The tables have turned…Manayunk baristas ordered for me, and it was brew-tiful!

By Caitlin Marsilii
Photos by JPG Photo & Video (jpgphotography.com)

There’s no doubt that Manayunk has some of the best coffee. Around every corner, there’s a cafe. On every menu, there’s a new latte to try or freshly roasted beans to pick up, and behind every counter is a warm and welcoming barista! With all the options, sometimes it can be hard to choose what to get, so I decided to let the baristas choose. I sat down with six different baristas to talk about their drink of choice and their story.

Yaseen – Mama’s Boy Cafe
Nestled cozily inside Fat Lady Brewing was my first stop, Mama’s Boy Cafe. Right when I stepped in, I was greeted by barista and owner, Yaseen Elzalabany, who was ready to talk about coffee, books, art, and really, anything on my mind. He genuinely wants to get to know everyone who steps into Mama’s Boy Cafe and wants to make them feel at home. It’s clear that home, family, and connection are all important elements to Yaseen, and guests at Mama’s Boy Cafe can really feel that in their experience. As you browse the menu, you’ll find that some items are personalized and named after people in his life. Yaseen also explained how his guests are more than just a face at Mama’s Boy Cafe: “I want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the cafe’s journey and that they’re growing with the business.” For Yaseen, it really is about building relationships and taking care of cafe guests the same way they take care of him.

Yaseen’s Story
Yaseen has worked a variety of roles in different businesses and restaurants around Manayunk. He landed a job working at Fat Lady Brewing and worked out an agreement to take over the front of house space for Mama’s Boy Cafe. His parents own a coffee shop and restaurant in Allentown called Mo’s Eatery, so in a way, the cafe pays homage to his family. He also considers himself a mama’s boy hence the name.

Yaseen’s Choice
The Little Zooz: This drink is at the top of the list for Yaseen. It’s near and dear to his heart as it is named after his eight year old brother, Zain. It is a latte made with a double shot of espresso, milk, and raspberry and mocha flavoring. He wanted to incorporate some of Zain’s tastes into the drink with the flavors and feels that it has the ultimate at-home taste. Dickey & Aubrey – Artesano Cafe
Among the art, plants, and coffee, I met with Dickey Valerio and Aubrey Fetzer in Artesano Cafe. You always leave Artesano feeling energized, and it’s not just because of the caffeine. Every visit is different because of the upbeat, creative energy of the staff. Dickey’s and Aubrey’s positivity just fills the room, and in talking with them, I found out more about Artesano Cafe’s creative efforts. Aubrey explained how they’re offered a lot of creative freedom and how they hire a lot of people who are artists or who have a creative outlet besides coffee. “We like to connect those parts and to find ways to share more about ourselves with the community,” Aubrey said. “It’s cool that we can share a part of our lives with them too.” Dickey also agreed that it’s all about the community and the happiness of fresh air and plants. “That’s what keeps me coming back with a smile every morning,” he said, “the people I work with and the people in the Manayunk community that I see everyday.”

Dickey’s Story
Dickey is from a coffee family and remembers being served lattes at home since he was five years old. His experience in coffee eventually expanded outside of his family where he became a barista and took on managerial positions in the cafe. He likes being prideful of his work as a manager and the challenge of running a cafe smoothly with all the different pieces involved.

Aubrey’s Story
Aubrey worked at a coffee co-op in college where she developed her barista skills and focused on community outreach efforts. After school, she was hired on at Artesano Cafe and has been loving it ever since.

Dickey & Aubrey’s Choice
The Coraline: Brought out for fall last year, the Coraline has become a customer favorite. It’s up there with the most ordered regular cafe items and is what Dickey calls an “Artesano Classic.” The drink is a latte which consists of white chocolate and hazelnut. Recommended hot, the mix of flavors bring a warm and cozy experience to your taste buds. Aubrey noted its simplicity: “We have some drinks that are a little crazier in terms of syrups and sauces, but the Coraline is just two simple ingredients that taste really different together.”

Casey – Valerio Coffee Roasters
At Valerio Coffee Roasters, I sat down with Casey Coleman. One conversation with Casey, and you can tell that she holds a ton of knowledge when it comes to coffee. From temperatures to technique, she can answer almost any question. I asked her all about Valerio’s espresso and imports. She noted how the cafe strives for flavor in all roasts: “There’s just something different about every single bean.” She highly recommends that everyone try their espresso as it is just as good alone as it is in drinks. Casey really can make something for everyone – from the black coffee drinker to the extravagant latte lover.

