Iced, hot or blended, coffee can come in various forms and be as unique as the person pouring the drink.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks for Americans, according to a 2021 survey by the Statista Global Consumer Survey, with 59% of respondents consuming the beverage regularly. High demand has led to a need for coffee shops across the country, and nationwide chains have footholds everywhere.
Coffee Culture, Downtown Java and Ugly Mug Coffee are three shops in Loudon County that have created their own mark in the community.
“It really does make my heart full because it’s like giving somebody a small act of kindness can change the trajectory of their whole day and sometimes even their whole life,” Chloe Short, barista and part owner of Coffee Culture, said. “I’ve been a barista for about six to seven years now and moments like that don’t happen all the time and especially I found in the bigger corporations that I was working for, they’re more about speed than they are about the memories or the moments that you spend with people. You get to know people when they come in and they’re your regular customers.”
Originally from Portland, Short worked for a few coffee shops on the West Coast, including Starbucks, before moving to the area. She has worked at the Lenoir City shop since the business, owned by she and her mother, opened four months ago.
“I want people to feel like they could come in here, have coffee, but also make a memory or see somebody, renew a bond or something like that, or just even come sit and have breakfast with their husband once a week or their wife, their spouse,” Short said. “That’s kind of what makes it worth it for me, and that’s probably the best part about being involved in the community is seeing those relationships flourish and people get to mingle and feel relaxed here.”
Caroline Howard and Rebecca Deyo are baristas at Downtown Java in Loudon. The sisters run the shop inside their mother’s business, Cook n Craft Academy. They opened in February with drive-thru only, although future plans call for some seating.
Howard worked a corporate job before realizing the profession was not what she wanted to pursue. She said she began helping her mother at the academy before deciding to turn the old drive-thru into a coffee shop.
The two work with their mother and members of the community to come up with everything from coffee flavors to scone varieties.
“If you asked me two years ago, I would never say I was doing this, but now that I am I love this,” Howard said. “I never want to do anything else. ... I call them my customers, but they are like friends to me because a lot of the people that come, they come every single day and I know them on a personal, first-name basis, which has been really cool.”
The experience of working and interacting with the community offers more than friendships. Deyo said the chance to speak with so many people in the community helped give her the confidence to break “out of my shell.”
Learning the hidden crafts of coffee making can be daunting at first, especially working in a smaller shop. Sometimes supplies are needed and one of the baristas will be left alone to cover the drive-thru.
“There’s a lot of barriers that you have to get through,” Deyo said. “For me, I was shy. It’s like you have to learn how to break through it and learn how to relate to people and build relationships with people. It’s just more to the job than just pouring coffee. There’s a lot of responsibilities that come with it.”
Jessie DeRose, manager of Ugly Mug Coffee in Lenoir City, has worked at the downtown location almost six years. Her family owns the shop and said she has been in the coffee business “basically my entire life.” Her grandfather began roasting coffee in the late 1970s.
DeRose said the roles of barista and manager can be challenging. The responsibilities of one job must be balanced with the other to make sure the day runs smoothly.
The shop has been involved in the community in the past through “Cars and Coffee” in Lenoir City and other local events. DeRose said a goal would be able to continue such outreach.
“I literally fell in love with this community after we opened this coffee shop,” she said. “The local community has been awesome to us. ... Just working here I’ve become friends with a lot of my regulars and a lot of my customers here. That’s probably — I mean, that’s definitely the most rewarding part is just being a part of the people that come here.”
Megan Duncan has worked with DeRose for almost three years and has previous experience at a coffee shop in California. Duncan said she enjoys learning about different coffees and how to fine-tune barista techniques.
Duncan enjoys latte art for consumers and has competed in competitions in the past, emphasizing there is “so much” that goes into making a simple latte. The correct amount and temperature of coffee is required alongside proper steaming of milk, which can vary depending on the type. Creating designs in the lattes is another skill mastered over time.
“When you give someone a really pretty latte, how they react to it, it’s almost like a little game,” she said. “Almost always they’re really pleased, and sometimes we’ve had people cry they’re just so happy. Maybe they were having a bad day, and I give them a teddy bear latte or something and they’re like ‘Oh my God this is so cute. I have to take pictures. Oh my God, I’ve never had a latte like this.’ ... They get so excited and what feels like a small effort for us, those few extra seconds can really change a customer’s day.”