Tucked away below sidewalk level, there’s a real sense of warmth when you enter Cool Beans Coffee and Tea.
Between the soft lights, the music and the welcoming smiles, the shop is the type of place you want to settle down for the day in.
As owner Wendy Fultz says, “It’s the best place to go in Bellefonte. It’s the place where we want everyone to feel comfortable. We want it to feel like your living room or kitchen.”
Fultz said she opened the shop six years ago after deciding she wanted to open her own business. After working for Penn State for 19 years, including a lengthy stint as an administrative assistant for the department of anthropology, she earned a marketing degree and set out on her own.
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She didn’t know she wanted to open a coffee shop at first, she said, but she did know she wanted to be a part of a community, to give the community a place to come together.
She said Cool Beans does exactly that, even if it is just a cup of coffee and a muffin, it’s a way of starting your day off right.
Throughout the day, the shop sees quite a cross-section of daily life, she said. Graduate students, young professionals, court workers, people who work from home — all looking for a hot drink, some food or simply a change in scenery.
For regular customers, Fultz says, employees know who they are and what their favorites are. Their drinks are ready often before they even walk in.
“That’s what sets us apart from the bigger stores like Starbucks and Sheetz,” she said. “We give that extra personal touch.”
The personal touch can range from composing a unique drink request to a simple gesture like small candies to the side of a drink. Each holiday features its own candy. In February, they are candy hearts; candy canes in December.
Drinks range from simple coffee (light to dark roasts) to tea to cappuccino to a dozen specialty lattes. Fultz even strives to express the shop’s unique sensibilities through the drinks.
“I mean, you don’t normally find a peanut butter cup latte or a Mounds latte,” she said.
Cool Beans also features the best pumpkin spice around, she said. A unique combination of ingredients, it’s definitely different from any other pumpkin spice to be found. And it’s served year-round.
Choices don’t end at the menu. They can handle any request, she said. “If you don’t see it on the menu or you think of something, let us know.”
The coffee is all local, she said, including one fair-trade option. She is working on adding another two or three fair trades in the coming months.
The shop goes beyond teas and lattes, though, with a menu of muffins, cookies and sandwiches. All are homemade, she said, with only fresh ingredients.
Everything is baked or prepared at the shop, she said, from the bread on the sandwiches to the blueberry muffins.
Sandwiches are kept simple, she said, and offer most things a customer would find in a diner: from an egg sandwich or a bagel with cream cheese to a BLT or grilled cheese. The shop offers several different breads, including homemade white and focaccia breads.
“We’re not trying to be fancy,” she said. “Anyone can go and make a sandwich or muffin, but it’s a treat when you get to come in and have someone make it for you.”
Cool Beans’ baked goods are outstanding, she said, but the shop has really come to be known for its oatmeal bake: a mixture of oatmeal and nuts or fruit baked into a crumbly treat.
Shortly after the shop opened, she said, a lawyer from Harrisburg came in because he enjoyed small coffee shops. He told Fultz about the baked treat, inspiring her to craft it herself.
He then returned every day during the week he was spending in Bellefonte to critique her oatmeal bake, she said, until she had reached the perfect mix.
“I’ve given out a lot of recipes,” she said, “but I’m not giving that one out.”
Although the shop offers several cookie varieties, one cookie is always flourless, she said. While technically not gluten-free, she said, she is glad she’s able to give that option.
The shop even offers “comfort foods” on off weeks, she said — like mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and beef stew.
The full menu of drinks, food and specials can be found on Cool Beans’ website.
“If you’re going to come in here and spend your time and spend your money,” Fultz said, “we want to make it a good experience for you, not just give you coffee.”