Sunny afternoons in a mom-and-pop coffee shop offer a dreamy, picturesque environment to those stopping by. Whether they’ve come to get their caffeine fix of the day, munch on baked goods or a light meal, meet with a friend, do homework, or just enjoy some peace and quiet, all of these activities are well-suited to the cozy and comfortable atmosphere that Global Libations provides.
Located at 21 East Main Street, Global Libations resides at the edge of town in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Inside, a few round tables are spaced apart on warm, wooden flooring. Armchairs are accessibly arranged around the front window. Two more armchairs are seated in front of the fireplace, above which has a decorative fountain serenely trickling from its fixed position on the wall. Antique silver tea kettles and eclectic foreign decorations adorn the mantle. The menu of Global Libations is artfully displayed on large chalkboards that hang on the walls behind the counter, featuring an array of sandwiches, salads, soups, and smoothies, coffee, and tea drinks. On an opposite wall the coffee list of the day is listed by single origin beans (Burundi, Guatemala, Costa Rican, Dark Sumatra, Ethiopian Dark Roast, and Rwanda), special blends (Espresso, Breakfast, Maka-Java, French Roast, Sunrise, Quiet Evening, Winter Blend, and Midnight Special), and flavored roasts (French Vanilla, Pumpkin Spice, Vanilla Macadamia, cinnamon, Snickerdoodle, Hazelnut, and Sticky Bun). With such selection and inventory, coffee lovers and beginners can feel right at home here.
The air is heavily-steeped with the inviting aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans. The man responsible for that inviting aroma steps out from the back room, wearing a black zip-up sweatshirt, with a Phillies emblem peeking out from behind the zipper. Jeff Slostad is the owner of Global Libations, and although the morning coffee rush is long over at 1:30 in the afternoon, his daily roasting is far from over. A cap is pulled over his shaggy, light brown hair, subtly streaked with silver. In his early forties, Jeff has earned his share of those grays through the ups and downs of running his own business, and the ups and downs of parenting a 7-year-old son.
We chatted as I enjoyed a cup of the breakfast blend. Jeff grew up in Springfield, Delaware County. Originally, he found himself in Kutztown as a student at the University. He gave me a bemused sort of smile after I asked him what he had majored in. “Business Administration Management,” he replied. “Actually, I never graduated from college here. I’m not very good in school. I tried, I went back. After my first attempt, I went back three more times here to school. It just didn’t work out, so…” he trailed off.
“Was it the teachers?” I asked, “Was it the structure of collegiate learning?” He nodded and offered, “You could chalk it up to all that. I was distracted in Kutztown.” I nodded in understanding. A college education certainly isn’t the mark of a successful businessman. Jeff opened Global Libations in February, 2006 when he was thirty-two years old. He’s run this coffee shop for seven years now, and shows no sign of a career change. Coffee truly is his passion.
I asked when he first began drinking coffee. He replied, “Oh, I started drinking coffee…when I got here to college.” I was slightly surprised, and questioned if he drank it before then. “Not really, no,” he admitted. “I grew up in a house where, you know, coffee was like, it was for the adults and that was it. Nobody really asked too much about it. We had coffee ice cream once a year at our block party. Other than that, no. I didn’t really drink coffee. I didn’t drink a whole lot of soda growing up either, but uh, you know, it was the Uptown Espresso, when I got here that’s about all there was in town, was Uptown Espresso.”
Smiling, I asked, “Do you remember the first time you had coffee?”
His face broke into a wide grin as he responded, “You betcha. I went in there and asked Pete for an espresso, and he gave me a little tiny coffee. So I figured I better get two of ‘em. So I had two little espressos and uh, I don’t know. I wasn’t all that into it, at first. I just thought that was what you do when you get to college. Um, and back then, there wasn’t any Frappuccino’s. But there were some coffee drinks out there, Nestle had some coffee drinks. I got into drinking iced latte kind of drinks. And you know, I kinda liked the caffeine.”
“When did you finally get to the point of appreciating regular coffee?”
“I drink it black now,” he said. “Although, I am a sucker for a hazelnut latte, or I like the salted caramel right now. I like a salted caramel and macadamia latte to start my day off. But when I’m roasting I’m trying to determine how it comes and how the beans are so I drink it black”. I gazed into my mug. I had opted for cream and sugar in my breakfast blend. But, like Jeff, with age and experience, I have also learned to appreciate black coffee.
“Where do your coffee beans come from?” I questioned.
“I get asked that all the time,” he said. “Well, they do come from the origins. I sell my coffee as single origin coffee. I do have some blends, but most people are looking for high end coffees. Most people are looking for single origin stuff. I get my coffee through a broker in New York. They’re one of the original coffee brokers in the US. Occasionally I do have direct relationships with farms. I buy a bag of beans at a time, which is 152-130 pounds depending where they come from. I’m a little guy. There’s people that buy containers at a time, that’s like fourteen tons of coffee. So I use brokers. I do have a guy in Sumatra that’s helped me out over the years.”
