As one of the smallest states in America, Connecticut is often a state traveled through, not to. Connecticut’s quaint towns, beaches, and sights along the Appalachian Trail are often overlooked by the bright lights and appeal of neighboring metropolises New York and Boston.
But something big is brewing, literally, in the Nutmeg state.
Coffee in Connecticut was once reserved for early morning and late night diner visits, along with those with a sworn allegiance to Dunkin’. After all, the quick-service titan still reigns supreme in New England, with Hartford’s minor league baseball team, the Hartford Yard Goats, playing in Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
In recent years, however, specialty coffee shops and roasters have enchanted residents with a steadfast dedication to a well-made cup of coffee, hospitality, and a sense of community. Changing the palate and understanding of strongly formed coffee habits one cup at a time, Connecticut’s coffee community is energized and poised for growth. Several shops and roasters are laying the foundation for Connecticut’s thriving specialty coffee community, prompting new cafes to join the ranks every day. With a heavy concentration in Central Connecticut and along the coastline, it’s easier than ever to access the state’s growing number of coffee shops.
What began out of a way to help others through roasting coffee grew into a thriving business supplying many of the state’s cafes and consumers. Jeff Brooks began roasting coffee after a trip, where he and his wife returned with 80 pounds of green coffee to experiment with. As a result, Giv Coffee was born with the goal of utilizing coffee for community growth by giving a percentage of proceeds to charities and organizations assisting those in need.
After years of farmers markets and late-night roasting work, the couple purchased and renovated an old home in Canton and opened shop. The warm, welcoming cafe is filled with globally-inspired decor and reclaimed wood, with multiple seating options from a bar to a cozy corner chair. Giv’s in-shop menu ranges from espresso drinks, seasonal specials, and pour-over selections to the food program, featuring raved-about waffles.
Giv’s focus on positive changes in the community is evident throughout all of its business and roasting practices, including fostering lasting relationships with farmers and continuing to educate Connecticut’s baristas through in-depth training opportunities. Due to the company's high standards and ongoing farmer relationships, Giv Coffee is also a popular wholesale choice for many of Connecticut’s top coffee shops and restaurants.
RaonJena Coffee & Dessert
In Glastonbury, just southeast of Hartford, RaonJena Coffee & Dessert is among the newest shops to open in the state. Born from a twin passion for specialty coffee and baking, the husband and wife team Do Kim and Hanna Park—who you'll regularly see in the cafe itself—are unwavering in their dedication to their respective crafts.
As you enter the shop, you'll have a moment to take in the stark white walls lined with finished wood, tastefully placed succulents, and photos of New England’s natural beauty before your eyes are drawn to the case of desserts (including colorful macarons with playful flavors such as cookies and cream, strawberry, and tiramisu.)
The bar houses a La Marzocco Linea Classic churning out a traditional lineup of espresso drinks, a Mahlkönig grinder, and the latest array of offerings from Giv Coffee Roasters available for pour-over and batch brew. To all that inquire, Do explains how his take on coffee is inspired and influenced by Japanese methods, leading to a tea-like cup full of expressive flavor.
Story and Soil Coffee
Story and Soil Coffee serves up a focused menu of espresso beverages and light food in the Frog Hollow neighborhood in Hartford, filling the previous specialty coffee void in Connecticut’s capital city.
The multi-roaster shop is owned by Michael Acosta, Michael McCoy, and Sarah McCoy, who together have created an inviting atmosphere with records always spinning and a cheery greeting from whoever’s working the bar.
Although a small space, the shop instantly makes customers feel at home with the lavender and floral print walls, hanging plants, and artwork. As for the menu, the Spanish latte is a must. For those more interested in the pour-over and drip selection, Story and Soil offers a local and international selection with past and present roasters including Giv Coffee, Passenger Coffee, La Cabra Coffee, and Methodical Coffee.
When Connecticut’s gloomy winter season is finally over, grab a seat at the outdoor picnic table and enjoy the buzz of the busy city streets and a glimpse of Hartford’s Capitol Building.
J.René Coffee Roasters
J.René Coffee Roasters holds a special place in the hearts of Connecticut’s coffee shop community. Many of the state’s coffee shops are owned and operated by former J.René Coffee baristas, a testament to the shop’s dedication to coffee education and leadership.
Located on Park Road in West Hartford, J.René Coffee Roasters provides an “artisanal coffee gathering place” for residents. This sense of place is physically achieved through ample seating and an appealing shop decor featuring exposed brick, wood elements, and a touch of industrial design.
As you make your way to order, you’ll pass the Diedrich roaster and wealth of in-house roasted coffees lining the shop’s retail shelves. The bar prominently displays various brewing methods behind its glass barrier—as a result, siphon pot coffee is a top menu item due to its intriguing brewing process and strategic bar placement.
