After my experience at Zummo's in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a day visiting New Jersey's three Clover-owning cafes and checking out the sorts of shops that would use them.
Rojo's is a micro roaster and coffee bar in the scenic town of Lambertville that impressed me in more than one way. I loved its décor—best described as "caffeine industrial"—with bins, a roaster and assorted gear right out in the open. Indeed, if my wife ever allowed me to decorate, this is the style I would go for. What got me though was that Rojo's doesn't just do espresso and Clover; you can get a cup brewed by Chemex, French Press, Cona Vacuum, or Turkish. (Interesting considering that many Turkish places here use an espresso machine instead.) Food is sparse, with a few baked goods, sandwiches and smoothies. A fridge with a couple of dozen quarts of half and half and a sign that said "win a free massage" caught my eye too.
If you're a roasting fanatic, this is your place. Rojo's Roastery: 243 North Union Street, Lambertville NJ; 609-397-0040; rojosroastery.com;
Mondays–Saturdays, 7 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sundays, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Ridgewood Coffee Company
Frequent visitors to towns like Ridgewood are left wondering, "how can an old downtown thrive while it's surrounded by huge malls?" I think I found the answer; it's the coffee. No mall I've ever been to could match the Ridgewood Coffee Company for either coffee or hipness. Wallpaper could shoot a spread here without a stylist. The website states; "RCC has become a favorite hangout for coffee connoisseurs, poets, writers, music lovers or anyone who enjoys a great beverage." At first, this put me off, but then I realized that I was as much a writer (with four published books) as anybody and went right in.
Ridgewood's Clover machine was well hidden, but then again, it's a small store that gets crowded easily. While they didn't roast their own, they did have a nice menu of coffee varieties and indeed, it was a comfortable place to sit and rest or work.
If you want to meet a friend or get some work done, this is your place. Ridgewood Coffee Company: 90 East Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood NJ; 201-493-9200; ridgewoodcoffeecompany.com; Monday–Thursday, 6:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fridays, 6:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Saturdays, 6:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 a.m. 9 p.m.
The Lazy Bean
I don't know why they call this place the "Lazy Bean" because it really looks like the result of hard work. Right off Route 4 and not far from the George Washington Bridge, the Lazy Bean is a perfect stop. They've got sandwiches, cakes, a complete coffee menu, and they're strictly Kosher—in fact, they have a direct connection with a nice little Kosher supermarket. They don't have the refined connoisseurship of Rojo or the hip vibe of Ridgewood, but their coffee is far above chain store level and the location can't be beat.
If you want to hop off the highway and get an amazing cup of coffee, this is your place. Lazy Bean: 1404 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck NJ; 201-837-2326; lazybean.com; Monday–Thursday, 6 a.m.–6 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m.–3 p.m.; Saturday, closed; Sunday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Something has to be said about both Ridgewood and Lazy Bean; they go to the trouble and expense of serving Clover-brewed coffee and then blow it with disposable cups (right). This just doesn't work. If you're going to explore the flavors of fine micro-roasted coffees, do so in a proper china mug. Please.