STORY BY BECKY MUTH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH TRIGGS
A lot of places serve coffee, but Mad Monks Coffee Shop is the only place in the area where you’ll find a menu of coffee blends based on flavor complemented by artisan monastic breads and other delicious baked goods.
Mad Monks Coffee Shop is the brainchild of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a monastery affiliated with the Catholic church. The monastery itself is located a couple of blocks away on South George Street at the former site of the Catholic church in Charles Town, West Virginia.
Father Daniel, Father Alban, and Father John are non-cloistered Augustinians, which means they follow the Rule of Saint Augustine. The monks lead a semimonastic life committed to pastoral care.
The Fathers dedicate much of their day to prayer, which takes place early in the morning, during the evening, at night, and sometimes also at noontime, and mass during which they use Latin, incense, and Gregorian chants. Beyond that, as long as the primary parts of their day are spent inside the monastery together, they dedicate their time to helping the community with things like teaching, confessions, and spiritual direction.
The monks have been together for a number of years, serving in Wisconsin and then St. Louis, Missouri before moving to Charles Town in the spring of 2010.
Father John started baking bread about ten years ago, a few years before they arrived in the area. When the retail space at 109 West Washington Street in Charles Town became available, the monastery had the idea to make the bread widely available to the public.
When friends outside the monastery expressed a desire to help, the monks decided to go forward with their plans and rented the space. Before opening, they performed an assessment of the inside of the building to know what renovations were required and then the transformation began.
If you visited the restaurant or former coffee shop located here in the past, you’ll note that the walls now have a fresh coat of paint. The sunny yellow brightens the interior of the shop and adds to the relaxing, peaceful atmosphere.
Kitchen renovations included the addition of two pizza ovens for baking the four types of breads and assorted variety of desserts including fresh scones, chocolate chip cookies, and biscotti. Every Monday they kick off the week with fresh cinnamon rolls.
The light breakfast menu, served until 11am, includes egg soufflés with bacon and onion or vegetables, served either as a soufflé or made into a sandwich, and Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola.
Lunch is served from 11am until close and offers chicken curry salad, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with roasted peppers, or apple and brie open-faced sandwiches on Mad Monks’ bread, with bacon available at a slight upcharge.
The next major investment came in the form of an espresso machine, which they obtained from Red Rooster Coffee in Floyd, Virginia. Red Rooster Coffee is a small business with a social conscience, purchasing from sources such as Rainforest Alliance, Smithsonian Bird Friendly, and Cup of Excellence coffees. Shipping to Mad Monks Coffee Shop is about as far north as the Southern Virginia business ships their products.
In addition to Red Rooster brand, Mad Monks Coffee Shop also serves the hometown favorite – Black Dog Coffee. They agree with the philosophy stated on Black Dog’s website: The secret to great coffee isn’t in a big brand name, fancy labels or the word “gourmet.” The secret is in the bean!
The Mad Monks Coffee Shop staff orders and tastes each blend of coffee themselves so they know what to recommend to their customers. If they don’t like a flavor, then you won’t find it on their menu.
During the shop’s grand opening in September of this year, the staff offered customers Red Rooster tastings so they could learn what coffee tastes like without milk and sugar. The goal of the tasting was to help people enjoy good coffee and appreciate the different flavors that are often masked by the added ingredients.
Father Alban explains that the bread is easier to sell because people can tell the difference between a cheap loaf and higher quality artisan products. Coffee is more of a challenge because so many people value caffeine content over the flavor.
With cooler temperatures ahead, Mad Monks Coffee Shop is already preparing to adjust their menu and anticipates raising the total number of menu items overall. Additions through the colder weather months months include sausage kale soup, split pea soup, a hummus cucumber sandwich, cranberry and orange peel scones, and varieties of hot chocolate.
These items will be a welcome addition not only for daily customers, but also for those who pop in during special events like the Charles Town Christmas Parade in early December.
Although the shop will sometimes remain open late for special events, their regular hours are 8am to 3pm Monday through Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturday. The business is closed on Sunday.
The shop closes early so the monks can keep up with their strict prayer schedule. It takes them about an hour to wrap up their daily business after the shop closes, allowing them little time to waste as they have Mass at 4pm followed by evening prayer.
From the devoted staff to the limited menu, the small scale is intentional. Father Alban explains that they want the business to succeed, and keeping things small allows them to interact with the community with love and care. Every staffer works practically every day. If the shop opened earlier or later, the business would require more employees. Although they may explore this option in the future, Father Alban affirms that right now they want to move slowly and carefully to avoid exhausting themselves or burning out.
Right now the Fathers are such an integral part of what happens. Even if they expand and hire more employees in the future, Father Alban assures that they will always have a hand in the business.
The current plan is to stay a coffee shop and focus on the coffee and espresso, but maintain a smaller menu that customers enjoy. During my afternoon visit to Mad Monks Coffee Shop, although it was after the lunch rush, a steady stream of customers continued to wander into the establishment to order both hot and cold coffee drinks, bread, and dessert items. There were plenty of comments made, all of which were positive in nature.
If you have a comment, please let them know – either in person at the shop or on their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Mad-Monks-Coffee- Shop-443099579221976/). The staff places great importance on customer feedback and is sincerely interested in hearing what you have to say. The Facebook page is also the best place to learn other information about the shop including upcoming events and what bread they bake at the shop each day.
Learn more about Mad Monks Coffee Shop by visiting their website (madmonkscoffeeshop.com) or heading directly to 109 West Washington Street in Charles Town, West Virginia where you can experience the diverse coffee flavors and artisan edibles firsthand.