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Brewing Up Freshness, ­Friendliness and Community

Local coffee shops serve ­individual experiences

“We are all about customer service and quality,” says Crownsville’s Bean Rush Café barista Christine Campbell.

    If mocha is your mistress or black coffee is your morning muse, there is a place for you. Local coffee shops don’t skimp on quality and cater right to you.
    Locally owned coffee shops offer freshness, friendliness and community.
    Don’t get me wrong. Starbucks is my usual go-to for coffee. The chain is easy to find, I know what to expect and I have been a gold card member for two years.
    Last fall when I started college 500 miles away in Vermont, I was so glad to find a piece of home in the downtown Starbucks. Once I got more comfortable with Burlington, I explored the local spots. Maple Lattes made a cold Vermont winter much better. Uncommon Grounds, where I get my lattes, is the epitome of the crunchy-granola hippie vibe that is Burlington — and it serves great coffee.
    New to Chesapeake Country for the summer, I started my search for a local coffee shop to fill my experience with freshness, friendliness and community. There are plenty of Starbucks to choose from, but I wanted something different.
    I have been to Starbucks from Maryland to Montreal to Nevada. The coffee is the same. The food is the same. The atmosphere, with few exceptions, is the same.
    Individually owned places offer variety in coffee and atmosphere.
    In my quest to discover the coffee community of Chesapeake Country, I visited eight individually owned coffee shops in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties. I am staying and working in Annapolis, so my search concentrated there.
    Communities are more spread out here, so instead of walking down one main street, as I could in Vermont, I used social media to guide my search. Yelp had lots to offer about the shops, helping me do research before walking through the doors. There are tons of locally owned coffee shops in Chesapeake Country.
    Each spot I tried defined the coffee shop experience in its own way. Yet all of these mom-and-pop places have a commonality that sets them apart from large corporate chains like Starbucks: community.
    The baristas know most of the people who walk through their doors, and they could start on that regular’s order as soon as they were sighted. For many of these baristas, their coffee shop gives more than a paycheck; it makes them a second home.

Ahh Coffee!! (Eastport)
    “Courteous wait-staff, great coffee, and good energy,” long-time customer Rick Sisas says. It “gives me peace of mind and a place to escape.” This friendly, laid-back community-based coffee shop offers local coffee, espresso and tea from the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. Relax on spacious and comfortable seating while enjoying your cup of coffee.
    Fun-fact: Ahh!! supports recycling; get a discount when you bring in your own cup.
    Try: Key West Mocha
The Big Bean (Severna Park)
    Off the main drag, The Big Bean thrives on community. “Seventy-five percent of our business is from our regulars,” says owner Deb Hoffman. “It’s a rewarding experience. We try to give back to the community, but I have gained way more than I have given.”
    Fun-fact: Right off the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, The Big Bean is handy for hungry hikers and bikers who need a pit stop. With the trail as backdrop, outdoor seating enjoys a view.
    Try: House Blend

Bean Rush Café (Crownsville, West Annapolis)
    Thriving in a small community off the beaten path, Bean Rush Crownsville is a gathering place for friends, neighbors and community members. Both locations have lots of seating and a bigger community table for groups. One Village Coffee is “by far the best bean from any of the places I have worked,” says barista Christine Campbell. “We are all about customer service and quality; we recently added more bite-sized treats because customers asked and it was in our power to do so.”
    Fun-fact: Crownsville customers are so loyal that they made a majority of business at the West Annapolis café in its first week last month.
    Try: Artist Blend

Blondies Baking Co. (North Beach)
    Nestled into the little town of North Beach, Blondies is a community treasure. Locals visit regularly for fresh morning pastries or a sweet treat along with a cup of coffee from Chesapeake Roasting Company. “Our breakfast pastries sell out often,” says owner Cindy Selby. “Our small size is what goes against us, because people want to stay to enjoy their treats.”
    Fun-fact: Selby competed through the first round of the Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars.
    Try: A cup of coffee with a yummy baked treat

Café Olé (Annapolis)
    Regulars are known by name at Café Olé. Owner Claudia Hassan has been working there for 10 years. “Downtown Annapolis is a magical place and we are in the center of it,” she says. This isn’t the place to bring your laptop and stay a while because of its lack of seating, but it’s a great place to stop on the go.
    Fun-fact: An assortment of sandwiches are ready to go for people on the run.
    Try: Latte

Caffe Pronto (Annapolis)
    This café is a place where “staff and customers can grow community and friendships that last outside the store,” says manager Cameron Lowe. “Everyone from the owners to cashiers is passionate about coffee.” Caffe Pronto “is a company very focused on making sure the coffee experience is personalized with the possibility of changing a Starbucks person into knowing you can drink your coffee black.” Features are a nice selection of sandwiches and a spacious layout with lots of seating.
    Fun-fact: Caffe Pronto uses direct sourcing, buying products straight from growers.
    Try: Long Black. Any espresso drink is good; the Caffe Pronto espresso blend was my favorite.

City Dock Coffee (Annapolis, Arnold)
    The mornings are bustling, but afternoons are relaxed. Half of the customers are regulars, and when “we see them walking in, we start making their coffee,” says manager Libby Smith. “I love the company,” she says. “It is a place people come together.” City Dock Annapolis gets a little tight when it’s busy because of its long rectangular layout. Roasts Blue Claw and Chesapeake cater to the Bay-oriented community.
    Fun-fact: Fresh-baked goods in all locations are made at the Arnold shop.
    Try: Iced Coffee (My summer favorite, and City Dock knows how to brew it)

Zü Coffee (Annapolis, Waugh Chapel)
    “The baristas know the regulars and their orders before they even walk through the door,” says manager Bryan Baker. Everyone takes the time to cater to every customer, creating individualized experiences. Zü roasts coffee in-shop, so every bean has been freshly roasted within the past 24 hours. Zü Coffee Annapolis has a comfortable atmosphere with lots of seating, or a drive-thru if you are on the go. The second Waugh Chapel store opens August 31.
    Fun-fact: A software developer from Bel Air is developing a Zü Coffee app.
    Try: Hand-shaken Mocha (Best mocha I have had, but a tad pricy)