Casey’s Story
Casey has been a barista for four years. She has been with Valerio Coffee Roasters for two of those years, and is now the cafe’s manager. One of her favorite parts about being a barista is the creativity and being able to use the fundamental building blocks to expand the menu.

Casey’s Choice
Oat Milk Cortado: Casey’s oat milk cortado really highlights the craft and quality being served up at Valerio. The drink is equal parts espresso to steamed milk with just a spot of foam. It’s served at a sipping temperature of about 120 degrees, so it can be enjoyed right when you get it. Casey has made this drink her go-to because of its practicality. The drink gets her going in the morning and is ideal in the sense that you can finish it all without it getting cold.

Ali – Pilgrim Roasters
Ali McBride brought me behind the scenes at Pilgrim Roasters. In speaking with her, I learned about how Pilgrim goes beyond the day-to-day and how there’s a story and depth to their roasting process. Since they opened, Pilgrim has been working and building long-term relationships with small scale farmers abroad who harvest and export beans. They’ve been working with some farmers for over five years, and in talking with Ali, it’s clear that there’s meaning behind these relationships. In fact, much of what Ali loves about Pilgrim is that a lot of what they do has meaning. In past jobs, she said that brewing coffee was just a means to an end for the shop, but at Pilgrim, they look at the whole process. “I actually care about what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m not just pumping out drinks, but I’m really learning about the craft.”

Ali’s Story
Ali started working at a big coffee shop about four years ago while in college. She always loved coffee and is a self-proclaimed caffeine addict. Since she was already interested in coffee, she figured that working as a barista would be a great way to fuel her caffeine addiction. In 2020, Alistarted working at Pilgrim Roasters and fell in love with the customer base, the culture, and the Manayunk community overall.

Ali’s Choice
Maple Cinnamon Latte: Pilgrim’s maple cinnamon latte is one of their featured winter drinks. It’s a regular latte with maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon dust. Ali prefers it with oat milk and thinks it’s the perfect drink to cozy up with. While she also really likes chai lattes, Ali overall recommends the maple cinnamon latte for the caffeine kick and espresso taste.

Kelly – Volo Coffeehouse
At Volo Coffeehouse, I had the honor of sitting down with Kelly Monahan, who described Volo as a learning atmosphere. In the traditional sense, she said there’s always a new technique to master or the challenge of making a new drink. There’s also always something new to learn about the customers and regulars day-to-day. “When I first started, it was really the people that drew me in,” she said. “But this time around, I’ve unpeeled a whole other layer about how much there is to learn about coffee.” In addition to the learning atmosphere, Kelly mentioned that the owner, Akos, is one of the best bosses she’s ever had. He goes out of his way to make Volo feel like a home to the staff and to make sure that everyone is taken care of. “I think everyone here really takes care of each other, and we love what this place has given to us,” she said. “We also really want to give that back to it.”

Kelly’s Story
Kelly Monahan started at Volo back in 2016 where she began training as a barista. She ended up moving away for some time but made her way back to Philadelphia and back to Volo. Cumulatively, she’s been with Volo for about four years.

Kelly’s Choice
Breve Pumpkin Cortado: Volo’s breve pumpkin cortado consists of espresso with a little bit of pumpkin and steamed half and half. Kelly chose this drink because it really showcases their espresso. She explained how you get the espresso you would in a latte but with less milk, so you can really taste the espresso flavor.

Barista’s Bonus
When sitting down with everyone, I asked them what they would choose if they could turn anything into a coffee drink. This is what they came up with.

Yaseen: “Home. I’m lucky enough to have my home back in Egypt, my home in PA, and my home here in Manayunk. Bottle that up and make it into a flavor.”
Dickey: You know when it’s like the end of winter, and you can smell the grass, and you’re like oh my god, it’s over? That – I would chug that year round.”
Aubrey: “Do you know that feeling of being a kid when there’s a party going on outside your door and you can hear all the noise, but you’re cozy in your bed? I’d drink that!”
Casey: “Philly. If I could put Philly into a cup, I would. I feel like it’d have both sweet and salty notes.”
Ali: “I love the smell of summer rain on hot asphalt. If I could take that scent and make it into a drink, that’d be the perfect summer thing.”
Kelly: “The flavor of the year at DaVinci Gourmet is salted egg yolk. That is not an original creation, but I am dying to try it. So, salted egg yolk.”

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