The votes are in and according to recent poll, Cranford Patch readers overwhelmingly agree that in downtown Cranford brews the best cup of joe in the township.
Seventy-two percent of voters who participated in cast votes for Rockn' Joe. The shop earned 114 votes in all.
For 19 years, coffee fans have visited the Eastman Street cafe for their morning brew, an afternoon pick-me-up or a warm beverage to sip on chilly evenings. Owner Kevin Brennan opened the first Rockn' Joe in Cranford in 1993. There are now franchises in Westfield, Union, Point Pleasant and one in Millburn that will re-open under a new franchise owner later this month.
Brennan was working as the manager of a large supermarket when he decided he wanted a change. He wanted to do something that would allow him to be his own boss and didn't involve a lot of capital. It was the late 1980s and he was on the West Coast, where the whole "coffee craze" started, with places like Starbuck's.
"I thought to myself, 'I can do this,'" Brennan said.
So, in 1993, he opened his first coffeehouse in Cranford. The coffeehouse serves up roughly 400 cups of java and other beverages per day, from cappuccino to frothy, flavored lattes, chai tea, iced teas and fair trade coffee that's a favorite among regulars at the shop.
Brannan said one his favorite parts of the job is meeting new people every day. Every day is different, he said, ading that there is a positive energy to the job. Even though he's been in the business for nearly two decades, Brennan said he still has a passion for it, and he strives to make every day better than the last. He also takes step to continue improving his already popular coffee and the skills used by his employees. Cafe Manager Patrice Donnellon, a 5-year employee of Rockn's Joe is excited about the upcoming trip to CoffeeFest - a coffee-related expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center - next week.
The smiling, friendly barista - like the other employees in the shop - gets to know the regular customers on a first-name basis. She's one of a few employees who can decorate the foamy top of a latte and make it look like a work of art.
Brennan said he is especially proud to be part of the "One Harvest Project" in which coffee buyers have relationships diretly with the farmers who grow the coffee beans. The project not only encompasses the purchase of the beans, but assistance for the farmers with education and medical expenses. In the end, the farmers are paid based on their finacial situation, Brennan said.
"It changed the whole dynamic of coffee," Brennan added.
And speaking of coffee, Brennan said some of the keys to brewing a good cup of coffee involve quality control. The beans are roasted just a few days before they arrive at Rockn' Joe's. They're ground right in the shop. In addition, Brennan said they have a very high quality water filtration system. they check the quality and mineral content of the water several times a day.
"There's a lot of things that go into making coffee," Brennan said.
Among the signature specialties at Rockn' Joe are the milky way cappuccino, the Van Halen latte (vanilla and hazelnut) and the Caramel XTC. The shop also makes sandwiches, soups, salads, quiche and has a variety of breakfast items, cakes and pastries as well.
But Brennan's work goes beyong making coffee. The owner and his crew also participate in numerous charitable events both in town and elsewhere. Brennan, a marathon runner who recently competed in the ING NYC Marathon, has hosted meetings for Team in Training - a group of runners gearing up to run the Rock-n-Roll Marathon in San Diego this summer. The run will raise money to help fight cancer.