A barista fusses over a display of tea bags near a fluffy couch. The aroma of gingerbread and fresh coffee drifts through rooms that are more than a century old.
A fork, knife and spoon, entwined, hang as a door chime. Their rattle announces a customer's arrival.
Callahan's Coffee and Confections is in many ways not unlike the countless cafes that cater to the mocha and latte crowd in city neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. But this coffeehouse experience unfolds at a country crossroads far from town, among the soybean fields and gentle hills of northern Baltimore County.
"A little bit of Fells Point" in the snow-afflicted Hereford Zone is how Mark Fuqua, a contractor who lives nearby, describes the shop while pumping a cup to go.
Here, the person ordering a pumpkin spice muffin might be a farmer heading to the feed store.
And although some neighbors thought the sculpture that sat outside for a while was a bit much, the idea of having a place to get a caffeine fix and a slice of cheesecake seems to be going over well.
Ed Wheeler, who runs his custom homebuilding business where John Deere tractors used to be sold, says, "Everybody is tired of 7-Eleven coffee."
"I've always wanted to see something like this in here," he says. "I think there should be a high-end restaurant here, too. It's a great area, and there's nothing up here."
It's not like you can't get a strong cup of coffee or buy an out-of-town newspaper at other places in northern Baltimore County. The Funky Monkey does a brisk business in espresso drinks from its location on York Road in Hereford, for example.
"We knew this area was perfect for a coffee shop," says Patty Maizels who opened the Funky Monkey nearly three years ago. "It's been an untapped market. People are tired of fighting traffic in Cockeysville and Hunt Valley."
But the Funky Monkey isn't as remote as Callahan's, which is about seven miles from Interstate 83, not far from the vast woods surrounding the Prettyboy Reservoir and the open spaces of Carroll County. The shop is in the Upperco ZIP code, but some refer to the location as Whitehouse, a dot on local maps.
Despite strict zoning, new housing developments have brought more residents to northern Baltimore County. But it's still an area where many of the houses are spread far apart, where fields are planted and where horses are bred.
The crossroads of Falls and Mount Carmel roads has long been bustling by the rural area's standards. With a deli and a tractor dealership that operated there for years, the corner was anchored by the S.C. Sparks Store, which closed in 1996 after more than 70 years of business.
Wheeler, who lives down the road, remembers the general store from when he was a child. "It's where I got my Red Wing shoes, nails, rabbit food, you name it," he says.
John Callahan, a 1987 graduate of Hereford High School who grew up nearby, remembers the store, too. "It was a great country store," he says. "The old farmers would come in here and lean up against the counter. People still had monthly tabs."
But the two-story farmhouse had been vacant for several years when Callahan, who had run several garden centers, and his wife, Christine Callahan, decided to rent it.
"It's hard to find a good place to get a cup of coffee and hang out. There's nothing up this way and we got tired of going to Westminster, Towson or the city," Christina Callahan says.
In January, they opened their coffeehouse.
They brew Baltimore Coffee and Tea. A small coffee goes for $1.25. The most expensive drink is a $3.25 cafe mocha. An antique sign on the covered front porch advertises 5-cent coffee - which one regular customer keeps asking for. "We keep telling him we're fresh out," says Christina Callahan.
The couple also sells gift items created by local artists, such as ornaments, metal planters that John calls the "anorexic reindeers," and wood holiday sculptures made nearby by a man and his son.
"It's perfect," declares Kevin Cattramo, who recently moved to Manchester from Long Island, where he was accustomed to good coffee and bagels. "It's quaint. I stop in three or four times a week."
Reaction to their endeavor hasn't been entirely positive, the couple says. A few neighbors complained about a sculpture the Callahans had put at the edge of the parking lot to announce their opening. It was too large, some said, and the hand with red fingernail polish reaching for a teapot was an image that some found jarring.
"You'd have thought we brought Satan to Upperco," says John Callahan, 36, a balding man with glasses with a quick wit. "It's out of character with the area, but so is having a coffee shop up here."
The "hand" currently resides in the couple's backyard. In deference to the neighbors' tastes, John says he's going to paint over the nail polish before he brings it back. "It was a good landmark," he says.
Another challenge: John Callahan says the location at what he calls the "north pole" has made daily bread deliveries difficult.