When I walk into Green Engine, a coffee shop that also happens to be the closest food-and-drink establishment to campus, the first thing I notice is the smell: an arrangement of coffee aromas so deep that it could have only been forged over years of coffee-making.
“When you make coffee in a building for years, like all day every day, it develops like a patina,” Green Engine owner Zachary Morris says.
Morris, who previously worked in the wine industry, was attracted to coffee less because of the taste of the drink and more because of the smell. “Aroma forms indelible sensory memories,” Morris says.
Whereas taste is divided into five neat categories—salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami—each invoking a rational response from your brain, smell is less logical; they are often stored in our memories and cause emotional responses.
“Smell is entirely emotional. I love that,” Morris says.
After selling a business “totally unrelated to food and beverage hospitality” in 2015, Morris brought his self-proclaimed “obsession with aroma” to the forefront with Green Engine, which opened the same year.
“A coffee shop was a way to sort of open up my thoughts about what a food and beverage retail business should be to the public and test it out in, to me, what is a really lovely small town that is Haverford,” Morris says.
Another reason for opening Green Engine was that Morris, who studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, saw a connection between his studies—where he learned that things that seem simple are often more complex than we know—and the experience of owning a coffee shop.
“If you take a cup of coffee, there’s the agro-economy behind it, there’s the culture of people that produce and grow it, there’s the culture of people that consume it,” Morris said. “Money, society, it’s just like the whole thing is much more complex once you dig beneath the surface, and, I really, I dig that.”
Once he started Green Engine, Morris believed it was important to treat his employees right—to pay them a livable wage, not to micromanage, and to practice what he calls “humanism.”
“A humanist believes in people to do the right thing,” Morris says. “I really do believe that people are good, so when I meet a new person, I’m curious about them and the good they can do, the good relationship we can have.”
This belief in humanity, in the good that we can all achieve, is somehow palpable in Green Engine. One feels that the employees really want to be there.
And that’s because they do.
“It’s one of the few jobs I have had that let me grow as an employee,” says Blake Melvin, who has worked at Green Engine since the store opened six years ago. “It just wasn’t like, ‘Alright, here, you come and work through this, here is your cash.’”
Morris cares about his employees as humans. I told him that I interviewed a barista, Blake Melvin, and Morris replied, “Blake’s like a family member to me at this point. He knows my children, he’s welcome in my life for as long as he wants to stay. He’s a great guy.”
It was not only surprising to hear that, but also heartwarming. Indeed, the word “heartwarming” may embody Green Engine best. At Green Engine, one is at home with a community.
History teacher Mr. Brian Long—who extols the virtues of the “exquisite” cinnamon brioche at Green Engine and says he’s Green Engine’s number-one fan—says that part of the coffee shop’s greatness comes from “friendly staff that knows your name.” He added, “One of the guys in there gave me a Christmas card when I went in there. When he [stopped working there], he gave me another card.”
So it was an easy decision for Mr. Long to support Green Engine when the pandemic hit, forcing the café to close for two and a half months.
“When they did reopen, we went almost every day, initially, to just help them get some business,” Mr. Long said. “We were buying anything; my wife’s got a Green Engine Coffee sweatshirt now.”
Business like Mr. Long’s has certainly helped the shop, which had to furlough its employees during the first phase of the pandemic. As they rebounded, Morris decided not to go after “ancillary means of revenue,” opting instead to stick with what they knew.
“Just do it, and do it on a smaller scale” was Morris’s business model coming back from the pandemic. To this day, Green Engine continues to have shorter hours and does not offer indoor dining. “I want more people to be vaccinated,” Morris says. “What if my building becomes a place, you know, that spreads COVID? I don’t want that.”
But no matter the shortened hours, Green Engine is surviving through the pandemic. The café will continue to nourish the Haverford community and, hopefully, bring us closer together as people.
Eating and drinking are “designed to sort of put us at ease, even with strangers,” Morris says. “Break bread together. I think every language has a version of that—we’ll break bread together—right? A form of humanism.”