Confluence Coffee Brings Accelerated Caffeination to Manchester

It’s crowded when I step into the small building in Manchester that houses Confluence Coffee Co. Gleaming, silver tanks soar to the ceiling and stacks of boxes fill one corner. A huge blue grinder is ready to catch beans from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.

Brewer and head of production Ben Howard will use 200 to 350 pounds of coarsely ground coffee in each tank to make about 2,000 gallons of cold-brewed coffee. And when Old Dominion Mobile Canning shows up later in the week, it’ll start to get hard to walk around this place.

Confluence Coffee, which moved into the space in March, already is bursting out of it. Owners Terry Darcy and Mike Woitach say they plan to move somewhere bigger in another month or two.

“I never thought we’d fill it,” Howard says.

Confluence has gone from cold brew that Darcy and Woitach whipped up in 2015 in Darcy’s kitchen after work, to a company that turns out 16,000 cans a month. There were stops in-between at a shared kitchen in Washington. But late last year, they decided it was time to move production permanently to Richmond. By then, they’d made the leap and quit their day jobs, and Howard soon was brought on to oversee production.

“Aside from the fact we wanted to be closer to Blanchard’s — who has been a great partner from day one — and tap some of the brewery knowledge pool for our cold-brew-making process,” says Woitach, “I think Richmond is really poised to be a hub for really great craft products of all kinds.”

Confluence’s big break came from food incubator Union Kitchen in Washington. Although its coffee was selling in small stores such as Glens Garden Market on Dupont Circle and Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, Union Kitchen acted as a distributor for its product and dramatically increased Confluence’s reach. You can now find it as far north as Boston and in all of the mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores. The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond stocks it in guest room minibars.

Two ingredients differentiate Confluence’s coffee from the rest. The brew is steeped in oak chips to give it a rounder, warmer flavor, and at each step of the brewing process the coffee is shot through with nitrogen. Once a can is shaken, the nitrogen creates a thick, creamy head akin to Guinness stout, which gives it an almost milky flavor, despite the fact that there are no dairy products in it. There’s also no added sugar, and in the flavored coffees, there are never more than two or three ingredients.

Woitach characterizes what he makes as a clean drink. Organic and fair-trade are watchwords. “We’re using this as a way to redefine what the cold case of beverages can look like,” he says. “To move away from the carbonated soft-drinks model of adding a ton of sugar and using a ton of ingredients.”

As recently as January, Darcy, Woitach and Howard were still bottling coffee, individually screwing on caps and applying labels by hand. Now, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods stores across the country are in their sights.

“We’re kind of hitting a trend,” Woitach says. “I think people didn’t really understand what’s available in the coffee world.”

Where Great Taste, Good-for-You, and Local Come Together

Where Great Taste, Good-for-You, and Local Come Together

On November 4, 2008, Confluence Kitchen and Market opened their doors to the public. The market and café featuring “organic, local, goodness to go” is right off the I-80 on Bowman Road in Auburn and is the product of years of hard work. For owners Steve Ricardelli and Amy Eldridge, it is the realization of a dream and a culmination of generations of family traditions and ethics.

Steve and Amy moved to California from the northeast sixteen years ago. Both of their girls were born in Auburn, where they moved eleven years ago. Steve is of Italian descent and has been in the food business even before moving to California. While working for regional food growers and producers, he became aware of all the amazing local food sources in our broader region–from beef, chicken and pork, to grains, vegetables, and fruit. Steve loves to cook and comes from a long line of perfectionist Italian cooks. He and Amy have always shared cooking responsibilities for the family. They both grew up in and around the great food center of New York City, have lived in San Francisco, and have traveled extensively–from New Orleans (where Amy’s maternal family is from and where Steve attended Tulane University) to Thailand and Indonesia. The influence of these broad experiences contribute to the richness and depth of the offerings at Confluence Kitchen and Market.

An emphasis on homegrown, homemade, and whole foods comes to both Amy and Steve naturally. Amy’s mother was a wonderful health and whole food[n]advocate who would bring Amy and her school roommates bags of freshly made granola with whole almonds. At Amy and Steve’s wedding, the wedding flowers were created using fragrant peonies that Steve’s father had cut from his garden that morning. In the course of developing the café and market, Steve’s father told him that Steve’s great grandmother had also sold home-cooked meals at their family market in New Jersey.

