The Norfolk Coffee and Tea Co. is a thriving 98-year-old business. Owners Chris G. Stephanitsis and his brother Nick are the third generation in the coffee business.
Grandfather Frank, an immigrant from the Ionian island of Kefallonia, opened Liberty Coffee in 1918, naming it in the full fervor of patriotism that swept the country during World War I.
Frank’s son Jerry took over the business in the 1950s and changed the name to its current incarnation, moving the location as well from Church Street to 18th Street just off Monticello Avenue in Norfolk, VA, where it remains to this day.
Chris, along with his brother, began working for their father at age 12, and the roasting, blending, and packaging of the coffee have remained the same for years.
Even most of the equipment is 100 years old, though some newer high-tech equipment has been added in recent years. Norfolk Coffee and Tea Co. supplies ground and packaged coffee to restaurants and coffee shops in the Norfolk area and across the country and the globe via their website.
In the shop and online, coffee enthusiasts can choose from gourmet coffee, blends, single origin coffee, flavored options, and even single serve K-style cups for use with single serve coffee makers.
They also offer Uncle Pete’s blend, specially blended for Peter Drecker, Jr of the Norfolk-based Decker Lawfirm. A portion of the purchase price of this particular blend is donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Little has changed since the early days of this family business. Grandfather Frank would easily recognize it, except for the single serving K-style cups. The dedication to high quality coffee is paramount and Stephanitsis’ expertise is impressive.
He explained, “Each coffee has its own characteristic. You’ve got the Brazilian coffee that has the nuttiness. You’ve got the African coffees that are bolder. You’ve got Colombian coffees that are very smooth.”
There are many elements to making a great cup of coffee. Stephanitsis noted, “You gotta buy the Arabica beans. You gotta buy the best beans available on the market.” Though higher priced, the coffee beans will yield a better cup of coffee.
Next, “the roast has to be perfect.” The color and sound of the beans tells the experienced staff when the roasting is done as different beans require different roasting times. The grind is the next element that will affect the quality of your morning cup of coffee which ultimately depends on what type of coffee maker you use.”
A coarse grind works for French press and percolator coffee makers, and a finer grind for the more common drip coffee makers.
After the roasting and grinding, storage is also important. Coffee should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, never in the refrigerator.
As Stephanitsis pointed out, the moisture in the refrigerator will affect the taste.
The company also sells loose tea from a variety of countries, including England, India, Russia, China, and Japan. Roasted Suffolk peanuts and other nuts are available in the shop as well.
Among the famous faces whose photos line the wall behind Stephanitsis’ desk, President Barack Obama and country singer Kenny Rogers have both enjoyed the coffee, while President Jimmy Carter enjoyed the Norfolk Co.’s peanuts.
Though Stephanitsis’ own children have followed their own career paths, in banking and education, he would like to continue the family business for as long as possible, much like his own father who continued working into his 90s. More information about the Norfolk Coffee and Tea Co. is available on their website.