Siphon Brewing Is the Way to a Perfect Cup at St. Albans' Catalyst Coffee Bar | 7 Nights Spotlight | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Siphon Brewing Is the Way to a Perfect Cup at St. Albans' Catalyst Coffee Bar 

click to enlarge Owner Karen Scheffler - BRENT HARREWYN
  • Brent Harrewyn
  • Owner Karen Scheffler

Twenty-two minutes south of the Canadian border, St. Albans is known for its long-running maple festival, its sizable dairy cooperative and as the former home of the largest railway in New England. The city is more cowsmopolitan than cosmopolitan. But walk into Catalyst Coffee Bar, and you might think you've stumbled across the international line and into a hip Montréal café.

Lining one exposed-brick wall are intimate seating nooks — some with soft, comfy chairs; others with tables and plugs for the laptop crowd. On the other end of the technological spectrum, an old typewriter invites aspiring writers to click and clack away on its keys, channeling Hemingway.

Location Details Catalyst Coffee Bar
22 N. Main St.
Champlain Islands/Northwest
St. Albans, VT
open 7 days

The counter area, however, is more like a science lab. At Catalyst, the preferred brewing method is by siphon. In a feat of physics, vacuum pressure sucks simmering water up through the grounds before it drips back down and into a carafe. The time-consuming technique was popular in the mid-20th century before falling out of favor. These days, many coffee aficionados believe it's the way to a perfect cup. In keeping with the laboratory look, the café stores milk and cream in beakers, and cinnamon, cocoa powder and maple sugar in test tubes.

click to enlarge Catalyst Coffee Bar - BRENT HARREWYN
  • Brent Harrewyn
  • Catalyst Coffee Bar

There are culinary concoctions, too, from Red House Sweets. The bakery shares the space, turning out everything from Tuscan breads — savory dough wrapped around sun-dried tomatoes, greens and cheese — to cinnamon-maple buns and gooey Napoleons. In true French tradition, the latter layers custard with crisp pastry and is topped with a slick of icing.

These dressed-up sweets are a satisfying counterpoint to the simple, siphon-made sips. Unlike some modern coffee shops, Catalyst is more focused on brewing a great cup than on offering bells and whistles. So enjoy a cappuccino with a luxurious layer of crema, but don't expect a full array of flavored sweeteners here.

While you can't get a hazelnut-laced coffee, who would want to? When you're in the "maple capital of the world," there's only one syrup worth having.

This article was originally published in 7 Nights: The Seven Days Guide to Vermont Restaurants & Bars in April 2018.

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About The Author

Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Former contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the first Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a... more


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