Bodhi Coffee, and the Philadelphia coffee scene

When i first moved to Pennsylvania , 3.5 years ago, it might have seemed like a bad time for a coffee guy in Philadelphia.  It wasn’t that there was no coffee.  An this is the touchy part to talk about.  Of course there was coffee;  coffee roasters, coffee shops, people who had made it their job to brew and serve coffee.  To those who have been here a while and have been doing things the way the standard coffee shop business model has been since, oh, around the 80’s, I honestly do not mean any offense.  There has been an awakening in the coffee industry in the last decade, and you (the 80’s and 90’s styled shops) are dangerously close to being that middle aged uncle who thinks he is still with it, and tries to speak hipster talk with the kids.  I know, because I am that age and was recently told that I am not cool.  I don’t feel bad about it, but I do realize it is something you have to hear from the outside, because you never see it coming yourself.

Imagine, if you will, someone who got a job in a kitchen and has worked as a cook.  They have followed the recipes they have been given.  They use the available equipment, which has all usually been purchased for convince and cost over quality and style.  They push the buttons, they turn the knobs,  they cook the meat until it has reached their idea of “done”.  Then somebody comes into the restaurant who absolutely loves every detail about food, preparation, technique, styles.  They have studied under Master Chefs, read the historical literature,  and generally have a completely different perspective on what food is in relation to life, and how to prepare it.  They order, they eat, and they are completely unimpressed with the level of quality and skill.  Their experience was one of utility, (they needed food), not of culinary pleasure.  There is a concept known as the “Arrogance of Ignorance”.  This is when someone knows enough about a subject to think that they can talk intelligently about it, but still has no concept about how vast the subject is and how much of it they do not know.  This was the state of coffee when I came here.   Philadelphia had lots of fast food coffee when I moved here.   Even when it was presented in a setting that would indicate a higher level of quality, it was prepared like fast food coffee.   Philadelphia was not at all a travel destination for coffee geeks, espresso aficionados, or professional Baristas.  I once might have thought that it was not the right time for a coffee guy to move here.  But as it turns out, it was the perfect time.  Get in on the ground floor.  Grow a tap root from seed.

As an employee of a specialty coffee roaster, I struggled with and attempted to nurture the market by working with one Barista and one coffee shop owner at a time.  Now, after my association with a very small number of places that now do a great job of presenting quality establishments with great product, I have noticed that there is a booming coffee community that has sprung up around the area like mushrooms after the June rains.  I am not claiming to have cultivated this myself, just that I have witnessed it change from how it was.  And I want to be perfectly clear on this point, I am not claiming credit for the way Philadelphia has come to embrace specialty coffee.  It was starting already when I came here, and I have seen it come so far in a short period.

Recently, after meeting Tom of Bohdi Coffee at the TNT, I went down to visit his shop, a relatively new shop in the old part of town on 2nd street.  It is so nice to see a place open up in the city with people who think to use a temperature  stable espresso machine (Synesso), employ on demand brewing for freshness, lay out the bar thoughtfully, and incorporate deliberate design into a warm and inviting environment.   Tom seemed really intent to participating in a unified coffee community, not competing against his “enemies”.  This attitude is one I have tried hare to exhibit in myself, in hopes that by example it may spread.  Here is this guy I really don’t know, and he espouses this attitude in all his actions.   This is the kind of thing that is happening more and more in the city and the state of PA and DE (my coffee stomping grounds).  During my short visit to Bodhi, there were no less then two new shop owners who came in to say hi, both of whom expect to open their doors in the upcoming months.

Bodhi Coffee, Philadelphia

Tom pulls a shot on the Cyncra.

Partner Bobby built the brew rail, Jen in the background works there part time.

Society Hill, Philadelphia

This is across the street from Bohdi, this part of town is so cool.

The market in the Philly has grown up so much, and is well on it’s way to someday soon reaching a state of maturity.

  1. I was near Philadelphia almost two years ago, but didn’t even bother to check for coffee, as I was visiting friends for Christmas and had brought my own stuff to brew. Ironically enough, I ended up going to NYC with those friends for an impromptu coffee crawl, which we loved. If I went back now, I’d definitely want to take the time to check out Philly.

    My current city of residence, Louisville, is experiencing a similar change, albeit with a smaller population to work with. The coffee is improving, the customers are slowly but consistently noticing and learning, and those of us that care about coffee are certainly encouraged. Thanks for writing this.

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