J.René Coffee’s influence on Connecticut extends far beyond the physical shop. J.René also boasts mobile coffee trailers in the Connecticut Science Center and Clinton Premium Outlets. Each trailer provides everything necessary to replicate the coffee shop experience, including Victoria Arduino ATHENA and White Eagle two-group Leva espresso machines.
Rebel Dog Coffee Company
Rebel Dog Coffee Company began out of a humble food truck in Plainville prior to establishing its flagship location in the same city, about 20 minutes from downtown Hartford. The brainchild of business partners Harrison Poltorak and Peter Lemnotis opened in February 2017 in the former Confetti restaurant space. With much of an emphasis on grab-and-go coffee in the area, the pair sought out to create a local spot for not only an excellent coffee experience but also a meal.
Connected to the JV’s Taproom restaurant, the cozy shop is adorned with a giant latte art logo mural, checkered floors, and stunning pallet artwork by The Pallet People. Their expansive breakfast and lunch menu includes items such as eggs benedict, an assortment of soups and sandwiches, along with potato pancakes and pierogies.
While the bar serves up traditional and seasonal espresso beverages on a La Marzocco GB5 and offers pour-over coffee, the cold brew and nitro coffee are the hot ticket items at Rebel Dog. The custom-made tap system from Tapped in Hudson, NY also houses drinks including Jet Fuel (a cold brew concentrate), kombucha, and cold brew iced tea.
Due to the success of its Plainville shop, Rebel Dog was recently able to expand into the neighboring town of Farmington. The brand new cafe expands upon the atmosphere of the original location with a sprawling mural featuring Rebel Dog’s logo along with characteristic coffee beans and plants, created by local artist Jaime La Jones.
Grounded Coffee Company
Grounded Coffee Company in Willimantic keeps the eastern side of the state caffeinated in its historic shop on Main Street. Inspired by their coffee shop experiences in Australia and New Zealand, Steve and Victoria Bachiochi paired their desire to open a welcoming coffee spot with the expertise of Nick Bentley to form Grounded.
As a multi-roaster in Connecticut’s quiet corner, Grounded keeps the coffee flowing thanks to ongoing relationships with roasters in the New England and Tri-State areas such as Sey Coffee in Brooklyn, Little Wolf in Ipswich, MA, and Brandywine Roasters in Wilmington, DE. Connecticut roasters Giv Coffee and NEAT are also regulars on the drip and pour-over coffee menu.
In addition to espresso drinks cranked out on the reliable La Marzocco Linea Classic, Grounded’s tea menu is also a big draw. While there, try the Mate, an Argentinian tea cut with a splash of apple juice.
Silk City Coffee
On the far interior wall of Silk City Coffee, you’ll find a large board with the mantra, “Love Coffee, Love People” noticeably displayed above. On this board are pinned requests, wishes, prayers, and needs from members of the community. Customers can add their requests or help fulfill as many needs as they like. This drive to serve the community is what fuels the team at Silk City to create a space where all are welcomed to enjoy specialty coffee in Manchester.
Found by the stark “coffee” sign on Main Street, Silk City Coffee is housed in an old optometrist’s office in a historic downtown building. As the team of co-owners was getting ready to build out the space, they ripped down the existing materials to discover the exposed brick, high-detailed ceilings, and hardwood floors the shop boasts today.
As another multi-roaster shop in the Connecticut coffee community, Silk City rotates Giv Coffee and NEAT Coffee roasters on the batch and pour-over menus. The shop also offers a variety of baked goods made in-house, paired perfectly with the solid coffee menu.
As part of their goal to give back to Manchester, the shop stays open late each Friday for live music performances, several of which donate a portion of proceeds to a local non-profit or organization.
Over in Southwest Connecticut, NEAT serves Darien residents and commuters single-origin coffees from their quaint shop on Grove Street. With ample outdoor seating in the summertime and selection of grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items, NEAT Coffee has become a community gathering place for those who live and work nearby. The sparkling clean shop with subtle blue and green pastel walls houses family-style tables, bar seating, and a large world map.
The focused menu lists traditional coffee and espresso drinks along with a variety of teas, hot cider, lemonade, and seasonal beverages. If you’re looking for something new, try the “Not So Neat,” a twist on an iced latte using cold brew coffee instead. NEAT’s bar houses a multitude of equipment, from the La Marzocco Linea PB to the mesmerizing BKON craft brewer used for teas and other beverages. And, for a refresher, pick from a selection of tap and sparkling waters located next to the bar.
Owner Rachel Haughey opened NEAT more than 10 years ago after noticing a great cup of coffee required a train ride to New York City. As one of the first members of the state’s coffee community, the shop began as a multi-roaster but transitioned into a successful roasting operation after a desire to engage in specific roasting and sourcing practices.
Anne Mercer is a freelance journalist based in Connecticut. This is Anne Mercer's first feature for Sprudge.
RaonJena photo by Do Kim. Story and Soil photo by Sarah McCoy. J. René photo by René Martinez. Silk City photo by Sarah May. All other photos by the author.