Explore Cenla – Tamp & Grind

Hello, everyone! My name is Amanda Arpin and I recently moved to the area from Washington State after my husband joined the Coast Guard. I work for Heather as a personal assistant and thought it would be fun to discuss places I’ve found after moving that can help newcomers and longtime residents alike find enjoyment around Alexandria. The first place on my list that I’m featuring in my Explore Cenla segment is the local coffee shop Tamp & Grind.

Moving from Washington State, I felt doomed to subpar coffee after being spoiled by an overabundance of drive-thru coffee shacks and family-owned neighborhood shops. I was dismayed to find myself settling for gas station coffee which, while still tasty enough and gets the job done, wasn’t the same as my extravagant drink of choice – a White Chocolate Mocha with Lavender flavored syrup. Lavender is abundant in Washington, and it wasn’t unusual to find it as an additive to tea, coffee, or alcoholic beverages in my old home. And though I recognize that my taste in drinks are a bit over-the-top, I still mourned my new lack of a shop with decent espresso. And then I found Tamp & Grind.

 

 

It came recommended by Heather herself when she passed along her high-priority places to check out after arriving to the area, and we were brought there by another Coastie that is a frequent customer. I instantly fell in love just from the aesthetics of the shop. T&G is located in downtown Alexandria and has a very quaint but modern feel to it. There are books aplenty, free to borrow or take home – with the intention of allowing you to pass them along to others and share literature. They are spacious, with two rooms full of tables and seating outside as well. Customers have shared their artwork and it is proudly displayed around the counter. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects, that I had never seen done before, were the mugs hanging from the ceiling. Customers can bring their own from home, or purchase a locally-made cup (first cup of coffee in it is free!), and leave it there to avoid using paper or plastic cups.

 

 

They offer a variety of both coffee and espresso beverages, from your staple drip coffee to the espresso variations such as lattes and macchiatos. They proudly represent Van Gogh and Reve coffee, and take pride in choosing other small businesses to represent. Different types of tea are also available, with custom additions such as hibiscus flowers and cinnamon sticks. Both can be customized with flavored syrups ranging from simple French Vanilla to Brown Sugar to sugar-free alternatives and many others in between. They also offer bottles of water and cans of soda, and some delicious snacks such as strawberry cream cheese muffins, brownies, and fruit.

 

 

My orders started off relatively tame, starting with a modest White Chocolate Mocha with no additional flavorings. My husband ordered a caramel latte, and the fellow Coastie got an iced coffee with caramel. After trying the drinks, I was pleasantly surprised. It had a bold espresso flavor but still sweet, and reminded me of home. The comfortable atmosphere, friendly customer service, and tasty drinks drew me back again and again. Then one day, I lamented to the barista about missing my lavender cafe du jour of olden times. And that’s when he told me – they have lavender syrup as well.

I promptly got another White Mocha after my first, but with lavender this time. Instantly, I was taken back to my home of rocky beaches, gardens galore, and mountain backgrounds. I was already happy to have delicious coffee, but this time, I got to have exactly what I wanted. It was indistinguishable from the drinks I would receive in what is widely considered the coffee capital of the US, the birthplace of Starbucks itself (and trust me, I’ve had Starbucks coffee brewed in the headquarters of their company), and this still knocked it out of the park.

 

 

The owner of the business, Amanda, was kind enough to meet with me to discuss her experience owning and operating T&G. She answered questions between customers, after quickly moving between drink stations, from brewed coffee to hot water for tea to the espresso machine. In between, I kept myself entertained by enjoying her choice of the radio – songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” and The Beatles “I’ve Just Seen A Face” – while sipping an Iced White Chocolate Mocha with rose this time (her suggestion, and a good one at that). When a different customer made the request for a new drink at her suggestion, she recommended a Japanese Flash Pour Over, a tasty drink with a complicated brewing process that produces a result worth the effort, explaining the entire process to me every step of the way.

 

 

Amanda began by telling the origin story of Tamp: it was opened by her late husband, Jeff Phillips, in February 2010. They met in July of that year, and married in 2012. She explained that prior to opening the shop, Jeff had been a cross-country truck driver and frequently visited coffee shops on his trips. At each one, there was a sense of culture and community, and he fell in love with the idea of opening his own when he settled in Alexandria. He loved that something so simple could bring so many people together, and after he passed, she wanted to continue that sentiment. The vision of the shop was a place where people from all walks of life could come together to enjoy coffee and community. I’ve since found out that Jeff purposefully opened it in the heart of downtown Alexandria, at a time when most businesses would not succeed long-term. Jeff took a chance on the area, determined to revitalize it, which is a belief that resonates with us at Historic House Hunt. Since then, many other restaurants and businesses have opened, and the downtown area is now a host to many different successful small businesses. The local biannual festival, River Fete and Winter Fete, are both held there, with the Indie Village located right outside of Tamp & Grind’s doors. T&G was the start of a push towards bringing a sense of community back to downtown.

Amanda also told me the story of how they pick the coffee served at Tamp. They serve Joe Van Gogh, a small company hailing from North Carolina, after a customer brought a sample to Jeff. They picked up Reve, out of Lafayette, when they wanted to add another small business option and support Louisiana businesses as well. Amanda used the Reve coffee in her Japanese Flash Pour Over while we talked, which is her favorite drink to make (while lattes are her favorite to drink). I asked Amanda what is her favorite part of owning and operating T&G, and she said, “Definitely the people. I mean it’s really fun to learn new coffee techniques and ways to brew, and learning all about coffee, because I love it! But it’s definitely the people. We have great customers, and it’s awesome to get to meet everybody that comes into the shop, as well as all of our regulars.” And you can tell that she genuinely loves it by the way she gets the biggest smile on her face whenever anyone – familiar or not – walks through the door.

 

 

And Jeff and Amanda’s vision has been successful – not only has it inspired economic growth in the area, but it’s become the heart of the community. It is common to see people sitting at their tables outside and reading or talking with friends. The baristas are friendly and will remember your order and preferences, and can suggest new things you would like. It’s a shared space that you can go to meet new people, rendezvous with old friends, or to work quietly in a corner. Jeff and Amanda created a place for all to call a second home, and I am glad to consider it one myself. I am personally grateful to see the friendly faces behind the counter multiple times a week (and occasionally, multiple times a day!) and I hope to see yours there one day, too!

 

 

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