The Coffee Culture

beyond cream and sugar Spicy, nutty, floral, sweet, bold, mild — these are just some of the notes java connoisseurs can indulge in at coffeehouses like Emerald Coast Coffee & Grille. Photo by Scott Holstein
The Coffee CultureThe robust drink has become more than a morning beverage — it’s a medium for social connections along the Emerald Coast 

By Lisa Monti

For something that comes from a small bean, coffee is a powerful commodity. Throughout history, possibly as far back as the 15th century, coffee has been prized and consumed in many parts of the world. From its likely origins in Ethiopia, coffee spread to Asia, then to Europe before finally taking hold in the Americas.

Today, the simple ritual of making and sipping a cup of coffee is such a part of our daily lives that we practically do it in our sleep — or at least in a very sleepy state.

Whether it’s the first thing in the morning, during a break from the day’s hectic pace or at the end of a meal, coffee is there to give us a kick start, a brief time-out or a satisfying accompaniment to good food.

The popularity of coffee has burgeoned in the past three or four decades, and many believe the trend has its roots in the caffeinated Pacific Northwest — namely Seattle, whence Starbucks sprang and spread.

The National Coffee Association’s research shows that 54 percent of adults in the United States drink coffee beverages daily. By some estimates, that translates into an average of 3.1 cups a day on average for coffee drinkers. Research also shows that the number of people who drink coffee outside the home has continued to rise since 1950.

Such devotion to coffee has elevated the beverage from a humble cup of joe to superstar status in countless coffee shops that also offer specialty coffees such as lattes and cappuccinos.

Our modern-day coffeehouses may have their roots back in the old Arab world, where such gathering places were popular with patrons on all fronts, from socializing and conducting business to engaging in the politics of the day.

Today, in just about every town and on every big-city corner, there sits a coffee shop. There are thousands of them, ranging from the simple to the sophisticated.

Along the Emerald Coast, coffee — really good coffee — is widely available at some very special places that have become a pleasant part of the day for residents and an appealing draw for visitors.

Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse
Innkeeper Cheri Peebles says her Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse in Grayton Beach is decked out in 1950s Florida décor and ambience, and it’s all very family-oriented. The place has been open for 16 years and has a dedicated following.

“It’s like coming home,” Peebles says enthusiastically. “It’s like Mama’s. Everybody knows each other.”

In keeping with the family theme, Peebles greets her visitors with a now-famous hug. Out front is the quirky fill-in-the-blank “be board,” which changes daily to provide inspiration or something to meditate on. “Be content” was a recent message that Peebles posted.

In 16 years, Peebles has watched children grow up “because families come back.”

Little wonder. The place serves delicious meals cooked with love and fresh coffee roasted locally by Amavida Coffee and Trading Co.

“I started buying fair-trade organic,” she says. “We get it straight from the roasters every few days.”

The coffee is served in traditional diner cups, another familiar “down home” touch.

Peebles says her customers mostly prefer the dark roast coffee. Her personal favorite in the summer is iced coffee.

By design, Hibiscus makes gathering for coffee a homey ritual. In fact, a group of bicyclers, as many as 35 at a time, end up at Hibiscus for breakfast every Saturday morning. And they’ve been doing it for several years.

“Customers sit around and talk to each other,” Peebles says. “Some people come here every morning. They don’t miss.”

Emerald Coast Coffee & Grille
The more coffee drinkers know about the beverage, the more they want to try, says Pankaj Badlani, co-founder of Emerald Coast Coffee & Grille.

“People are starting to get a lot more educated about coffee and the quality and where it comes from,” he says. “Customers really care about the origins of the coffee beans, how they are roasted, the practices in terms of fair trade, the whole process.”

His first shop opened in 2005 in Niceville and has turned into what he calls a “mini-local chain” that branches out from the Emerald Coast to Atlanta, its first foray outside the area. Badlani has other shops in Destin, Sandestin, Orange Beach and Fort Walton Beach.

The coffee comes from far-flung locations including Peru and India, making the enterprise an international eclectic coffee shop.

Adding to the shops’ uniqueness is its pairings of coffee with food, which “enhances the coffee flavor.” Customers are eager to learn about how best to pair food and coffee.

The shops serve what Badlani describes as tasty, healthy food.

“The combo sets us apart,” he says.

So does the calming atmosphere of the shops, designed as an escape from the daily routine. With environmentally friendly décor from around the world, the design helps transport customers literally to a different world.

