AS WITH ANY city with a bustling business district and a lot of foot traffic, downtown Savannah is full of coffee shops. There’s a lot to be said for a coffee shop’s owner taking a liking to roasting his own beans. It allows for the craftsman to have an earlier hand in the process of bringing the cup-o-joe to your lips.
If you don’t know how much self-roasting coffee beans can do for a coffee joint, head over to Cup to Cup to see what I mean.
James Spano tells me that at Cup to Cup, “a continual favorite is the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that has a great bright flavor with floral notes,” which shows exactly how thoughtfully produced Spano’s product actually is.
Other roast feature beans from around the world, including Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Brazil. No matter the bean, James roasts the coffee himself at his production space located on Wilmington Island in addition to being the “delivery boy, bookkeep, janitor, and salesman,” he explains.
As for the process, which takes about twelve minutes, James roasts the beans in a spinning drum heated with a direct flame. He controls the roast by controlling the airflow into the drum. To finish, the coffee beans are cooled on a tray allowing air to be drawn around them.
Although James’ primary focus is on roasting and providing quality coffee to Savannah, he always planned on opening a coffee shop to sell brews of his beans. James elaborates when I ask about his decision to open Cup to Cup Cafe in 2016 stating that “the idea was that I could start and run the roasters myself then as business improved invest in a retail setting.”
Cup to Cup Cafe offers both traditional coffee house drinks, seasonal specials, tea service, and unique drinks that you can’t find anywhere else. Beyond beverages, you can buy a range of baked goods provided by multiple local bakers.
On Mondays and Tuesdays the baked goods are from Bakers Pride, Gottlieb’s is featured Wednesday through Friday, and Le Cafe Gourmet is on Saturday.
The most popular seller at the cafe “right now is anything iced,” which has spurred the store’s experimentation with “iced drinks this summer,” James tells me. One of their resulting creations is something that patrons have loved, the Coffee Tonic.
House-roasted and brewed espresso is shaken with ice then poured over tonic water. The drink has everything coffee lovers enjoy about coffee but with a lighter, bubbly feel. A perfect pick me up on a stereotypical Savannah day.
Some of the experimentation has included collaboration with local producer Capital Bee Company. James let me sample his newest creation, even though he was still working on it. Capital Bee Company provided Cup to Cup with a brand new honey that was pollinated from a blueberry bush.
James let me smell the honey, which overwhelmed my nose with the scent of fresh blueberries. He then took the fresh honey and combined it with their very own cascara, fruit from the coffee treat, syrup and bubbly water that is made to order.
The smell of the drink is just as strong as the honey itself, and it tastes just as it smells—of bright blueberries. As you wash it down, your mouth is next hit with the subtle cherry notes of the cascara and earthy hints of honey. Although made of sweet thick honey, the drink itself is light from the addition of effervescent bubbly water.
A second drink featuring Capital Bee Company honey is the store’s current seasonal special, the Cafe Miel. If you order this one you will receive a latte that is sweetened with Capital Bee clover honey and mixed with milk.
You can order this one hot or cold, but I wanted mine cold because of the hot weather. The drink has all of the classic flavors of a latte with the subtle addition of sweet floral honey.
On the more unique side is the Hop Tonic which is created with cold espresso and cascade hops mixed with tonic water. The unique combination adds the aroma of hops to the coffee spritzer.
If hot coffee is your thing, I recommend trying a hot brew with the coffee of the day. I tasted a classic latte, brewed fresh and served with expert latte art created with frothed milk. The subtleties of the coffee are prevalent in the preparation, smooth and nutty without overpowering your palate with bitterness.
As for James, he loves “to drink a cup of black coffee...coffee has so many subtle nuances and flavors, I enjoy experiencing them without any additions.”
For those that prefer tea, Cup to Cup offers tea service brewed with your choice of locally sourced tea from Hale Tea Company. Even the cups were selected with care—Cup to Cup’s tea service includes classic floral china and a simple white teapot.
The available options include both the usual classics like black tea to more unique offerings like Darjeeling (that I was lucky enough to try with my tea service). The tea tasted slightly sweet with just a touch of earthiness, easy to drink without any addition at all.
Every third Thursday of the month, Cup to Cup hosts a free event that is open to anyone. The gathering includes free coffee tastings, discounts on drinks, and a little education about what James loves so much, coffee. The main feature, besides the stellar dark brew, is a new artwork for the month.
The shop allows any local artist who asks to hang their work on the walls of the coffee shop. Moving forward, Cup to Cup has become a part of the Art Walk where patrons can experience even more great local artists.
When James is not busy roasting coffee, working with local businesses, competing in coffee competitions, creating new drinks, out on a delivery, or running his quaint cafe, you can find him doing what he loves the most—working in the shop serving quality local coffee to local patrons.