SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Coffee is (some) critics' best friend. So here for the American Theater Critics Association's annual conference, I sought out the best. There are three sources of espresso in the compact, colorful shopping district.
Turning off Duke Street/Route 480 and heading east on German Street, the main drag, you come first to Mellow Moods Cafe & Juice Bar (119 W. German St.) on the left, which also offers a good range of sandwiches. In the collegial mood you'd expect in a small college town, both the serious coffee shops conceded I should visit Mellow, saying, "Well, sure, they have a new espresso machine." The nice guy behind the counter said yes, he does know how to use it. And he did.
Farther east, just off German Street, sits Hypnocoffee (104 S. King St.), which roasts its own beans and takes its coffee very, very seriously. No food mars its focus. You select from the large bean stock, and your cup of coffee is ground and brewed by hand. Even the syrups are made in-house. I opted for a big mug of filter coffee, so the dedicated barista could show me the whole process. Who knew there was such a science? It wasn't espresso, but it was a very good cup of coffee.
Then, farther along German, across from the Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant, is mecca: the Lost Dog (134 E. German St.), a coffee/tea shop/art gallery that's a throwback to the '60s (take a look at www.lostdogcoffee.com). You can spot it by the counterculture kids hanging around out front. For food, there's just baked goods, but the teas go on forever, and the espresso variations include my favorite anywhere, the Vanilla Wet Dog. It layers vanilla syrup, heavy cream, seltzer, lots of ice and two or more shots of espresso. The seltzer gives it sizzle. Heavenly!