Small college towns are a difficult place for aspiring cafe owners. Faculty and staff offer an affluent base with high standards, but make up a small percentage of the overall population. Townsfolk are typically too busy commuting or too against the notion of a hoity-toity spot to make the break from the corner diner. Students, who often crave caffeine to make it through long hours and stave off the worse effects of too much alcohol, are often too needy and too new to coffee to appreciate the good stuff. Students also often experience extremely tight budgets. While they desperately seek coffee, slightly expensive coffee selects for the relative few with bigger budgets, unusual beverage priorities or poor budgetary skills.
Hobbs Coffee opened up in Swarthmore last fall and has a few things going for it. It’s located downtown, right across the street from the train station and not too far from campus. While it may not be the place to draw in the die-hard locals, it is convenient to the commuter crowd, faculty and those select students willing to make a slight detour off campus for coffee (much) better than that found in the dining hall. The coffee comes from Chestnut Hill Coffee Company, which is the first of many features that distinguishes this cafe from the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street or most other sources of coffee that you’ll find about town. I can only imagine how much better my college days would have been if I had access to Chestnut Hill instead of Country Kitchen.
Inside, Hobbs’ offers a spacious, somewhat unoriginal, but not unappealing dark wood interior. There are some nice touches like a vintage couch, lots of natural lighting, new furniture and plenty of room to spread out, which make this cafe a refreshing sight, especially considering that it could have been a nasty, college coffeehouse cafe. Behind the menu stand a team of chefs, prepared to make what promise to be (but which I didn’t test) some satisfyingly delicious sandwiches and other food.
Filter coffee options consist of a House blend, a decaf and a rotating single origin coffee. All of them are brewed on a Fetco and stored in thermal carafes. I opted for the single origin – a Costa Rica. It was nicely nutty and exhibited some some decent acidity. It wasn’t overwhelmed by roast but lacked sweetness or complexity. Not knowing the coffee better, I can’t begin to imagine where this coffee fell short – brew, roast or brewed coffee lifespan – but I can’t imagine it wouldn’t fare better if brewed by the cup (as most any coffee would). (3-)
The barista pulls shots of espresso from a Brasilia espresso machine. I didn’t catch which blend Hobbs was using, but I did notice the barista re-pulling shots, dialing in the espresso to his liking. While short, my shot was neither nasty nor brutish, although the crema was thin and the espresso gave way to a slightly ashy aftertaste. I noted that the shot had a mild, citrus acidity with notes of orange and the sweet/smokiness of roasted almonds. (3)
As my Swarthmore-based best friend pointed out, it seems like the owners missed an opportunity by omitting an “e” from their name. After all, Hobbs is located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In case you’re not following, the Commonwealth is the contractual entity that uplifts humanity from its lowly natural state in Hobbes’ Leviathan. What better sovereign to swear loyalty to than coffee, which saves us from our baser, more primitive selves. Then again, all this high falutin academical thinking could be precisely the kind of hoity-toity atmosphere that college town cafe owners should avoid.