Coffee culture brews strong at Middlebury
Midd students are always busy. They participate in clubs and sports, grab meals with friends and spend hours in the library studying. So it makes sense that when there aren’t enough hours in the day to sleep, the caffeine boost that comes from chugging coffee is a quick fix for many. Dining hall coffee is fine, but there is more to coffee culture at Middlebury than just getting energy — coffee is also a way to connect with other students and the local community.
While many Midd kids love a good cup of coffee, a particular passion for it brews in a few.
“I usually get coffee in either the dining halls or make some in my dorm room,” said Pia Contreras Balbuena ’22. Contreras Balbuena and her family are big coffee fans, and she has positive associations with the beverage as a result.
“Coffee was a huge part of my daily routine when I was back home for quarantine. It felt like that was the only thing giving my day any structure,” she said. While she’s not the biggest fan of dining hall coffee, it has grown on her. “Recently, I’ve been trying to switch things up by getting dining hall coffee with a splash of oat milk. Now it’s becoming part of my routine.”
There are limited cafe options in Middlebury for students to get their fix, but each has its own unique charm.
“I’m really a fan of Crossroads,” said Abby Wilner ’23. “I think it’s such a nice place to go if you’re in more of a mode of ‘I need to get some work done, but I don’t want to be surrounded by stress.’” Her go-to order at the student-run cafe is a dirty chai. “It has the chai and the sweetness but then espresso… very necessary.”
For more of a treat, Wilner also recommended Royal Oak Coffee. Co-owned by husband-and-wife team Matt and Aless Delia-Lobo, the cafe just celebrated its two-year anniversary of opening.
“My suite loves Royal Oak,” agreed Jordan Kramarsky ’23. “[It] has such a nice atmosphere during non-Covid times when you can work inside.” Kramarsky’s usual order is an iced latte with oat milk.
Otter Creek Bakery is another perennial student favorite. A convenient option since it’s such a short walk from campus, it’s a perfect spot to pick up a pastry to go along with your caffeine of choice. Meanwhile, Haymaker Bun Co. recently opened its patio seating for a more lingering, sit-down experience. “I haven’t had that in so long; A real [ceramic] cup,” Wilner said. For the adventurous, brand-new “spa-fe,” 11th Hour Botanicals in Marbleworks offers CBD-infused coffee.
“Getting coffee as an activity can be a great way to catch up with friends and have some lovely conversations in a more lighthearted/casual setting,” Kramarsky said. “If I’m buying coffee, I love having a little conversation with whoever is working.”
Many Middlebury Coffee shops also work with local Vermont roasters. Haymaker partners with woman-owned roaster Brio Coffee Works. Otter Creek serves coffee from Middlebury micro-roaster Bud’s Beans and features a monthly rotating selection of guest roasters. Royal Oak and its sister shop Lost Monarch serve Vivid Coffee and occasionally also host beans from Woodstock’s Abracadabra Coffee Roasters.
Both Lost Monarch and Crossroads Cafe also serve coffee roasted by a Middlebury student. Daniel Gutierrez ’22 founded Iluminar Coffee Roasters in January 2020, meeting an immediate and unexpectedly high demand. While he temporarily closed operations when the pandemic hit, he was able to reopen over the summer to sell beans wholesale to local cafes. Recently, he relaunched Iluminar’s online store where coffee lovers can purchase beans for retail sale.
In addition to roasting his own coffee, Gutierrez is a barista at Royal Oak, which is understandably his Middlebury cafe of choice. He shared his perspective as a barista, saying, “I feel more connected to Middlebury as I have been consistently interacting with members of the community for the past two years.”
Especially during the pandemic, coffee has been a way for Middlebury students to connect with each other and the town. “I think that, besides meals, getting coffee with people has been one of the main ways people have gotten together to socialize,” said Gutierrez.