Espresso Way

I ts name suggests a need for speed, but if Fuel Coffee Shop were a caffeine buzz, it’d be the slow and steady kind, mild and resilient, getting the job done with restraint but conviction.

It’s a cool and collected place, and so is its owner, Courtney Ciesla (pictured first and third). Ciesla founded Fuel to give Wooster Square’s residents a much-needed caffeine buzz of their own. Living in the area and “frustrated by the lack of coffee in the neighborhood,” especially during mornings, she pounced when a commercial property opened up at the corner of Chapel and Chestnut Streets, where Fuel still resides.

Almost nine years later—Fuel’s birthday is coming up on December 17, with an anniversary party planned for early January—the shop’s atmosphere tends to be calm and relaxed even when there’s little to no vacancy. To one side of a short, railed entry ramp is a velvety green plush couch you can really sink into, with an oval table before it. On the other side is a butcher-block table and thick boxy benches with room for four, maybe six. A handful of two-seater tables, favored by the individuals who come here to do their school- or professional work, extends down that wall, opposite the main counter.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
One way Fuel shows restraint is through its prices. Very reasonable ones. The most expensive ‘large’ on the coffee menu is $4.05, with a large cup of house brew running just $2.45. The priciest food item, meanwhile, is $6.95.

As for conviction, Fuel purchases all of its coffee beans at a fair-trade price (or higher); much of the menu is organic; and all the food is vegetarian or vegan, from an Egg Wrap to a Tofu Scramble Wrap (“it’s got its own little following;” pictured fourth) to a Pesto-Encrusted Grilled Cheese sandwich to a vegetarian BLT, most veganize-able. That last one features cutlets of smoky tempeh for the “bacon,” layers of spinach for the lettuce and a generous amount of tomato, set between thin slices of nutty, seedy bread slathered with a pleasantly tangy mayo. It’s light and refreshing but also savory, like a BLT should be.

Even so, Ciesla identifies the Egg Wrap, coming with cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato and salsa, as the most popular item on the menu—“On a Saturday, there will just be a line full of Egg Wrap orders.”—and is particularly proud of another staple among the shop’s breakfast-and-lunch options: its bagels. They’re shipped in daily from Queens, NY, after being “baked that morning,” she says.

sponsored by

Buon Natale at Knights of Columbus Museum

But we mustn’t forget the coffee. Ciesla characterizes the shop as “espresso-focused,” and that covers a lot of ground—house blends, shots of straight-up espresso, macchiatos, mochas, Americanos, lattes, au laits, seasonal specials. Among other things, it means “we put a lot of care into training our baristas, making sure everybody knows how to brew great espresso, steam beautiful milk and pour latte art,” she says.

Ciesla trained me a bit, too, on what to look for as a customer. For one thing, she says, if you’re ordering a straight shot of espresso, it should have “a nice crema”—creamier layer—“on top; that’s where all the sugar is. If it looks like black coffee, it’s probably going to be very bitter.” And whatever particular espresso drink you’re ordering, she says the beans should be ground up only after the order’s been placed. “That’s a huge part of it. If you don’t hear that grinder going after you order it, you know those grounds have been sitting there.”

Naturally I had to try one of Fuel’s espresso shots. Sips started out mellow, giving way to a rich, woody, dark chocolate taste. I also tried the macchiato, an espresso shot with almond milk (or dairy or soy) poured over the top—in this case, in the shape of a heart (pictured second). Its taste offered a very muted version of the straight one, sweeter and creamier, cut by the almond milk.

Drinking over half of each—more than a single shot’s worth total—didn’t make me crazy, and didn’t set my teeth a-chatterin’. Instead it caused a slow and steady kind of buzz, mild and resilient, getting the job done with restraint but conviction.

Fuel Coffee Shop
516 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm (winter hours)…
Cash only.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

Leave a Reply