New Bel Air shop offers exotic java


August 08, 1993|By Aminah Franklin | Aminah Franklin,Staff Writer

If you've been craving the flavor of coffee grown on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii but just can't raise the plane fare, you'll be happy to know you can now satisfy your palate without leaving the county.

A quick trip to "Coffee Coffee," a specialty shop in Bel Air that opened July 11 and sells more than 50 kinds of gourmet coffee from all over the world, will have your taste buds singing.

Mary Romeo's motto -- "Life is too short to drink bad coffee" -- prompted her to open the shop, Bel Air's first, located in the Festival at Bel Air on Route 24.

"Coffee is one of the hottest things going right now and it's an affordable self-indulgence," said the former Rouse Co. employee.

"Specialty coffee shops have become a phenomenon because people who like it want the good stuff," she added.

Now lovers of the dark steaming brew don't have to settle for second-rate taste and "store grown" variety but can indulge in brands such as Java Estate and Ethiopian Harrar, and flavors including Amaretto Royale, Seville Orange and Viennese Cinnamon.

"Imported coffee just has a better taste," said Greg Eibner, finishing off a cup of Java Estate.

"It's sort of like drinking imported beers rather than domestic flavors," he said.

Mr. Eibner, an engineer at St. Joseph Hospital in Towson who drinks 1 1/2 pots of coffee each day and before had to travel to Baltimore for gourmet coffee, was hooked the first time he visited the brightly colored, sweet-smelling shop just a mile from his home.

Sponge-painted walls give way to shelf after shelf of coffee mugs, cookies, imported jams, Italian syrups, candies, gift baskets and even books about the different kinds of coffees.

The shop also caters to tea lovers, offering more than 100 varieties of loose leaf and packaged teas, colorful ceramic tea sets, imported tea biscuits and several brands of honey.

With all the shop has to offer, Connie Kurtz said she no longer has to count on her son, who lives in Indiana, to mail her the gourmet brands she loves so much.

"I haven't bought gourmet coffee the four years my husband and I have been in Bel Air," Mrs. Kurtz said. "I'm so excited I finally found a store where I can buy fresh gourmet beans."

Ms. Romeo, who worked closely with merchants during her 17 years at Rouse Co. -- a development firm that builds shopping malls -- said working for the company was valuable training and made opening her own business -- which cost an initial $100,000 -- much easier.

She said she's thrilled to be involved in every level of decision making, including giving the shop -- painted in orange, yellow, purple and other colors -- its own unique personality.

She oversaw the smallest details, including the wall artwork done by a friend, the black and white checkered floor, and even the small white flags sticking up from each burlap coffee bean sack that tells customers where the beans are grown, how they're picked and what the coffee tastes like.

Although she would not say how much money the shop -- which employs five people -- made in the first week, Mrs. Romeo said, "We did great. We more than met our projected goal."

Business has been increasing each week, she said.

"We've been growing by leaps and bounds."

About 100 people visit the shop each day during the week and 300 to 400 on weekends, she said, adding that people of all different ages frequent the shop, which also sells iced cappuccinos and espresso.

The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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