Let’s be honest: we all have our favorite coffee shop, and every decent town has a groovy, warm, oh-my-god-why-are-they-so-serious-about-their-coffee coffee shop. Charlottesville has quite a few, in fact. Yesterday I was looking for a cozy place to do some work and I found myself at Shenandoah Joe. I didn’t plan to go there, I gravitated there. There are two Shenandoah Joe shops – excuse me, espresso and coffee bars – in Cville, and they are equally spirited but each with its own atmosphere. Yesterday I was craving open space and light, which is abundant at the Preston Location (the Ivy location is smaller, with wooden booths and low lighting).
Shenandoah Joe is not just a coffee shop. The shop area is nested within a corner of the roastery, separated only by a chest-high counter where one can sit and gawk at the folks, usually no more than three, working with the beans, usually tens of thousands. The smells are intoxicating. I’ve never seen them roast in the day time, but if you’re lucky someone might order a freshly roasted pound of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and the aroma will set your spirit on a colliding course with the stars. Yesterday, I spent a fair bit of time watching the folks working on the wholesale side. They hauled buckets of coffee identified only by a tiny plastic card taped to the lid; they weighed pound after pound, they filled little red bags with shiny brown beans, they closed each bag with golden ties. Hiding behind my MacBook Pro, the tasks seemed simple, infantile almost, and highly repetitive. I wanted to jump over the counter and get my hands busy. There is something soothing and safe about a routine task. Knowing how to start it and see it through. Not questioning your skill set, not wondering if you are good enough for the job because you have done it before and you know you are good. Enjoying the muscle memory that sets your fingers in a frenzy. Doing the work and letting your memory roam free. Perhaps that was the part I was craving the most. Flexing my brain muscle in any direction I chose, or perhaps not flexing it at all and letting go of all thoughts.
I didn’t jump the counter. I didn’t even close my computer to quiet my brain. But in those moments of whimsical contemplation, I was ever so present.
By the time I left, my sweater had soaked up the rich coffee aromas.
My favorite coffee shop is Shenandoah Joe because it is an escape for my soul.