Spilling the Beans on Alabaster Coffee Co.

September 30, 2010

By Jamie Pawlick

A dozen little coffee beans clattered across the tabletop as he poured them from a small decorative vase. Beside them sat a second container full of the beans in their raw, grassy form.

“Not many people think about the plant-to-cup process,” the owner said as his eyes lit up enthusiastically behind thick-rimmed glasses. “The more we know about the process, the better the product.”

Alabaster Coffee Roaster and Tea Co., formerly the Coffee and Tea Room, is a newly renovated shop in downtown Williamsport. Through the doors of 410 Pine Street, customers can leave the noise of the streets behind and enter a calming atmosphere filled with the earthy scent of roasting coffee and sweet, fresh pastries. Unlike the impersonal high counters and compact quarters of many corporate coffee chains, Alabaster provides an open-counter layout, low stools and cushioned chairs.

Those familiar with the relaxing ambiance of the Coffee and Tea Room will find the same comfort here, from the exposed brick wall decorated with the work of local artists to the clean design and light, airy colors. The entire shop radiates a sense of earnest pride in serving more than an average cup of coffee.

And that’s why Karl Fisher is not just an average business owner. “Some owners only care about business, but to me it’s more than that,” Fisher said. “I’ve always wanted a coffee house. It’s the perfect place to create a positive impact and form new relationships.”

Fisher spent much of his time in the Coffee and Tea Room, becoming close with the owner while attending Penn State to obtain a degree in music. When the former owner was looking to sell the shop in early spring of this year, he decided to give his daydream a chance.

Now, 27 years old and with a family, Fisher is passionately pursuing his goal of making Alabaster a unique hub for the arts. And while local art and music is a large part of this, the shop’s uniqueness is grounded in the alternative brewing methods and presentation of its key products.

A firm believer in individual, personable service, Fisher is proud to run his shop on a “by the cup” basis. In other words, coffee is made as it is ordered instead of left to sit in a lukewarm pot that is sluggishly drained throughout the day.

“I believe in excellence in coffee,” Fisher said, which is evident in the use of ethically sourced, Fair Trade Certified coffee from various organic backgrounds. “In buying from sustainable crops and farms, we are helping the farmer and not just perpetuating the cycle of poverty,” Fisher said. “A lot of this information is new to people, but we are trying to make it as accessible as possible.”

In this way, Alabaster is the starting point of a ripple effect that will work its way out into the wider world of coffee. And the positive results of such actions are already taking place in Williamsport with every cup that passes over the counter.
Alabaster isn’t solely about the beverages, however, a host of baked goods are crafted on premises with local ingredients to artfully complement any and all drinks.

“Coffee is more than a commodity,” Fisher said. “It’s a culinary art, and more and more often that art gets lost. Excellence is a moving target, but we’re doing our best to try and hit it as it moves.”

The shop opened quietly during renovations this past summer and is now running in full-tilt, complete with a new espresso machine as well as some current and potential events. A free coffee tasting takes place every Saturday at noon, where customers can learn about the coffee’s preparation methods while appreciating each unique region and flavor.

Fisher has also been working on a music schedule that will feature open-mic nights, regular weekend performances and even weekday acts. Musicians are encouraged to inquire, as well as any local artists looking to display work of all media. The regularly updated website, www.alabastercoffee.com, provides information about the shop, and the crew can be contacted via email at info@alabastercoffee.com.