Aromas serves world class cup of coffee

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CHARLES CITY, Iowa — Bryan and Cara Elsbury not only serve a world class cup of coffee at their Aromas Coffee Bar, they also roast the coffee for their business and a number of other northeast Iowa coffee bars.

"By roasting our own coffee, we can serve the freshest coffee, and we also eliminate the middleman," Bryan said. "Coffee is best two to three days after roasting, and it starts to deteriorate after that."

Bryan grew up in Seattle, but his parents are from Mason City. His middle brother came to Mason City to start a restaurant, followed by his oldest brother who started Jitters Coffee Bar. Bryan came to Iowa to help at Jitters. He met and married Cara, and they struck out on their own opening Aromas in Charles City in 2005.

Bryan and Cara dispense a lot of education with their cups of coffee.

"I think an educated consumer is a better consumer," Bryan said. "Many people have spent their lives drinking stale, bad-tasting coffee. They don’t know what good coffee tastes like."


Coffee preferences are somewhat subjective with coffee from each region of the world offering different characteristics. Indonesian coffee is earthy. Latin American coffee is round in flavor. Africa, the birth place of coffee, offers a bold floral flavor.

"Some people want to know everything we can tell them about coffee," Bryan said. "Others just want coffee, but they recognize that our coffee has a better flavor than any where else. They pay us to come up with the best coffee for them."

The Elsburys enjoy creating special blends that customers buy and take home. They ship their roasted coffee to just about every state.

"Someone coming through town finds us, and they take along a pound of coffee, share it with a friend who realizes it’s really good coffee, and it blossoms," Bryan said. "We have snowbirds who take our coffee to Florida, and they share it with friends."

Aromas sells a variety of coffee drinks — lattes, cappuccinos, frappes and regular-brewed coffee. They also have smoothies, tea, chai, hot chocolate and steamers in a variety of flavors. They bake scones and biscotti for customers to enjoy.

Bryan is known to convince customers to quit adding cream to their coffee.

"People originally added cream to mask the taste of bad coffee," Bryan said. "Adding cream to good coffee spoils the distinct flavors."

The Elsburys buy coffee from Cafe Imports, a St. Paul coffee broker. The coffee arrives in 150-pound burlap bags from around the world. The beans are hand picked and sorted. Before roasting, beans are green.


On a recent morning, Aromas’ customers ranged from toddlers to senior citizens. A long rectangular table of men sat below a historical timeline of coffee painted on the wall. A group of women sat around a table in the next room under a world map showing the countries where Aromas’ coffee originates. Moms with toddlers congregated around the couches. Customers’ artwork hangs on the wall throughout the coffee bar.

"We’ve had people meet here and then get married, and people looking for jobs have found them here," Bryan said. "This is a great place to network. Sometimes we’re like bar tenders. What I like is that we get to share conversations with some really cool people."

The Elsburys said that if anyone is unhappy with a beverage, they’ll be happy to either make them another or change it to please them.

"If you don’t like it, say something," Bryan said.

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