The Jitter Bus

Coffee Machine

There’s a new cafe in town, and it just won’t sit still.

It’s The Jitter Bus, and it debuted in February with help from The Happiness Lab, which hosted the launch party, and Kickstarter backers, who pitched in $5,000 last year. The vehicle has been jumping around town for the past two months, serving high-quality coffee from the window of a former school bus, now painted black and twinkling with Christmas lights.

The Jitter Bus’s drivers are Dan Barletta, Paul Crosby and Andrew Mesiouris. Collectively, they’ve worked at a who’s-who of coffee shops in New Haven, like Book Trader, Coffee Pedaler, Fuel, G Cafe and Maison Mathis.

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As someone who’s only ever been on the receiving end of a cup of joe, I wondered how complicated it could really be to make a good one. But there’s a fair amount to it. Every bean has its own ideal grind, and if the barista’s grind is too coarse it will turn out weak and flavorless. If it’s too fine, it’ll end up bitter. Insufficiently steamed milk, meanwhile, creates mere bubbles instead of silky micro-foam, while excessive steaming burns away nutrients (and taste buds). There’s also water temperature to think about and various brewing styles to master.

But according to Mesiouris, all the logistics and technicalities of coffee-brewing boil down to one fundamental quality: “Caring.” Or, as he also puts it, “Giving a crap.” His partners seem to agree. “Every cup is stressful,” Crosby says. “I want every cup to be perfect.”

The proof, of course, is in those cups. Mesiouris pulled me a double-shot of Star Breather espresso ($2.25, or $1.50 for a single), and there was no need to amend the coffee’s flavor with syrups and sweeteners because it was already delicious. The cappuccino ($3 small, $3.50 large) I had was topped with a nice, thick layer of microfoam. The Almond Joy Latte ($4 small, $4.50 large)—a Jitter Bus original—was a tasty take on the classic candy bar. Made with coconut syrup and a strong cacao powder that balances the sweet syrup, dark chocolate lovers will probably love it.

A good cup of coffee goes beyond the brew, back to the roast (and the farm, too). The Jitter Bus trio spent months researching regional roasters, with one eye toward “what farm coming from and what percentage getting.” The search landed on three area roasters: A Happy Life (The Happiness Lab’s roasting division), Giv Coffee and Saccuzzo.

But to hear the proprietors describe what’s gone into The Jitter Bus, it sounds like finding the right roasts was the easy part. Barletta and Crosby are pulling double-duty, working part-time at other cafes in addition to staffing the bus. Mesiouris is already all-in at the Jitter, sometimes putting in 70- or even 90-hour weeks.

Besides being owners and baristas, they’re also mechanics, fixing and upgrading the bus as necessary. With some more permanent work still left to be done on the interior, they’ve also realized they need to install a larger water tank to meet growing demand. Meanwhile, occasional day-to-day hiccups prompt unexpected runs to the hardware store.

It turns out there’s no ready-made recipe for turning a school bus into a coffee machine. There are a few mobile cafes on the west coast, but Mesiouris says technical info is hard to come by for DIYers such as themselves. Nonetheless they’ve had to become their own carpenters, plumbers and electricians. They were the ones who ripped out the bus seats, outfitted the vehicle with the proper plumbing and installed a portable generator. That last item cost more than the bus itself but is vital for powering the espresso maker and other machines.

In short, “blood, sweat and tears” is what it’s taking, Mesiouris says. And from the taste of things, at least, the effort is paying off.

The Jitter Bus
Check social media for location.
Mon-Fri 8:30am-5pm
(203) 781-6542
Facebook | Instagram

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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