethiopia. We could hardly believe our good fortune of stumbling into such a great scene! Way to go, Jacksonville!
Bold Bean is a roastery with a beautiful café space and excellence all around. This is Chris creating a pour over from an exquisite Ethiopia. We could hardly believe our good fortune of stumbling into such a great scene! Way to go, Jacksonville!

I hope you enjoyed seeing the shops we visited on our southeast leg of the tour, and  meeting the person who introduced me to the industry!  Maybe you’ll think of that person who gave you your first shot, and give ˜em a little shout out this week. Meanwhile, we’ll head our rig north and make our way up the east coast to see what trouble we can get into up there. We’ll have that report for you right here next Saturday, so be sure to check back! Until then, follow us at our social media sites, or at DonNiemyer.com. See you soon!

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