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Archive for the tag “TheBurg”

Confessions of a Barista: What’s life like for the person making your pourover?

Allie Schuh, Little Amps, 2013

Allie Schuh, Little Amps, 2013

Little Amps Coffee Roasters is humming smoothly as I push open the door. Two men are bent over a single laptop, each cradling a cup of French press. Another customer is digging through the collection of for-sale vinyls and occasionally sipping a cold jar—the shop’s famed shot of espresso poured over ice and shaken vigorously with brown sugar until frothy.

A brightly colored mural of a Mediterranean villa graces one exposed brick wall, and light from the wide windows pours over the polished tables and wooden floorboards at the Olde Uptown location on Green Street. The high, tinny grind of the espresso machine rises above the murmur of voices, and, from behind the bar, barista Allie Schuh waves at me and says, “I’ll be with you in just a second.”

A connoisseur of cozy spaces, I am familiar with this lifestyle, but Allie has promised to show me the side of the coffee trend that I don’t know about—that of the world behind the bar.

According to author Merry “Corky” White, American coffee culture has experienced three major waves: one post-World War II with the introduction of instant coffee, another with the rise of Starbucks and its emphasis on coffee origin and brewing technique and the third with the “refinement of coffee culture” that emphasizes detail and ceremony. With such a refinement, coffee has emerged into the American conscience as a beverage that is both private and public, cult and caffeine. But that is only the story from the front side of the bar.

Allie detaches herself from the espresso machine long enough to give me a hug. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asks, handing me a cup of today’s roast: a sweet, fruity Honduras E.V. Perez with flavors that remind me of blueberry and peach.

Allie’s smile is contagious, as is her expertise. Her personal interest in coffee began as a passion for meeting people in intimate spaces. It transformed into a profession when she graduated from college and found that many traditional businesses are currently unable to invest in young people, but coffee shops are.

She has been a barista for nearly two years, beginning in a small coffeehouse in San Francisco and then working at Midtown Scholar Bookstore when she moved to Harrisburg. She joined Little Amps in 2012. “A good barista is worth his weight in gold,” Allie says. “The profession of coffee is filling a niche for young people.”

Allie smiles at a client over my shoulder, and I’m reminded she’s still on the clock. “For you, Nevin?” she asks and drifts away.

I trail behind her and enter the space behind the bar, a chest-high hallway narrower than a church aisle. Tucked out of the sight of clients are plastic bins of freshly roasted coffee lined in neat rows, brown paper bags, an array of spices for specialty drinks, a digital scale and glassware. Mason jars are being chilled in the fridge for the cold jars. A red step stool is just behind the counter so that one can stand at the proper height to execute a pour-over—a style of coffee made from pouring a thin stream of water in a circular motion over a filter of precisely measured grounds. Everything is so organized that I’m afraid to touch anything.

Allie offers to show me how to pull an espresso, and I eagerly step forward. The act of standing before a massive machine and coaxing out a tiny cup of black liquid has always seemed so magical that I can’t decide if it will be harder or easier than it looks.

It’s both. Allie’s lesson comes with a list of warnings: tamp too hard and you’ll break the grounds, making it more difficult for water to seep through. Pull a shot too short, and it will be bland. Pull a shot too long, and it will be bitter, like over-steeped tea. Allie rinses the heavy port-a-filter with hot water and holds it out to me. “Ready?” she asks.

She shows me once, and then I try to imitate: grinding the espresso into the port-a-filter while rotating it to get an even fill; leveling the grounds with my finger and tapping the filter once to settle them. I gently nestle the tamp into the grounds to evenly distribute its weight; then I press down with my best guess of what 30 pounds of pressure should feel like. Finally, we lock the filter into the espresso machine.

“Go ahead and pull the lever,” Allie says, and I yank down with the same amount of upper body strength that I’d use for an exercise at the gym. The lever reluctantly gives way, and, for nearly half a minute, it releases as espresso pours in delicately colored streams into a waiting cup below: a dark body, a light crema.

I’m staring at the cup reverently when a wave of customers appears before us, and Allie sets my espresso aside. By the time I finish fudging my way through a French press, it’s been a few minutes, and Allie informs me that my espresso is too old to give a clear indication of my failure or my success.


