Something's brewing on Main St. Coffeehouse opens in Ellicott City ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

August 16, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Caffeine-fiends take heart: There's now a place in historic Ellicott City to get your daily fix of java.

"Riverside roastery & espresso" on Main Street opened about a week ago, serving steaming specialty drinks to curious coffee drinkers.

"Most people coming in are coming in to see what a coffeehouse is," said Michael Lentz of Elkridge, who runs the shop with his wife, Jill.

They hope to tap into a nationwide coffee craze that in the past year has seen coffeehouses open in Fells Point, Towson and Baltimore City, serving coffee in a welcoming, slightly Bohemian setting.

"We don't try to separate one crowd," Mr. Lentz said. "All types of people can enjoy it."

The couple chose Ellicott City for the business after an extensive search along the East Coast, citing the area's quality restaurants, sidewalk strollers and history.

The shop replaces The Kitchen Basket, which closed six months ago after 16 years in the area, said Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association.

"I think the shop will do well," Mr. Gibson said. "They're roasting their own coffee, which is really a nice touch."

Espresso, cappuccino and "caffe almond moo" (espresso with steamed milk and almond syrup) are among the specialty drinks, with prices ranging from 85 cents for a regular cup of coffee to $2.75 for a 14-ounce cup of cappuccino.

Four brews are on the burner each day, including regular and flavored coffees, in caffeinated and decaffeinated forms.

Coffee also is sold by the pound, ranging from $6.95 for the Guatemala "hard bean fancy" to $16.95 for the Kona "fancy" from Hawaii.

And while the shop serves tea, Italian sodas, and pastries, the focus is firmly on coffee.

That approach distinguishes Riverside from such places as The Bun Penny Wine Shop at The Mall in Columbia, which offers gourmet coffees as well as deli foods, alcoholic beverages, imported foods and spices.

"No way are we a bakery," Ms. Lentz said. "We're not a little deli. We're a coffeehouse with food."

Howard County residents, she added, seem more knowledgeable about coffee than customers at the Blowing Rock, N.C., coffee shop the couple helped run for Ms. Lentz's mother and stepfather until earlier this year.

"Here, they want double talls, 14-ouncers," Ms. Lentz said. "They seem to be more in the coffee scene than down there."

And the Lentzes themselves know more about coffee than how to brew and sell it.

This year, for example, they spent 10 days on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica.

"We learned how it's milled, picked and distributed around the world," Mr. Lentz said.

Their shop reflects that expertise, offering 10 types of coffee beans from Central America, South America, Africa, Arabia, Indonesia and Hawaii.

"We buy the highest quality," said Ms. Lentz, adding that only arabica coffee beans, grown at altitudes of 1,000 feet to 7,000 feet, are sold at the shop.

"The higher the altitude, the better the quality," she said.

Commercial coffee manufacturers use a blend of robusta beans that are of lesser quality and don't require as much care, Ms. Lentz said.

"No coffeehouses should have robusta beans," she said, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

Preparing coffee at Riverside is an elaborate process that starts with roasting the beans, which extracts oil from them. Roasting takes about 15 to 20 minutes at temperatures ranging from 380 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the beans cool for about 10 to 20 minutes, they are ground into a variety of textures.

To ensure the coffee is as fresh as possible, the Lentzes grind the beans right before brewing them.

That approach apparently is paying off. Open for little more than a week, the coffee shop already is attracting a steady stream of customers from morning to night.

"Ellicott City really came together for us," Mr. Lentz said. "We're extremely lucky to be here. I think it's a really neat town."

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