The wonderful aroma of roasted coffee still filled my nostrils, so I asked, “What is the roasting procedure like? I understand that the beans in their raw form are actually green.” At this point Jeff clasped his hands in front of him and said, “I’m actually in the middle of roasting right now, if you’d like to take a peek at it.” I readily agreed, and he led me past the counter, past the list of the coffee that day, and past his cluttered office into the back room. Large, burlap sacks of beans sat on the floor across from the shiny, hulking machine that serves as the method behind the madness that is roasting.
The Roasting Process
“How much can you roast at one time?” I asked, my eyes widening at the sheer mass of all the coffee contained in the room. “How much?” Jeff posed. “I can put about, well, this is considered a 5 kg roaster. So, just little over ten or eleven pounds. And these are the green beans,” he said, gesturing at the burlap sacks on the floor. He opened the top of one to reveal the contents, which looked remarkably similar to dried peas. Then he launched into a more in-depth explanation of coffee, “One out of twenty or one out of forty ends up being a pea berry. They’re kind of special. They come as one bean per cherry. Most common bean, the most common coffee bean are the two halves. There’s two halves in each cherry. The one out of so many ends up being a pea berry. The idea is the coffee from the same plant, there’s going to be pea berries and regular ones. The pea berries just tend to have more intense flavor. Same profile, but more flavor.”
“Do those usually go into darker roasts?” I wondered out loud. “No, not necessarily,” he replied. “It’s up to me how I want to roast them. It’s just like baking bread or anything; you can stop it when you get to a certain level.”
I asked him what he preferred. “I like, uh, something just beyond a light roast these days,” he said. “Lotta people really like dark Sumatra. You can’t have a coffee shop without dark Sumatra in it. So, you know, I roast most of that dark. But I do a combination of lighter and darker in my espresso. These on the other hand, Ethiopian beans, Ethiopian more often than not, it’s a nice light roasted coffee. I go a little beyond that to get some of the chocolate tones out of the Ethiopian. Certain coffees are more conducive to different types of roast. The really high grown, they call them strictly hard bean, sometimes high grown beans have a tighter bean, a tighter cellulose matrix, and tend to roast a lot better at a higher temperature. Um, Ethiopian’s kind of expensive too because it’s a lot more floral coffee, very complex aroma and all that.” In all my years of watching my parents drinking coffee, and then drinking coffee myself, I never knew that coffee could be so complicated.
“So what do you do with your burnt beans?” I asked, noticing the charred beans stacked near the roaster in white buckets.
“That’s what I do with them,” he said, laughing good-naturedly. “What do I do with them?” he repeated, “Can’t do anything, really can’t eat ‘em, brew ‘em, cook with them or anything. I save them, I have too many projects. One of my projects, eventually, is I’d like to make coffee tables, out of coffee. You know, like put ‘em on top and use an epoxy resin to put a top on, with coffee beans and I thought that’d be cute. I did my research. I think, as of now, there’s one company in Europe that makes coffee tables like that, there’s no one in the US who does it. I mean other than a small crafter or somebody might do it, but I thought, you know, I got all these burnt beans. Might as well use them for something.”
Organic Items & Accommodations
We slightly switched topics when I asked, “What of the items on your menu are organic or contain organic ingredients?”
“Um, we started all organic. And for Kutztown, not everybody in Kutztown really is focused on organic stuff. I’m more focused towards the people who live here in town, rather than the students. I was looking for steady customers. Students go up and down, fluctuate with the season and everything. Um, I’ve dropped a lot of my organics. At this point, I always have organic certified coffees; I always have Fair Trade certified coffees. I’m leaning less and less on USDA and less Trans Fair. I’m going more towards these guys,” he said, pointing at a lighter colored bag on the floor, “Rainforest Alliance certified coffees.”
He continued, “Most coffee, if you do your research, the vast majority of coffee is grown organically and sustainably to begin with. I try my best to make sure that even if coffees don’t have certs [certifications] maybe they’ve had certs in the past. The brokers that I use are real active going to the farms and making sure that the coffee that they’re getting is up to par. I know I can trust these guys with their coffee. They’re called Royal Coffee in New York. They’re awesome.”
Rounding back to my original question, he said, “I get all my produce as locally as possible. Within Berks County, it’s probably one of the best agricultural areas in the country. And that’s complicated too. It’s not all certified organic, but I have good relationships with a lot of local farmers around here, and I know they’re growing it organically and sustainably, not because they’re trying to meet certifications, but because that’s how they would like to grow it. This is a complicated market here. Not everybody is into organic stuff, but at the same time, there are people that are organic. I always have to have organic milk; I have people that do ask for it. I have gluten free products.”
As someone who grew up in a household with food sensitivities, I was curious to know how Jeff accommodated customers with sensitivities or allergies. “I try,” he simply stated. “Most of our soups are made vegan or vegetarian, and that enables us to have dairy free stuff, gluten free stuff. Most of the soups that I cook that are meat soups, I don’t drop the meat until I put them out. That way they can be vegetarian if people want. You know, it’s tough. There’s a lot of people with a lot of um, sensitivities, or lotta people are heading towards gluten free not because they have Celiac, but because they’re interested in doing a gluten free diet because they want to see what happens. It’s getting more and more these days. I’m not complaining about it, but it’s tough. It’s tough to please everybody,” he admitted.