Andrea Musselman, St. Thomas Coffee Roasters, 2013

Andrea Musselman, St. Thomas Coffee Roasters, 2013

Outside of Harrisburg, in Linglestown, the lunch rush is just beginning, and the line for coffee is nearly out the door at St. Thomas Roasters. Barista Andrea Musselman is standing at the front counter with her curly auburn hair held back with a bandanna and her fingers poised over the register keys as she takes a customer’s order.

Beside her, owner Geof Smith is singing “one is the loneliest number” and greeting every customer by name. Laughter mingles with the sound of grinding espresso. Past the serve counter is St. Thomas’ Diedrich roaster, surrounded by canvas bags of coffee and white buckets of freshly roasted beans. Nearly 20 loose-leaf teas and 20 in-house roasted coffees are available for bulk purchase, and the aroma of the coffee lingers everywhere: in the coffeehouse’s dark green walls, the well-loved sofa next to the back entrance and local artwork that adds to the room’s intimacy.

By the time the crowd dies down, Andrea has already served me two house blend espressos: one straight and another poured over ice then strained back out so that I can taste the difference that the temperature makes. She is knowledgeable and moves fast—stepping purposefully to keep up with the speed of the orders.

Her life’s first coffee was a Sheetz cappuccino that her father allowed her to sip. “It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted,” she says. “I drank it all, but I don’t think I was supposed to.” After college, she took a job at Panera Bread that helped her realize that her interest did not just lie in drinking coffee but also in preparing it.

From her standpoint, the modern hype over coffee is not just a fad—it’s valid.

“There are 130 flavor components in coffee,” Andrea explains. “So much of a flavor depends on the complexity of the soil the coffee was grown in, how the coffee was processed, if there was a bug on a bean that fermented or how the coffee has been roasted. The product itself is really exciting and always changing.”

She is drying glasses as she speaks and deftly moves to stir flavor syrups into buckets of fresh beans: hazelnut, vanilla, cinnamon sticky bun. Behind her, Geof has begun the day’s roast, and the bitter aroma breaks into the air with the popping sound of cooling coffee.

Being a barista seems to be equal parts science, art, people and sheer physical labor, but at least, according to Andrea, all the days are different. “It’s paninis today,” she notes, then she laughs. “I sometimes try to predict a busy day. If it’s sunny out, you’d think everyone would be out getting coffee, but that sometimes means everyone’s doing something else.”

Andrea records the date of flavored beans on a clipboard in neat little figures then turns back to me. “Have you ever made a latte?”

I want to impress Andrea with my espresso skills, but this machine is different, and I do not know which buttons to push. Instead, she grinds an espresso and tamps it with a crisp tamp, tap, tamp, tap—and pulls the espresso into a cream-colored mug with green stripes. “To steam milk,” she says, handing a cupful of 2 percent to me, “you have to hold the cup a bit to the side with the steam wand inside, like this, so the milk will swirl.”

With the sound of a long, tight slurp, my milk spins in a vortex and rapidly jumps to 160 degrees: too high. “Now drop the cup down to get some foam,” Andrea instructs. I follow, but I drop too far, and the milk coughs out. I quickly take it off the heat.

To make latte art, Andrea tells me to pour the steamed milk slowly into the espresso, beginning high above the cup then dropping closer while swinging the stream gently from side to side. This technique results in a mug that looks like it’s been topped with a white, coffee-rimmed blob.

I’m staring at it, thinking mud puddle, when Andrea’s co-worker Jessica Janze walks by and cheerfully congratulates me on making a sun.

I’m further behind on my coffee career than I thought.


For both Allie and Andrea, both sides of the bar—that of the barista and that of the customer—have their merits.

“The best part of [my job] is really getting to talk about coffee and connect with people,” Andrea says. “When someone comes back in and says, ‘the coffee you recommended was perfect,’ that’s really satisfying.”

Allie would agree. “As a barista, you really get to know the customers you serve. Even though you’re interacting with people just minutes every day, there’s still time to invest in relationships.”

But the other side of the bar is equally satisfying. “In a coffee shop, you get to know your community, meet your significant other here, make friendships,” Allie says. “I’m a barista, and I still enjoy going to a coffee shop after work. This is where it all happens.”

She chuckles. “And on that side of the bar, my feet don’t hurt as much.”

Little Amps Coffee Roasters
1836 Green St., Harrisburg
(717) 695-4882
133 State Street, Harrisburg
(717) 635-9870

St. Thomas Roasters
5951 Linglestown Rd., Linglestown
(717) 526-4171

A version of this article first appeared in on October 29, 2013, and in print in TheBurg, November 2013.

