Tucked among the quaint, hip shops along Northwood Village’s main drag, Northwood Road, sits a gathering point seemingly designed for the laid-back historic neighborhood. Harold’s Coffee Lounge is part coffee house, part art house, part clubhouse for those who enjoy a great cup of coffee, conversation and a dash of the counter culture.
The neighborhood coffee shop opened in 2010, settling into a narrow space on the southside of Northwood Road, but soon grew too big for its britches, moving across the street to its 509 location. At first take, the air and look of Harold’s seems at odds with what much of downtown West Palm has become: Inviting and open, the small courtyard and bohemian vibe is more reminiscent of an Italian or Parisian café, where diners congregate along the sidewalk, sipping on cappuccinos and snacking on a pastry. Harold’s is independent through and through, from the art on the walls and clientele who flock to its counters to the coffee it sells and the process in which its brewed.
The coffee at Harold’s takes an oenophile approach to sourcing, roasting and tasting. All the coffee beans used are fair trade and of single origin (unlike common roasts that are composed of a variety of beans from parts all over) and roasted primarily by Intelligentsia Coffee. This all may seem trivial, or the cares of the truly dedicated "cuppers," but the direct trade practices of Intelligentsia go well beyond the cup in hand. The criterion each grower must meet is stringent and unyielding: The quality of the coffee must be exceptional; the grower must use environmentally sound practices; the grower receives a fair price and is committed to sustainable social practices; and an Intelligentsia representative will visit the farm at least once a year to confirm these points. All this adds a little to the cost of the coffee, but the extra dollar per cup is worth knowing the beans were not picked by slave labor, the way they were grown did not poison a local village’s drinking water and the grower—not the supplier—got a fair wage for the backbreaking work.
This dedication to sourcing is reflected in the carefully selected roasts offered at Harold’s. Two house options are available: the Black Cat Project and El Diablo. Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Project began in 1995 in the pursuit of the perfect espresso roast. This has taken the roaster across the world, hand selecting specific farms and locales for the beans to make the ideal blend. Harold’s subscribes to the organic blend, rooted in the coastal Mexican state of Oaxaca, where rugged terrain and relatively high elevation makes for varied climate changes perfect of growing coffee beans. The result is a full-bodied, dark, chocolaty roast perfect for espresso-based drinks. El Diablo is made up of a seasonal selection of beans roasted dark to bring out the rich, fruity caramel flavor of the beans. For added variety, Harold’s also carries a rotating menu of four additional roasts, which changes every few weeks depending on harvest and season, making for a constant evolving and revolving menu that highlights some of the world’s great coffee producing regions. On any given visit, roasts from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Colombia and Honduras, to name but a few, may be on the menu, each bringing a distinct and varied palate to the cup.
But all is for not if the brewing process flaws the cup. The espressos, freshly pulled from a dazzling La Marzocco GB5 machine. are some of the best in town—the cappuccino is meant to be savored, while Five Hour Energy has nothing on Harold’s double-shot. But the iced coffee is the true force of Harold’s this summer, especially because the heat index has routinely hit triple digits these past few weeks. Unlike most bean houses, where a cup of lukewarm coffee is topped with ice, Harold’s cold-steeped ice drip Kyoto brewing process (right) uses some rather funky-looking devices mounted to the wall in a process that takes more than 14 hours to complete. As each drip purposefully and painstakingly works its way through the coarse grounds and down the spiraling tube to the carafe, the acidic bitterness dissipates for a smooth, chuggable cup. And for the bean-hater, Harold’s also brews tea in the same contraptions, though at a quicker, six-hour pace.
Specialty drinks abound for those who like to jazz their drink up, while specialty spices and sauces made in-house are available too—although Harold’s coffees and teas stand on their own. For those looking for a bite, a selection from Lantana’s Pamela’s Pies and West Palm’s Anna’s Italian Biscotti are not to be overlooked, while all pastries and muffins are baked in-house daily.
But one of the real charms of Harold’s has nothing to do with the drinks served but the community-gathering place it has created. At any given hour, the place has a steady stream of regulars working on laptops, reading or simply conversing, while daily events dot the calendar. Monthly favorites like Lyrical Ink (every third Friday), Poetry Slams (every third Saturday), Wednesday’s movie night and Thursday’s drum circle will continue throughout the summer, while a few new adds will keep the calendar full. In July, yoga fans can throw coffee into the mix every Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. when Somatomik yogi Rassika leads open classes with the request of a donation. On July 12, Harold’s debuts its newest solo art exhibit with local artist JaFleu in an opening reception that will include performances by Blaine, Durell, Celo J’Adore and DJ Da Nurse from 6-10 p.m.