“There’s almost a dreamy feel to the interiors,” Badlani says. “We’re socially responsible, as well as trying to help our guests spend 15 or 20 minutes relaxed.”

Amavida Coffee and Trading Co.
Amavida Coffee and Trading Co., a local wholesaler of specialty and premium-grade coffee with locations in Seaside and Rosemary Beach, is an importer and roaster with sources in 14 countries.

“We have a direct relationship with our producers,” says owner Dan Bailey. “All are fair trade and organically grown.” Fair trade involves doing business with coffee producers in an equitable and sustainable way.

Bailey’s family-owned business also helps to design coffee shops for clients and produces private-label coffee for customers including the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.

“We design to advocate the art of making coffee,” he says. “We don’t use push-button machines. We practice the craft of making coffee as governed by the Barista of America Guild.”

Bailey says what really sets Amavida apart is his specially trained staff and the company’s value system, which includes supporting nonprofits.

“We believe a coffeehouse is not just a coffeehouse,” he says. “You have to give back. It’s a privilege to work for a community.”

Another feature that differentiates Amavida from large chains is roasting beans in small batches, and not too dark, as they tend to do.

“That’s like putting ketchup on a filet (mignon). As a small-batch roaster, Amavida can be more meticulous,” Bailey says.

And don’t look for another coffeehouse staple at Amavida.

“We don’t have a house blend. We put out what’s fresh. We don’t play around,” Bailey says.

The Donut Hole
The Donut Hole in Destin has been around since 1978 and at Santa Rosa Beach since 1989, serving up fresh made baked donuts and a full menu to locals and visitors.

“Just about every day we have a line out the door at both locations,” says manager Nicole Ingle. In the summertime, the Destin location runs around the clock.

Coffee is brewed from freshly ground beans from Royal Cup, and it’s served in the shop’s blue, logoed mugs.

About 80 percent of the business at both shops is breakfast, which draw a mix of locals and vacationers, many of whom return year after year.

“I’ve seen people grow up here every year,” Ingle says. “The first stop on their pilgrimage is to come to The Donut Hole.”

Ingle has seen an increase in coffee drinking in her 17 years on the job. And while some customers prefer to have their coffee inside the shop, she says, “We get a lot of coffee to go. They want to get to the beach.”


Enjoy some delicious meals with a surprising ingredient — coffee


Molasses Coffee-Marinated Pork Chops

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 8 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Level: Easy
Serves: 4

1 cup cool strong coffee
6 ounces molasses, by weight
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6- to 8-ounce) bone-in, 1-inch-thick pork chops

Place all of the ingredients into a 1-gallon zip-top bag, seal, and shake to combine. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours or up to overnight. Preheat grill to medium high. Remove the pork chops from the marinade. Transfer the marinade to a small saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high, and boil gently, stirring often, until reduced to about ½ cup liquid, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the thyme stems after the glaze has reduced. Meanwhile, grill pork chops 3 to 4 minutes per side or until they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the pork chops to rest 4 to 5 minutes before serving with the glaze.

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2009, printed from

Coffee-Rubbed Rib-Eye

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 16 minutes
Level: Easy
Serves: 4

Coffee Rub:
¼ cup ancho chili powder
¼ cup finely ground espresso
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons chili de arbol powder
2 bone-in or boneless rib-eye steaks,
2 inches thick, approximately
1½ pounds each
Canola or olive oil
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all spices in a bowl. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat a cast-iron pan over high heat. Brush each side of the steak with oil and then season each side liberally with salt and pepper. Rub 2 tablespoons of the coffee rub onto one side of each steak. Cook the steak, rub side down, until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the steak over, cook for 2 minutes and then transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven to medium-rare doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Recipe courtesy Bobby Flay, printed from

And for dessert — The Emerald Isle

Prep Time: 1 minute
Level: easy
Serves: one 12-ounce serving

1 shot espresso
¼ ounce chocolate sauce
½ ounce Irish cream syrup
½ ounce Kahlua syrup
steamed milk to taste
whipped cream to taste

Add chocolate sauce, Irish cream syrup and Kahlua syrup to a freshly brewed shot of espresso. Stirring gently, pour steamed milk over the mixture and then top with whipped cream and an inviting chocolate swirl.

Recipe courtesy Ruth Alford, co-founder Emerald Coast Coffee & Grille