More coffee: And more hand-tamping at Milli Joe

When you walk into Milli Joe, a new caffeinery at the foot of Vinegar Hill, you know you’re among coffee people. Glass doors open up into a wide-open shop with a dark mocha-colored ceiling that complements the crème-colored walls, black leather armchairs, and the cherry stain of the bar stools, creating a blend of warm colors that, well, makes you want to drink coffee. Everything about Milli Joe invites the customer to indulge in a specialty cappuccino or perhaps a pastry from the Albemarle Baking Company.

Owned and operated by sole proprietor Nick Leichtentritt, Milli Joe opened its doors (and perhaps also the hearts of Charlottesville coffee enthusiasts) on July 20– when it treated customers to free coffee and espresso that Friday and Saturday.

"It was packed," says Leichtentritt. "We were so busy that it was kind of hard to keep up– which was good."

Originally from New York, Leichtentritt moved to Charlottesville about nine years ago.

"I've always wanted to get into something culinary, and I’ve always loved coffee,” Leichtentritt explains. "I was working in agency management for an insurance company and decided that it’s hard to have a passion for insurance, but it’s easy to have a passion for good food and good coffee."

Like the interior aesthetics, the shop's name and logo evoke some of the nuance of Leichtentritt’s passion. The logo is a tamper, one of a barista’s many necessary hand-tools. Leichtentritt explained that a lot of shops have gone automatic, as far as their grinders, tamps, and machines go these days.

"Probably one of the things that makes us different is that we do everything by hand," says Leichtentritt. "Coffee tastes better it’s a little more of a craft."

Even the name echoes this notion of a personal touch, especially for Leichtentritt.

"Milli is a family name, belonging to both my grandmother and little sister. It's a very Italian name and Joe is obviously very American. We really try to capture the taste of Italian espresso, but we add some American tweaks."

Leichtentritt’s own family contributes a lot to his budding nook, especially his wife and twelve-year-old sister. But the family vibe runs even deeper in the small shop.

"We try to source everything we can locally," Leichtentritt emphasizes. "On the walls, we’re doing this rotating exhibit of local photography. And then we get the pastries and our crème from local sources as well."

Milli and Joe will soon be introducing gelato, also made on the premises; and there’s even a plan to start making their own syrups for their various coffee drinks. Leichtentritt explains that the little things can make the biggest difference.

"Machines don't make coffee," he says. "People do."