"With enough caffeine anything is possible" reads the sign that greets customers entering Klekolo World Coffee. The small café with maximum occupancy of 35 is tucked underneath the parking structure on Court Street in Middletown, Conn.
Klekolo got its start 18 years ago when Hollie Rose, a.k.a. Java Goddess, the first owner, came back to town in 1994. She and Yvette Elliott, known as Coffee Diva, the new owner, were best friends from high school who traveled across the country upon graduation until they ended up in different states in the northwest. Hollie returned first with an appetite and love for the bean that sent her scouring the area for a good mocha latte. Unable to find one, she decided to open her own coffee shop and called Yvette to ask her to help run the business.
Hollie settled on the Minyanka word, klekolo (clay-ko-lo), which means "a system of rules to live by for peace and harmony" because she wanted to create a place where anyone could come for a cup of coffee and would be treated the same way. As Yvette recalls, the aim really was also to expose town folk to coffee from all over the world at an affordable price.
At any point in the day, one can find a variety of pastries from Fusion and Little Imagination Cakes. For the more health conscious, there are always fruits from the Middlesex Fruitery dubbed the fruit museum by Hartford Courant cartoonist Bob Englehardt. Klekolo does its best to minimize their carbon footprint when it comes to baked goods.
Conscious of the impact of climate change on coffee production and consumption, they buy from several roasters that emphasize organic fair trade such as Royal Blue Organics, an Oregon based family-owned business that has worked with farmers in Chiapas since the 1960s. Klekolo's aim is to keep offering as wide a range in world coffee from Ethiopia to Thailand where the pony (a robusta bean with higher caffeine) originates.
If you hang around there long enough or come at different times of the day, you'll notice the eclectic blend of personalities that fraternize the place. Indeed, everyone goes there: professionals from the hospital, court house, police officers, firefighters, retirees, professors, artists, veterans and local homeless run through to get their cup of joe or stick around to engage in discussions of current events or a game of chess in a relaxed atmosphere.
The baristas, all part-timers, have other jobs. Rick has been there the longest. He is employed full time in shipping and is also a DJ at WESU. He will school you on doo-wop groups on Saturday mornings. Val is always ready to remind you that their cappuccinos are traditional, there's no milk but espresso topped with foam. Bryan teaches B-boying in the after school program at the Green Street Arts Center and Vinnie's Jump and Jive a dance hall for all ages. Mike is also an instructor at Adaptive Movement Parkour, Connecticut's first parkour and freerunning gym that shares its space with Crossfit Religion. Crossfit enthusiasts will either entice or deter you from confronting the wod (workout of the day). The night shift is covered mostly by former workers. It's not uncommon to find any of them behind the counter on their off hours. For many, Klekolo functions as a second home where there are constants: great affordable coffee (they have only raised their prices twice since they opened), good people and conversations.
Klekolo features the work of local visual artists monthly. They showcase live music on Tuesdays and open mic poetry on Wednesdays. Their latest program is a Stitch n' Bitch gathering on Mondays. Vicky, a regular when she was in high school, recently moved back to the area with a passion for knitting. She wanted to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. When she approached the Coffee Diva with the idea, Yvette was thrilled as she remains committed to creating opportunities to continue the tradition of coffee houses as penny universities. With such intent, it's no wonder Klekolo is so community oriented.
I am an early morning regular who needs a shot or two of espresso before my workout. It's two blocks from Wesleyan University where I teach and one block away from Main Street, a perfect distance between work and town especially when I need a reality check.
When I asked Yvette what keeps customers and even former workers coming back to Klekolo, she was quick to answer, "Once you have had good coffee and you know what it is supposed to taste like, it spoils you to get coffee anywhere else."
Indeed, what binds us all is a common and deep love for the bean.