The Confluence Kitchen and Market–themed around the nearby American River Canyon and the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River–carries local jams, jellies, specialty sauces, marinades, wines and champagne, crusty bread, cheeses, chocolates, candles, seasonal gift items, and more. The café features warm dishes, salads, sandwiches, and soups prepared daily and the frozen cases feature frozen cuts of local meats, specialty ice creams, and a healthy stock of Steve’s delicious Goodness-to-Go meals.

I am believer in the local food movement. Truly I am. I buy as much of my food at local markets as I possibly can. I check labels if I am in a “regular” supermarket to see how close I can get to local with those things I can’t source at the farmers’ market or the small independent market.

But every now and again I think specialty pasta might be better with the “Made in Italy” label on it. Jambalaya might be better if it originated in New Orleans.

So here’s what I especially loved about my first–and many subsequent visits–to Confluence Kitchen and Market: it satisfies my taste for high-quality, unusual, and zesty as well my recurring need for a what-to-have-for-dinner-after-working-late-on-Wednesday-night-comfort-food fix. Confluence Kitchen and Market’s diverse selections, overseen in the kitchen by Steve and in the market area by Amy, fulfill both these needs.

I have been a fan of Confluence Kitchen prepared meals for well over a year now. My whole family loves Steve’s Chicken Pot Pie, Meat Loaf with Mashed Potatoes, Empanadas, Ravioli, Tuscan Quiche, Polenta Lasagna, and so much more. After talking to Amy and Steve at length over the past year about the value of locally sourced ingredients, Steve’s Italian family cooking standards, Amy’s skill with high-end presentation, and both of their love of entertaining, the market seemed a natural progression from selling just the prepared foods at local farmers’ markets. “People were interested in not only my prepared meals,” says Steve, “but in the foundation ingredients that went into them.” Amy continues, “and in all the items that make a meal complete–from the loaf of fresh bread, the salad, even the candles.”

When the couple began researching to build the market, there were several requirements: it had to be easy to get to for locals and for people headed into or out of the mountains, it had to be easy to park for locals dropping in for lunch or for people driving through, and it had to have a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen with room enough for Steve to continue to produce his prepared meals and for a local chef to assist in preparing the fresh food selections daily. Check, check, check. More than that, the ambiance is casually elegant, warm and welcoming–just like Amy and Steve.

The fresh selections include flavorful sandwiches, all named after well-known trails, rapids, or swimming holes on the American River: the Confluence Classic (turkey); the Monkey Rock (roasted veggie); the Clarks Hole (vegan hummus and olive tapenade); the Firebelly (spicy chicken); China Bar (wasabi tuna–my favorite); and more. Fresh soups include Corn Chowder, Butternut Squash, Minestrone, and others. Fresh salads and hot entrées include: Andean Quinoa and Corn Salad, Tabouli, Tarragon Chicken Salad, and Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese and Candied Walnuts, Potato Samosas with Mango Chutney, Torta Rustica, and Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage.

Beyond the physical requirements of the building and space, Steve and Amy maintain the standards for the Confluence Kitchen and Market foods that they insisted on three years ago when Steve began producing his homemade frozen meals to sell at farmers’ markets. “The meals and ingredients we sell must be nourishing and healthy, which requires fresh and organic/natural ingredients. They must be easy for people to prepare at home. They must use local ingredients whenever possible so that we know the end result is fresh and trustworthy. And they have to be delicious! Because otherwise, why eat them?”

Amen. And would you please pass the jambalaya and the wine and bread while you’re at it? Thanks.

Confluence Kitchen and Market is located at 13471 Bowman Road in Auburn. Phone number: 530-885-3886. They are open from 10 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday; 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and Sunday. More details are available online at www.confluencekitchenandmarket.com.

Headed into or out of the mountains? Confluence Kitchen and Market has a Backdoor Pickup service so you can phone your order in and ahead and have it ready and waiting–whether it’s dinner for the travel day or food for the whole weekend.

Interested in Confluence Kitchen and Market’s weekly specials or upcoming special food and wine tastings? Sign up for their notification emails at the website.