Coffee marks the start of my day. The first spark occurs when the dark roast slips from the tilted cup and hits my palette, mmmm, Zing-Kabooom! Like electricity to Frankenstein, my day has begun…
Imagine my excitement about working at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, where I would shadow my friend and its proprietress, Jessica Lamb, for three days. I couldn’t wait for that special, dreamy, creamy Dottie’s latte concoction, but the truth is, I really just wanted to hang with Jess, who has been a role model for me ever since I first met her.
Jess is a rare combination of beauty and truth, courage and love. She moved back to the Berkshires from Brooklyn at the ripe old age of 20-something, fired up and ready to take what she had learned on the city streets and apply it to a rural dream of her own. In 2007, she opened her doors to Dottie's Coffee Lounge, the first sustainable coffee house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
It was a calculated risk for Jess and one she was willing to take in order to start up an eco-centric java-joint in a neighborhood where an artisanal cup of coffee wasn’t exactly a part of the local landscape...
When Jess started out, there were no guarantees. There were no other investors, no business partners, and no grants to lighten the financial load. It was entirely her own venture, and a costly one at that when a top-of-the-line La Marzocco espresso machine alone can cost the price of a small car. But Jess was passionate and wanted only one thing: for coffee and “coffee done well” to be a part of Pittsfield’s re-awakening.
Looking back, Jess admits that she was “ignorant and blissful” in the beginning. She describes herself as "so right-out-of-the-city” and not bothered by the fact that there was no year-round foot traffic let alone daily foot traffic; that crime and homelessness were a problem; and that a fortified neighborhood association had yet to be established.
It was like the wild-wild West and Jess, a Post-Modern Pioneer at its forefront ready to stake and claim new territory on the corner of North and Maplewood. Like any Post-Modern Pioneer, Jess has been defending her territory while simultaneously educating a community about local sustainability.
Jess’s vision of owning a sustainable business coupled with her very clever sense of how to connect a diverse community over a delicious cup of coffee are at the core of her business – the two are inseparable. She didn’t want to open “just another coffee shop” and cater to people who are used to paying $4 for a ho-hum latte. Nor did she want to follow a meaningless cookie-cutter business plan to sell coffees to senseless coffee drinkers.
Jess’s dream was so much more than that and still is to this day: to make a pure and authentic, quality cup of coffee and spread the word about the importance of supporting local farmers and businesses.
In the truest sense of post-modern, Jess’s approach is a sublime combination of mind-altering coffee and community relations…she’s out there to change the way we think about a cup of coffee and the rest of the world, too.
Dottie’s gets its coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, a local company from Lee, Massachusetts that sources top quality coffees grown in complex natural agricultural systems by farmers who employ environmentally sustainable methods. Barrington Coffee Roasting Company also purchases all of its coffees at prices far above the pricing floor established for equitable trade.
And what could go better with Dottie’s coffee than local milk from those darling cows just down the road?High Lawn Farm is a local farm dedicated to providing Massachusetts [and Dottie’s] with the best quality, freshest Jersey milk and dairy products available.
…and the food’s good, too. So why is it so important to Jess that she source local, grass-fed meat from farms that are no further than 20 minutes away from her shop?
Well, for one… it tastes better, but going beyond taste buds, Jess knows the farmers and that means she can TRUST what she is serving and we can TRUST that we are not ingesting synthetic hormones, antibiotics, pesticide residues and that there is less risk of E. coli contamination. Plus, grass-fed meats have less fat and fewer calories and are jam-packed with those all-important Alzheimer’s-amyloid-busting omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid-CLA and more beta carotene, too. Yum Yum. What’s not to love about our local farmers!? I see a bumper sticker in our future: Love Dottie’s Coffee. Love a Local Farmer.
The parallels between Jess’s coffee shop and “Church on Sunday” don’t escape me. This girl is on a mission! and the bible she’s banging is the one called Local Sustainability. Dottie’s is a meeting place, a special place where all parts of a diverse community intersect and congregate to share stories of joy and pain and love and laughter and some very bright ideas, too.
When we do have time to stay a while and soak up all the java joy that comes pouring out at Dottie’s, we are certain to meet a friend or make a friend. There really is a whole lot of eye contact going on, so don’t automatically expect to get internet access at Dottie’s. It’s not an internet café, and that’s just the way Jess wants it. This isn’t a cookie cutter coffee shop owned by a chain brand.
Dottie’s is cute and retro-stitched on the outside and Jess has put her Gramma’s name on it, but beneath the surface of Dottie’s lies a switched-on, plugged-in, Mother of a soul ready to greet the wild-wild west every day with a cup of coffee thoughtfully and lovingly prepared. And love abounds at Dottie’s…in its name, in its coffee, in its food, in its commitment to the local community, and in the darling baristas who have a way of being so eco-adorable and sustainably friendly that you can’t help but put your happy face on, even before the coffee hits your tongue.
It’s a hive of buzzing activity with every pretty bee wonderfully quirkier than the last, busy humming along. Jess as Queen Bee, never stops as she moves from cracking local farm eggs; to cooking up delicious plates of ‘health 'n hearty;’ to stopping to say hello and visit with friends; to nursing her 5 month old daughter, who is then joyfully passed around from friend to friend.
Over the course of the past five years, new businesses have opened up around Dottie’s. “The North Corner” has morphed into an urban campus of thespians and theatre-goers, poets and doctors, musicians and yoginis, consignments and hip hop high tops, health food and soulful flipped burgers. It’s no longer the wild-wild west but sadly, bad things can and still do challenge Jess almost every day.
Two hours after I left Jess closing up after our Saturday shift, Dottie’s was broken in to. On Sunday morning the next day, Dottie’s was filled to the rafters with people who love and support Jess for all the hard work and courage she pours into her local sustainable business. She’s clearly winning hearts over, one java shot at a time. And you have to ask yourself, if Starbuck’s was broken into, would it hurt so much? I am grateful to Jess for every delicious cup of coffee and for every tough time she’s had to endure to keep her doors open…but more importantly, I am forever indebted to Jess for teaching me years ago that there is whole lot more going into a cup coffee and that we should all take some time to think about that before we opt for a “quick fix.”
Every time I have a Dottie’s latte, it’s hard not to taste the courage and the love and the thought that went in to making it. Like a true friend, it’s not to be taken for granted.
Sometimes, you just have to slow down to savor a slow brew.