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Zummo’s Café in Scranton, Pennsylvania

"This is Zummo's Café—Pennsylvania's, and perhaps America's, best coffee shop."

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If you're the sort of person that doesn’t know why they should visit Scranton, Pennsylvania—except to see if the Dunder Mifflin office really exists—I'm here to help. Imagine you're lost in a sort of run down neighborhood. You spot a café, and pull over. It’s across the street from a church, down the street from a storefront courtroom, Catholic school, and rectory and in an old wood-frame house. A police car is parked outside and construction workers are having a smoke out front. What do you expect? Plastic-wrapped danishes? Week-old doughnuts? At least you'll get directions.

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When you walk in though, you notice the Clover machine. Yeah, they make coffee here that way. And the menu choices aren't for frozen, reheated sandwiches, they’re for micro-roasted coffees prepared in the Clover (there’s espresso for dilettantes too), real sandwiches on good bread, and a row of candies. Only in Scranton can you get a cup of micro-roasted, Clover-brewed coffee, and a pack of Skittles at the same shop.

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20090624-zummos5.jpgFor coffee fans, this place is so thrilling that you’ll get all worked up before you even take a sip of caffeine. This is Zummo's CaféPennsylvania's, and perhaps America's, best coffee shop. Grab your coffee (I chose a “Brazil-Fazenda Cachoeira Natural Yellow Burbon”) check out the local historical photos (No! the woman weight lifter with the big Seventies hair isn't the owner), study the map of Italy (always appropriate in this corner of the world), and relax, work and pretend that every neighborhood café roasts its own single-origin beans, owns a Clover machine, and makes its own mozzarella.

Zummo's is the most public manifestation of Mary Tellie, a coffee fanatic and certified Q Grader who began by roasting beans with a heat gun in her basement. Somehow, this begat the Electric City Roasting Company, a highly regarded micro-roaster, and then Zummo's Café.

Indeed, this is what Mary wanted in the first place: a local café serving world class product. She frequently travels to the coffee farms she buys from, offers public cupping events—call ahead for this, they’re not as frequent as you might wish—and employs two CIA grads to supervise the kitchen.

Most people who are serious about coffee know somebody who's spent some time in their basement with a heat gun and find it hard to imagine that you could go from this level of extreme fanaticism to business ownership and somehow Mary Tellie managed. She's a former banker, hence the business skills, and a former New Jersey resident, hence the desire to create a comfortable space someplace else.

Mary and I sat down for a chat. It didn't last long—not the chat, but the sitting. She was everywhere! There were several moments when I had to actually run after her so she could show me things or introduce me to staff members. One minute, she’d be pointing at that map of Italy so I could see where her ancestors came from, and then, suddenly, I’d be watching one of the chefs pull mozzarella curd and trying to catch my breath.

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Mary's mantra is “everything’s fresh, when it’s sold out, it's gone.” This isn't surprising, she had another mantra though that was more to the point: “roast to the equipment.” In other words, make sure the coffee beans, methods, and equipment suit each other. Therefore, there are beans for espresso, that Clover, and even regular brewing.

Looking around, I was in a place I'd always dreamed of (indeed, my wife and I dreamed of opening just such a shop in nearby Jim Thorpe some years ago). A local shop devoted to excellence in coffee, excellence in food, and with a box of Skittles on the counter. A coffee lovers paradise.

And the name? Zummo's was the name of the business, a shoe repair shop, that occupied the space before them. Why change?

Zummo's Café

918 Marion Street, Scranton PA 18509 (map)
570-344-2715

Note: For more information on Clover coffee machines go here and watch this video. Since Starbucks bought the Clover company and stopped selling the machines to other shops, there's been a huge amount of discussion. I doubt this will stop master roasters like Mary though. I suspect they can make a great cup of coffee with whatever is at hand, as long as they can, as they say, “roast for the equipment."

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