Wilmington, Vermont’s recently-opened 1a Coffee operates out of a cheerful, cozy building, with blue clapboards and a red roof. The welcoming exterior reflects the friendly, community-centered space inside, brewing delicious and sustainable coffee. The clean, simple aesthetic is certainly in keeping with 1a’s origins; the cafe is named after the building number of husband-and-wife co-founders Chrystal and Brian Holt’s Helsinki home. However, despite strong local support, the coffee bar currently stays emptier and a bit more minimalistic than originally envisioned. Due to pandemic-related safety measures, customers must stay six feet apart, and coffee is takeout only.
As first-time business owners, the Holts knew they could never be sure of what to expect, but the opening under the shadow of the coronavirus definitely made circumstances even more unpredictable.
For now, 1a is focusing on the roasting side of their business, with plans to host tastings, cuppings and other coffee education events once conditions are safer.
“We look forward to days in the future when the option to ‘stay a while’ is safe,” says Chrystal. The couple value building individual relationships along the way to crafting a coffee community– in fact, they connected with their Scandinavian pastry providers, Starfire Bakery, after an in-person conversation over the coffee bar. And what 1a does have to offer, even during the pandemic, is most certainly worth the trip. Not only do the Holts source and roast premium single-origin coffee with care, but they also offer a full espresso bar menu. In my experience, it’s a sure sign of café excellence when coffee shop owners not only know what a flat white is but also cite it as one of their favorite drinks. As a more obscure offering, a flat white is a good litmus test of how well the shop knows their stuff.
Because there is not a large specialty coffee scene (or, really, any specialty coffee scene at all) in southern Vermont, “we are blazing the path, and that is exciting,” says Brian. “We like to think that we are contributing to the scene and helping to create space for specialty coffee in Southern Vermont specifically,” agrees Chrystal. As the head roaster, Chrystal ensures each coffee is carefully roasted to a medium range to preserve the unique notes in each specialty coffee.
Recently, I had the chance to try their Mexican single origin, which was a delightfully smooth and balanced brew with notes of honey, vanilla and caramel. I had never tried Mexican coffee before, but these beans were roasted to perfection– super balanced and a delight to drink. Everything from the packaging to the stickers and the handwritten note included in my order was well-executed and sleek. Especially for a new business, 1a operates like a well-oiled machine– it’s clear the Holts know their stuff.
Beyond being a spot for folks to gather and learn about coffee, there is so much to look forward to in the future from 1a. As owners, the Holts are able to have complete control over the operation of the café itself. “The best part…is the ability to have 100% creative control and do whatever you want,” says Brian.
Working with a spouse as a business partner also has many benefits. Although the bureaucratic back-end work necessary to run a business can be difficult and time consuming, both take on complementary roles to make things run smoothly. Despite having differences of opinion, they are also able to effectively compromise while sharing a common vision. Most every one of their future goals emphasizes sustainability– including renewable energy, recyclable packaging, carbon neutrality, and direct, fair trade coffee that is fairly paid for.
“Every decision we make it through the lens of sustainability from an environmental, economic, and social standpoint,” shares Brian. One question the Holts ask themselves when making any business decisions is “who does this benefit?”
“If the answer to that question is only us, then something needs to be refined,” says Chrystal. The Holts not only want to do what they love and share a great coffee experience with the community, but they are committed to doing so in a way that is sustainable, equitable and fair for everyone working in the supply chain.
Huge (coffee) cheers to that!