Friday Photo: Going Dutch (Cookie-wise) in Central Pennsylvania

Jennie Groff displays Stroopie’s cookie press, June 2012

This article first appeared in the August 2012 issue of TheBurg, greater Harrisburg’s community newspaper.

Hold on, biscotti. Take a back seat, pizzelle. And welcome a new international cookie, the stroopwafel, to central Pennsylvania’s confection scene.

A stroopwafel is a traditional Dutch cookie, literally meaning “syrup waffle.” The “stroopie” consists of gooey caramel syrup pressed between two pie-crust-thin, cinnamon-spiced waffles. Traditionally, the cookie rests on the rim of a hot cup of coffee for a few seconds before eating to soften the caramel—an ode to taking time to eat, to drink and to be.

“My customers keep saying, ‘Oh, they’re caramel! Oh, they’re Dutch!’” said Ambreen Esmail, owner of Café di Luna on N. 3rd Street in Midtown. Esmail has carried the cookies since late June to complement her array of small batch, independently made desserts and internationally inspired coffee beverages. “Not many people have heard of stroopwafels, but they’re delicious,” she said.

Domestically, Stroopwafels are made at Stroopies, a Lancaster-based company managed by a husband and wife team, Jonathan and Jennie Groff.

“We both grew up in small family businesses, and we wanted one of our own,” Jennie said, herself the daughter of a dairy farmer. Jonathan is the son of the founders of Groff’s Candies in Lancaster.

Owners Ed McManness and Dan Perryman founded Stroopies in 2008 to make cookies and provide jobs to underprivileged men and women. They operate a branch in, of all places, Moradabad, India, with six full-time workers. Jonathan and Jennie joined the company two years ago and wanted to market the cookies in Pennsylvania. Since then, laboring in the back room of Groff’s Candies, they have made every stroopwafel from scratch.

Four cookie-size balls of homemade dough are placed on an authentic Dutch stroopwafel griddle and pressed for 80 seconds. Each waffle is transferred to a cutting board, filleted in half and drizzled with house-made caramel syrup. The halves are then pressed back together, cooled and hand-packaged.

“Our very clean hands are all over the stroopwafels that you buy,” laughed Jennie.

In addition to traditional stroopies, the Groffs offer stroopwafels dipped in Wilbur’s dark chocolate from Lititz, PA. They are experimenting with gluten-free stroopwafels, fresh pecan stroopwafels and chocolate dipped stroopwafels that are sprinkled with locally roasted espresso from Lancaster’s Square One Coffee.

There’s a balance between keeping it simple and being creative, Jonathan said, “but I do think the espresso stroopwafels are out of this world.” The couple hopes to eventually introduce a new stroopie variety each year.

Like the India branch, the couple hopes Stroopies can provide employment opportunities to immigrants in central Pennsylvania. “Specifically, we see a need among refugees that the U.S. has welcomed,” Jonathan said. “Sometimes they have a hard time finding work. We love working with internationals, so to be able to provide work for people from other parts of the world would be an enjoyable privilege for us.”

That inspires Café di Luna’s Esmail. “I promote Stroopies’ cookies because they bring people together,” she said. “So much is lost these days with the way we rush. I believe we need to go back to our values, and I try to promote products that do the same.”

105 Old Dorwart Street
Lancaster, PA 17603

Café di Luna
1004 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 233-3010

Friday Photo: A Plowman’s Perspective of Harrisburg Snow Removal

Third Street, Harrisburg, at 1:30 A.M.

This article first appeared in the January 2012 issue of TheBurg, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

It’s 11:35 PM on Wednesday, December 7, and I haven’t left home at this odd of a weekday hour since Black Friday. I bend over my steering wheel and crane my neck toward the sky: still no snow.  Front Street is as clear as a country road, a sleek damp ribbon studded with lampposts.  The black jogging path runs beside a silver Susquehanna.  It’s a picturesque scene, but the weather forecast has been clear: snow advisory for Central Pennsylvania from 7pm to 7am tomorrow.

When snow is on the forecast, most of us slide into a familiar routine: check the quantity of milk in the fridge, the level of gas in the tank. For most of us, the routine stops there, except for the occasional glance at the sky. This is not the case for Harrisburg’s Department of Public Works, for whom the words “snow day” have an entirely different meaning.

