This post comes from our contributor FP Naomi.
Tucked away in the heart of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, lives Leotah’s Place. I first met the owner, Blew, in my college days, but it wasn’t until a long time later that I finally stumbled into her coffeehouse. My friends and I were strolling down the quiet street, on our way back from a vintage excursion, when I looked up and saw the swinging sign. It was made from planks of wood, and had a weathered but cheery sunflower painted on it. I had heard of Leotah’s ethically sourced coffee and recognized the sunflower logo from a business card that, for years, floated around in my purse reminding me to stop in.
We went in for a break, a drink, some relaxation – the kinds of things you go to a coffee shop for – and my eyes instantly grew with adoration. Everything, from the food to the décor, was exactly how it should be. Plants at every turn, a chain of little rooms, each splashed with color, rustic elements, and space to temporarily sprawl out and call your own. It was cheery and cozy at the same time, and included all of those little boho elements that I love so much.
So I got to talking with Blew as she told me about getting her start in direct trade coffee beans (sourced from roasters who work directly with the farmers, ensuring quality and ethical practices). After having left art school with the ambition to open a café, she met a fairy godlike friend. Less was sourcing direct trade coffee beans, and ended up helping Blew setup a hand-delivered subscription service for others in her community. In the end, he gave her $5000 worth of equipment to open the shop, and she’s called him a dear friend ever since.
All of the drinks at the coffeehouse are named after culturally significant figures. Oscar Romero, Sarojini Naidu, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day – the goal is to start conversations, educate people, and empower with knowledge. I believe much of the café’s success lies in that mission, and their ability to curate it in the most thoughtful and creative of ways.
“All of my customers seem to have one thing that they do really well. I like to learn what they do and then connect them to each other,” said Blew, when asked about the community she’s formed. “People have worked together, formed friendships, even gotten married after meeting at Leotah’s. It’s become that third place. There’s your work, there’s your home, and then there’s your third place.”
The Perfect Cup
So what makes Blew’s perfect? “The very first thing, I think, is knowing that it’s from direct trade…a good source,” Blew explained. “A lot of our culture thinks, ‘I want it be organic first and then from a good source,’ but that’s just thinking about ourselves. We’re not thinking about how it affects people’s families, and about how people are in poverty because of our indulgences.” The perfect cup doesn’t stop there, “It should be organic. Typically organic beans are grown with other vegetation, and the plant absorbs those flavors, giving it more taste. The beans should have a medium light roast, not burnt. And lastly, filtered water.” All together – sweet, direct trade, organic, medium light roast, and filtered water – make Blew’s perfect cup.
To get a better idea, I had her demonstrate how to make Leotah’s signature Mother Theresa latte…
Mother Teresa Latte Recipe
– 1 Tbs Leotah’s Chai Mix
– 3 Counts Caramel Syrup
– 2 Gentle Shakes Cayenne
– Add Espresso & ½ a Cup of Steamed Milk; whisk
– 2 Shakes Cocoa
– 1 Shake Cinnamon
– Complete the drink by topping off the rest with steamed milk
(The Mother Theresa Latte)
Be sure to stop by Leotah’s Place if you’re ever in the Philly area. It’s truly one of the city’s hidden gems.
Check out Naomi’s blog Numie Abbot.