Before Kris Fulton got his job managing a high-end coffee shop in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood, he was thinking of moving away, maybe to Philadelphia, maybe to New York. Somewhere that had a scene. Somewhere that was filled with creative, entrepreneurial young people. Somewhere that might give him a reason to stay.
Then, right when he was getting ready to hang up his apron for good, he got a call. A cafe kingpin named Craig Min was bringing his artfully roasted coffee to Baltimore and he needed someone to manage his shop, LAMILL, which was set to open at the new Four Seasons Baltimore.
Kris decided to stay.
Now he's helping to create what The Baltimore Sun has described as a locally grown coffee culture akin to those that have reinvigorated Seattle, San Francisco and even sludge-in-a-Greek-diner-cup New York City.
What is different about Baltimore's coffee renaissance is that it has percolated less through the corporate culture of selling high-end brews to rich people than through home town pride. The thinking seems to be that this is the sort of economic development that can keep talented people in a city suffering from brain drain.
Local magazine Urbanite called it "The Four Seasons Effect" on the cover of their January issue, as writer Rebecca Messner explains: "There is the sense … that the Four Seasons feels slightly out of place in the city. Never has the contrast between new and old Baltimore felt so literal. It is, however, a distinction that the owners embrace."
As have these other pioneers of the city's boutique brew scene, all of which taken together mark a paradigm shift in the way Charm City thinks about -- and drinks -- coffee.
Locally owned company Zeke's helped kick off the local obsession with quality coffee. It's now on sale everywhere from Eddie's markets to Hampden booze shop The Wine Source.
Inside the Four Seasons Baltimore in the newly arrived Harbor East neighborhood, this high-end cafe is the latest sign of Baltimore's booming local-brew scene, the first East Coast outpost of the perviously only-in-LA shop.
The rebirth of a cafe that closed in early 2009, Charmington's is a Charles Village project from a group of local coffee devotees that serves breakfast all day alongside its Counter Culture brews.
Already a known player on the national farm-to-table scene for its locally sourced food, this outstanding restaurant doesn't get a lot of attention for its coffee offerings. But new Friday-morning tasting programs aim to share some of the spotlight on the kitchen with the excellent coffee on offer.
The local City Paper writes about the "tall glass apparatus that wouldn't look out of place in a chemistry lab through which brown liquid slowly drips," but quickly adds that "the performance pays off," with excellent brews.
Known for its cocktails, this Fell's Point bar also does an excellent brew (from Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company) to accompany what it calls "late-night breakfast," which is code for that last bite after a long night out.
Right around the corner from the Walters Art Museum in Mt. Vernon, Koffee Therapy is an old soul on the Baltimore cafe scene, open since 2005 and still serving up fantastic coffee. The light-filled room is pleasant in the colder months; in summer, duck past the small kitchen to enjoy the patio out back.