Tonight, four men—Dave Spiroff, Enola; Rodney Keller, Hummelstown; Randy Sauder, Harrisburg; and David Jordan, Susquehanna township—have just arrived for work.  I join them in a utility building on South 19th Street which is backlit by fog and orange light. Director Ernie Hoch sips coffee and shakes my hand, and the men greet me with a nod. “This is my A team,” says Hoch, by way of an introduction.  “These are the guys that I call first.”

During heavy blizzards, up to 45 men, CDL licensed or otherwise, can be called upon by the department to help clear the city of snow, rotating over 12 hour shifts.  Most snow removal strategies are systematic, including prioritizing primary and secondary streets, and mapping out the city into 8 sections to focus the work. However, trying to determine where to push the snow, or struggling to fit a snowplow down Penn Street, can make for white-knuckle work.

“There’s always that one street that you’re driving down with your heart pumping Kool-Aid,” says Spiroff, who has worked with the city for 16 years.

Tonight, expectations are minimal. The one- and five-ton salt trucks have already been loaded, the goal being to salt ramps and bridges and to keep a close eye on the roads near the river, where it’s colder. The crew scatters, taking their places among the city, and Hoch and I duck into a pick-up truck and drive up Cameron Street.  We’ve barely driven five minutes before Hoch checks the weather on his phone. “I actually think the snow’s passed over us,” he says suddenly. There is no regret in his voice. “I’m not disappointed.  It’s better to be proactive. The streets will be clear by rush hour.”

I will be awake again by 6:30 and part of that rush hour traffic that will move swiftly through a bitter cold sunrise.  The students that I teach will be disappointed to have not had a delay, and I will secretly regret that I can’t sleep in, either.  However, it’s clear that this privilege of safe driving has everything to do with the four trucks that are out on the streets right now, circulating like quiet watchmen, tracing the city silently beneath a snowless sky.

‘Architecturally Speaking’ gives new perspective on old art

Steve Zeigler, September 2011

Drive past Steve Zeigler’s warehouse on Lexington Street in Susquehanna Township, and it’s likely you won’t notice anything besides a junkyard. Surrounded by a chain link fence, the warehouse faces an old coal shed whose storage bays spill with porcelain bathtubs, a blue park bench, a pile of metal grating.

Then you see the gates: enormous wrought iron towers with the high arches and plunging curves that evoke the entryway of a Victorian mansion.

“I’m not sure where they came from,” says Zeigler thoughtfully. “But I would like to use them over the warehouse entrance.”

This is the storage warehouse of Architecturally Speaking, a business that finds, makes, and sells repurposed industrial art for the home or garden.  Selling mostly from a stand at the Antique Marketplace in Lemoyne, Zeigler—a full-time landscaper, Dauphin County native, and the owner, artist, and picker of Architecturally Speaking—has been salvaging and selling his goods art for over 5 years.

At Zeigler’s business, every item has a use—and a story.

“This is a freezer door from the old Weaver’s on Derry Street,” Zeigler says, tugging at a massive wooden frame with a steel lock and peeling turquoise paint.  “I’d like to see this as a wall decoration.”

Nearby, next to a functioning coal stove, sits a length of wrought iron railing from a Pittsburg cemetery.  There’s a zinc façade from Sixth and Maclay Street, Harrisburg and street signs from New York City.  Zeigler even has the arched transom window from the boarding house that formerly stood on the now-vacant lot on the corner of Second and State Street, Harrisburg; the address is still printed in yellow on the glass.

“Other people throw things like this away, but not me,” says Zeigler.

Old park bench and iron work

Many of Zeigler’s finds are for sale “as is,” but Zeigler also sees the pieces as inspiration to create new art: organ pipe fences, clutch gear mirrors, heating-grate flagstones. Wooden desk drawers become shadow boxes, carefully filled with other found objects—like an old photograph of a Harrisburg flood paired with antiques that could have been found inside the homes. Patterned tin, like that which covers the ceilings of old buildings, is sanded, repainted, and stretched over a frame like a canvas.  A birdhouse is built out of old wood from a blacksmith’s shop behind Penn National Racetrack and then fitted with metal from a roof of a car.

Edgy, funky, yet consistently practical, this art pays homage to the beauty of the architecture from which the materials came.

“I can just look at an object and find another purpose for it,” Zeigler says.  “It’s fun.  I love it.”

