More Than Just a Plain Old Cup of Coffee

Coffee Tea and Me opens on Main Street.

Look out, and : There's a new java player in town.

Coffee Tea and Me opened at 421 Main St. a little under two weeks ago, its bright awning an eye-catching sight a few doors down from . The seven-table establishment is still new enough to have a few moments of peaceful quiet, the gleam of the new coffee-making equipment contrasting nicely with painted wooden shelves, all of them filled with locally made goodies like organic Taza chocolate and gluten-free cookies from Tate's Bake Shop. A laptop lays open on a table, where a customer has been taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, and the rear hallway doubles as a mini art gallery, the abstract work of Melrose painter John Maciejowski further brightening the shop.

"We always had the dream of having our own coffee, tea and lunch place," co-owner Lorenzo Tenreiro says of himself and his partner, wife Emily. Pausing to straighten an errant chair, Lorenzo gestures proudly to the offerings on the menu boards behind him, which list everything from cups of cubano and espresso macchiato to smoothies and French cinnamon muffins.

The dream sparked quite a while ago, when Lorenzo was a child in his native Venezuela. He describes the drives his family used to take to various coffee farms, which dot the country's high-altitude regions, as an enormous influence on his love for coffee.

"I've been a coffee drinker since I was four years old. My mom used to make café con leche for each of us," Lorenzo remembers. "That's what we grew up on."

Chances are excellent that Lorenzo's own children will also know coffee pretty darn well. Parents to three daughters and a son due to arrive in about three weeks, Lorenzo and Emily call their current schedule of work and parenting a "juggling act." But the couple is used to the chaos of restaurant life, having worked in and managed a variety of dining establishments while living in New York.

Warm buns and coffee with know-how

In Emily's case, it is a combination of experience and background that have led to her becoming the baker she is. Arriving at the shop by five every morning, Emily immediately makes the muffins and cinnamon buns so that they will be "fresh and warm" for the store's early customers. She also bakes a variety of breads and desserts, all enticingly on display for those who might otherwise have only been thinking about a cup of coffee. The Tenreiros also offer empanadas, which Emily makes in the mornings but are only baked once a customer orders one.

"It's a challenge, don't get me wrong, to get up every day and be baking, baking, baking. But there's nothing more thrilling that having your product well received," Emily says.

The couple hopes to have a panini press in place by summer, after doing a bit more research on licensing issues. Lorenzo predicts a small but impressive selection of "signature sandwiches," many of which he promises will feature local―and mouth-watering―cheeses.

Yet the real passion thrumming through Coffee Tea and Me is coffee.

"Coffee's like wine. It's about terroir, about altitude, about how it's roasted," Lorenzo says, expounding upon the importance of fair trade, specific coffee farms and single origin beans. He runs his arm along the dispensers on the side wall, where customers can see many of the beans and roasts currently featured in the store.

Lorenzo, who roasts his own coffee at home and hopes to be able to do so in the store shortly, speaks highly of the shop's main source for beans, Acton's George Howell Terroir Coffee. He also beams when describing the many loose teas that Coffee Tea and Me offers, all bought from a seller in Beverly Farms who, with a London agent, is very, very particular about the specifics of the tea.

"Our tea is extremely high quality. Very few people have this kind of tea around," Lorenzo says. "It's all from independent farms. This makes it more interesting because you can control the quality of it."

Fitting into the Melrose coffee scene

It's this passion for where coffee and tea comes from and how people can best enjoy it that the Tenreiros hope will set them apart from other shops in Melrose.

"The difference, I would say, is the coffee itself. We offer multiple styles of brewing. We'd like to grow that even more to roasting our own beans," Emily says. "The handcrafted fact of our coffees: ground to order, brewed to order. You can order an iced chai and it will be iced to order."

The Tenreiros see their new shop not so much as competition to some of the other coffee choices in town as simply a new alternative.

"We're not trying to compete with Starbucks," Emily explains. "That's a chain that has produced an incredible name for itself. They have a good product, they do a good business. But it's a corporation.  That's where we're different from Starbucks. We're locally owned. We're not a big production. We want to offer people more of a local feel."

Emily also says she doesn't see Coffee Tea and Me as any kind of competition to one of her own favorite spots in Melrose, Bohemian Coffeehouse.

"We've been fans for quite some time: great muffins and great coffee," Emily says, pointing out that the main differences between her new shop and Bohemian is simply size and the Tenreiros' additional focus on retail.

Emily also doubts any negative impact Coffee Tea and Me might have on fellow newcomer D'Amici's across the street, given the two stores' varying purposes.

"We're not a bakery. We make muffins, but we don't make wedding cakes. We never will," Emily laughs, confessing her own fondness for D'Amici's cakes. "We want to be somewhere people can come and have a really good cup of coffee, read a newspaper and relax."

Her husband agrees.

"Everyone who comes here is a guest. We want to make sure they're taken care of."

Settling on―and in―Melrose

It's easier to take care of people when you love the place you're in, the Tenreiros say. Having moved to Melrose three years ago after several years in New York City and later Cape Cod, the family says they're "in love" with the city.

"It's a perfect mix of urban and suburban. The people are so friendly," Emily extols. "The move was a really great transition for us. And now, to be able to give back and be part of the community―it’s something we’ve dreamt of for a long time."

Of course, it helps that Melrose is considered by many to be an up-and-coming Boston suburb, the couple acknowledges.

"We saw that it was such a trendy neighborhood," Lorenzo says.

They also saw that it was chock-full of families like their own, a fact that inspires them to focus even more intently on all-natural, locally sourced ingredients and products free of any preservatives.

"We're trying to carry as many organic products and items and use as many all-natural ingredients as possible," Emily promises, hinting at new gluten-free biscotti soon to appear on the store's menu. "That’s one of my biggest things about being a mother. I tell the kids, 'You can eat treats. I just prefer you to eat a homemade muffin, or brownie, or cookie, because I know what's in it.' Everyone is going to eat a sweet; it might be as well something that is homemade."

Lorenzo believes that the investment of researching, identifying and sourcing fairly made and quality products will pay off in the end, especially once customers begin tasting the difference in a Coffee Tea and Me cup of coffee.

"Our love here is the love for the coffee," he says again. "We want people to love their coffee."

Daniel DeMaina May 18, 2011 at 07:55 PM
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