“Would you say that’s one of the more difficult things about working in the food industry?” I questioned.
He nodded, replying, “It’s one of ‘em. My hardest part is keeping all the paperwork straight. I’m not an accountant. I’m not a secretary. I’m not an office worker. I’m a roaster. I like to bake, I was a pastry chef. Uh, I work in the kitchen. I’ve worked in the kitchen for…decades now.”
Home Grown Goods & Composting
For someone who has worked in the food industry for so long, I wanted to know what some of Jeff’s main concerns are about what’s going on within the food industry today.
He took a minute to ponder my question, before answering. He began, “Well my biggest concern, I’d say, just as a retailer, is the amount of misinformation that people have about the food industry and all the foods they eat.”
He continued, “We’re so far away from the sources of our food, that we trust what’s on the label. But uh, I like being here in Berks, man, ‘cause I know where my tomatoes come from. I go over there and pick up the tomatoes.”
He put his calloused hands into the pockets of his worn jeans. “And my customers do know when I get my local tomatoes ‘cause Meadowview Farm over there has some of the best tomatoes on this side of the country. They sell to Wegman’s, Wal-Mart, they sell to all kinds of places. You go over there, they’ve got all kinds. Heirlooms are a big deal these days. German stripes and Amish plums and zebras. I love it, I’m a gardener too. I bring a case of tomatoes back, it’s a rainbow of colors and sizes and shapes and we proudly display them all up on the counter there. It looks great,” he said enthusiastically.
I asked him what he grows in his garden at home. He thought for a moment or two before replying, “Uh, this year it’s gonna be a bunch of different mints, different herbs. I have strawberries, uh what else is out there? I’ve cut back. I used to do peppers and tomatoes and other stuff. And I’m going to do leaves. Leafy greens.”
When I asked if he used the produce from his garden in the food he makes at Global, his face lit up and he grinned. “Oh yeah, you betcha,” he said. “Yeah, I mean, why not? I compost all these beans,” gesturing at the burnt contents of the white buckets. “And all of our kitchen waste, well, mostly all of our kitchen waste. I’m an active composter so I try to compost everything and I go through a lot of coffee here. So I try to compost as much as I can. And I have an awesome garden, got great soil.”
He furrowed his brow slightly before adding, “It’s not just about food, it’s about energy. Every time you plow the field you’ve just used about several hundred gallons of fuel. And that fuel costs a lot of money, it is subsided and all, but someone’s paying for it. Usually you and I, out of our taxes.”
The Pursuit of Coffee, & Happiness
After almost an hour of talking with Jeff, it was obvious how passionate he is about coffee, and the major role that it plays in his business. I wanted to know what he personally found to be the most rewarding part of working in the food service. I couldn’t help but notice the transformation in his face when he answered, “Providing an atmosphere where people feel happy and safe and comfortable.”
Then, pointedly, he said, “And get a break from all the rat race out there. I was looking for a vehicle to do many different social services. And a coffee shop seemed to fit. When you look at a coffee shop, it’s like a hub. There’s entertainment, there’s education. Coffee is considered by people in the industry ‘a vacation in a cup.’ For ten minutes, you can chill out. Have a cup of coffee. Put some stuff aside. Or if you want to work, it’s a nice atmosphere to work in.”
A gentle warmth lit up his dark eyes from behind his thin, wire-framed glasses. He smiled slightly as he said, “I have a lot of mother’s and children that come in here. I think I’m the only coffee shop that has a little play area for kids, and toys for kids. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. You see moms come in and they have two or three kids that have just been hanging on them all day. And at the same time I have business people come in here, I have students come in here, I have high school kids come in here. We do Wi-Fi, that’s kinda a big deal. You can’t have coffee shop without that these days. And it makes me happy when people appreciate the food that we serve too. It’s nice when someone says, ‘This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.’ It gives you a little boost once in a while.”
After such a thorough, in-depth conversation, there was little Jeff had left me to question. However, I was still burning to know where he had come up with the name for his coffee shop. He laughed, shrugging in an almost boyish manner before saying, “Well, it made sense to me. I have a lot of different beverages from around the world. I sell coffee, which is global, and a libation. I assumed everyone knew what libations were, I found that not everybody does. I grew up with an English teacher, so. It’s sacred, a drink in reverence, celebration of something. Why is a libation? I have matte up there. I have matcha tea. I have teas from all over the world. I have chai; we make our own chai here. They’re all libations. They’re all global libations. I thought it was a neat thing.”
A fixed sort of intensity had remained in the lines of his face as we wrapped up our conversation. His mouth was set in a pleasant smirk. He gave the room a sweeping glance, and then honestly stated, “This is my little way of trying to save the world, because you can’t save the whole world by just talking about it. You gotta do it a little bit at a time. Like every single bag I buy, I give a nickel back. It’s not a whole lot, but it’s still constant. And I also support local economies by buying these beans. I’m supporting people in Timor and Sumatra by buying these beans. It makes me happy.”
by Amy Michelle Patt