Clutch Gear Mirror

The larger trend toward “industrial” art can be seen in popularity of exposed ductwork, brick walls, and the use of antiques as décor in restaurants, bars, and businesses across the mid-state.  The bell hung in the Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, is from Manchester, England. In La Piazza of Linglestown, an Italian restaurant housed in a former church, customers wait for their tables by sitting on one of Zeigler’s found church pews.

Zeigler’s picking runs take him as far as New York City, Baltimore, and Virginia; and his art has been sold to customers along the East Coast. Creative and meticulous—he loves working especially with textures, especially metal—Zeigler views his own art not a challenge, not only for him but his viewers as well.

“The name ‘Architecturally Speaking’ asks people to take a different perspective on what’s around them,” he says.

Architecturally Speaking
(717) 903-6329

Sales: Antique Marketplace, 415 Bosler Avenue, Lemoyne
4410 Lexington Street, Harrisburg (by appointment)

This article first appeared in TheBurg, September 2011.

Foodie Goodie: Chris’s Crepes and Coffee Co., Harrisburg, Embraces Flavor, Family

Chris Kiley and Creations, Broad Street Market, Harrisburg

Think French cuisine is defined by moldy cheese, snails, and bottles of wine with unintelligible names?  Think again.  Chris’s Crepes and Coffee Co. at the Broad Street Market, Harrisburg, is rethinking one classic French concept: the ultra-thin French pancake known as a crepe.

In France, crepes are traditionally made while you wait, folded with simple ingredients, and sold in small shops called creperies. Recent trends have pushed these soft golden disks onto menus in Europe and abroad, where the crepes act as canvases for sweet ingredients like Nutella, powdered sugar, or fruit; or savory ingredients like scallops, asparagus, and cream.

However, at Chris’s Crepes and Coffee Co.—opened in June 2011—the crepes are all-American: stuffed like breakfast burritos, smothered in peanut butter for a dessert, or folded with chicken and bacon as a lunch wrap.

“A crepe is basically a French tortilla, just 100 calories less,” owner Chris Kiley explains.  “It’s incredible versatile and customizable.”

Hearty, elegant, and accessible, the fillings of Kiley’s crepes range from yogurt, seasonal fruit, and granola for breakfast to melted ham and Swiss for lunch.  When wrapped in a still-warm, slightly springy crepe, even ho-hum fillings get new life: the cool lettuce of Kiley’s chicken Caesar crepe seems crisper.  The textures of his Chocolate King crepe—a crepe folded with peanut butter, banana, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream—feel richer, like a molten peanut butter cup.

“We wanted to make a food that could either work as a snack or a meal, something that you could eat while walking,” Kiley explains.

Kiley’s cooking experience began in Central Pennsylvania when he was in high school.  He worked first in the kitchens of local eateries, such as the former Giagantes on St. John’s Church Road, Camp Hill; Kosta’s Fine Cuisine, Camp Hill; and T. Jimmy’s Place, Mt. Holly Springs.  Then, after earning his degree at Shippensburg University, Kiley moved to Maui, Hawaii, where he worked for six years as head chef at the Basil Tomatoes Italian Grille on the Kaanapali Resort.

“I’ve just always enjoyed cooking,” Kiley explains.  “I like the creativity.”

Kiley and his family became familiar with crepes when his older brother, Mike, worked in Paris from 2001-2003.  “My parents would visit me in the winter and Mike in the summer,” Kiley explains. “It was my dad’s idea to start a crepe stand in Pennsylvania.”

Kiley returned to the mainland in 2006 when Mike was diagnosed with cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant.  Kiley was found to be a match.  “It was time to return to my roots,” he says.

Today, Kiley now runs Chris’s Crepes and Coffee Co. with his mother, Mary Ellen, and his father, Pat. His brother Mike now works in Washington, D.C.

The stand serves breakfast, lunch, and dessert crepes as well as bottled drinks, iced tea, lemonade, and 100% Hawaiian-grown coffee.  Kiley hopes to expand his business by offering daily specials and catering options.

“Once you try a crepe, you’ll love it,” Kiley says.

Chris’s Crepes and Coffee Co.
Broad Street Market
Brick Market Building
1233 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 695-7970

Thursday-Friday, 7am-5pm
Saturday, 7am-4pm

First published in TheBurg, September 2011.  Click here to visit TheBurg’s website and download the latest issue. 

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