It’s amazing how a café can get so many things right, but fall short when it comes to the coffee. Located in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood, Chapterhouse embodies this philosophy.The café itself is probably one of the finest specimens I’ve encountered in my cross-country travels. The building is a amazingly renovated building, the front wall replaced with glass. This greenhouse-like design floods the cafe with natural light by day and emits a voyeuristic glow to passersby by night. The 4-room interior retains traces of the original building but is blended beautifully with modern accents and furniture. The walls are lined with local art and the cases up front are filled with homemade-looking pastries and cookies that taste as good as they look.
Chapterhouse is the kind of well-designed space that could easily be seen in the pages of Dwell or perhaps Metropolitan Home, and they even play great music. All three times I went in, they were playing something just barely familiar enough for me to recognize yet clearly too cool for me to yet own.
And then there’s the coffee. I knew I was in trouble the first time I went in and asked about the drip. The barista informed me that they had a dark roast and a light roast. I asked for the origin, but she didn’t understand the question. I spotted the large bags of Equal Exchange coffee under the counter and asked if they used Equal Exchange. She said yes and clarified that they have a Peruvian and another coffee which I’ve now promptly forgotten. Strangely enough, they actually repackage the equal exchange in their own brown paper 1 pound bags with their own signature stamp on them, lending the impression that they roast their own or that perhaps that they have a signature blend. Is this ethical? Is this legal?
Anyway, the drip wasn’t worth mentioning. Neither was the super-auto brewed macchiato or their decaf Americano. All of these were bitter and I found myself unable to finish a single one, even with cream and sugar. The only reason I kept going back was that I was sure that a place with such high tastes for design must have better taste in coffee. It didn’t. But, even I would go back there just to sit and drink in the space. If I did, though, I’d order the tea.