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Coffee Critic

Vermont cafes one "cuppa" at a time

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Don't know where to grab your next cuppa joe? Christine Graham has the buzz on the best stuff. Since last November, Graham and web designer Cathy Frank have collaborated on the Coffee Stops Vermont website at http://www.coffeestopsvermont.com. On the site, which attracted 600 unique visitors in the first month, Graham scores cafés on the "cuppa rating system." Joints that get just one cup are "only for caffeine desperation." The ones that get five are "out of this world." She judges mainly on "the atmosphere and the quality of the coffee," Graham says. "The quality of the food comes next."

Graham is a consultant for nonprofits, and mainly helps out with fundraising efforts. Her job frequently keeps her on the road 16 hours a day, driving all over Vermont and bordering areas of New York and New Hampshire. "I have a lot of time to think," she points out. "One of the things that's really interesting is how many people live their lives like this."

When Graham gets the chance to take a break at a café, it's "a moment of sanity, not just a cup of coffee." For her, coffee shops represent "the impossible dream of spiritual renewal at a very small price." By rating the establishments she's visited, she can give other "road warriors" the benefit of her experience. She even organizes the java joints by region or by route - whether you're driving down Rt. 22A or I-89, Graham's been there.

So far, she's evaluated more than 50 different businesses. Five-star stand-outs so far include Mirabelles, Muddy Waters and Speeder & Earl's in Burlington; Carol's Hungry Mind Café in Middlebury; Village Wine and Coffee in Shelburne; Almost Home in Bristol; and, in Montpelier, the Langdon Street Café.

Does she visit more than once before making a java judgment? "Most of these places I've been to many times," Graham explains. But "If I go and everything falls into place, I might review it on one stop." Is it possible to be objective? "I tend to like really dark coffee, espresso and French roasts," says Graham, "I'm biased on behalf of strong coffee." Consider yourself warmed, er, warned.

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