Aspiring Writer Loves Roasting, Brewing – and the “Characters” – at St. Thomas Roasters

Photo By Paul Vasiliades
Story By Randy Gross –

It’s often said that life is like a book, layered chapter upon chapter. Which is not only apparent but appropriate for young Kate Stoak, a Central Dauphin High School and Penn State grad, who is developing her craft as a writer while happily living the latest chapter in her life as the Roaster and Head Barista at St. Thomas Roasters in her native Linglestown. While on the job, she says she loves “getting to meet and know a lot of people and be a part of their day-to-day lives.” But it’s more than just the community ties that she finds rewarding.

“We have a reality show here,” jokes owner Geof Smith, “that could be written up and embellished a little bit.”

“Oh yeah,” agrees Stoak, “Lots of writing material. Like, with the community aspect, there are so many good things. But there are some interesting characters.”

Pre-Covid, Stoak dreamt of using her English and Comparative Literature degree as a means to finding a job in publishing and editing. “And then, post-Covid, it’s kind of a little bit up in the air right now,” she says. “I want to write my own novels, but I know with social media trends and everything like that, it’s really hard to get someone to pick up your novel if it’s not a viral idea. So, that’s a little intimidating … but it’s on the horizon.”

In the meantime, you can find Stoak using her creativity to whip up some drinks with plenty of “character,” including: (pictured) her personal favorite, the Apple Caramel Latte; and a Cold Brew, which she prefers with simple syrup and a little bit of cream. Year-round favorites at St. Thomas include the Milky Way Mocha and fresh-brewed coffees like the Linglestown Blend. During the month of November, Stoak expects the Maple Spice Coffee and Brown Sugar Latte to return as popular sellers. All the coffee beverages go great with a delicious pastry from Desserts by Melissa (the Cinnamon Swirl Cake comes highly recommended); or, for something savory, Stoak claims she’s been eating the Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Croissant “every single day of her life” (she laughs, adding “probably just a year-and-a-half now.”)

Already with seven years of experience as a barista under her belt, Stoak only graduated from PSU a year ago. As chapters go, the current one seems like a perfect fit for her. Her book is far from completed; she has many chapters – and novels – to go.

Classic Cold Brew (16 oz.)
• 1 16 oz cup filled with ice 
• 6 oz of cold brew concentrate 
• 2 oz water to dilute
• ½ oz of simple syrup (substitute French vanilla or something exciting, if it’s a good day)
• Splash of cream or milk of choice

Kate’s Dossier

Words of advice to home coffee brewers.
If I had to offer any advice to people brewing at home, it would be to remember that coffee can be an extremely individual and personal experience – there’s no shame in being someone that likes sugary coffee with lots of milk or cream in it. I used to, and still sometimes do, drink a lot of the specialty drinks on our menu here; the OGs that worked at St. Thomas when I was just a customer will remember my obsession with the frozen Apple Caramel Latte. The older I get, the more I appreciate a good black cup of coffee, but if I’d started there seven years ago because I felt pressured by coffee purists, I might be in an entirely different job field now. If you’re brewing at home, find some good quality, fresh, local coffee and just experiment until you find what works for you. I love an at-home cold brewed coffee that’s probably been sitting for a little too long on my countertop. 

Is there anything – or anyone – who inspires you as a Barista?
Obviously, my boss, Geof, and not just because he pays me to say that. I love that he started St. Thomas Roasters when he was 40 and not fresh out of college. He’s got so much life experience from working in a corporate environment that’s really made him a great leader and someone to learn from. Beyond him, definitely some of my former coworkers, Darryl and Jae. Darryl was the roaster here before I moved up to the position and I always admired how much work he put into educating himself about the growing processes even after he went home for the day so he could be as knowledgeable as possible in the shop. It’s something I try to challenge myself to do now that I have the opportunity to have a hand in our coffee’s quality. Jae hasn’t worked here in probably three or four years, but we still go on coffee tours together a few times a year even though they live in New Jersey now and, clearly, I’m still a Linglestown local. We create itineraries and see how many cups of coffee we can drink in one day, but it’s more about the experience of visiting other local businesses and roasters and getting to talk to the people that work there.

Favorite coffee or blend of coffee.
My favorite coffee that we carry here would have to be either the Tanzanian Peaberry or Indian Monsoon Malabar. As far as hot coffees go, they can’t be beat in my book. I drank the Indian for my entire first semester of college, nearly every morning, and never got tired of it. I prefer cold coffee, so I like the St. Thomas blend that we use for cold brew in the shop. At home I mostly brew whatever we have extra on hand at the shop, so there’s no going wrong.

Recommendations of two or three kinds of coffee to try.
If you’ve never tried a coffee from here, I always recommend the Linglestown Blend. It’s such a well-balanced and full-bodied medium roast that I think would suit a lot of coffee drinkers’ tastes. If you’re a little bit more confident in roast preference, I always say to go with our dark roast Kenya AB, medium roast Costa Rica Tarrazu or Indian Monsoon Malabar, and light roast Tanzanian Peaberry.

Favorite coffee-fusion drink to mix.
I love a good dirty chai latte. I don’t drink them very often, to preserve the special-ness of them, but I like it with two shots of espresso and sometimes oat milk for extra luxurious texture. They’re fun and easy to whip up even when we’re busy. Other than that, I love making a cold brew in the shop. We keep our cold brew concentrate in a mason jar and dilute it per drink, so it makes me feel a little bit like a scientist.  

Most commonly ordered drinks during your shift(s).
I work the morning shift most often, so we get a lot of standard brewed coffee drinkers who are looking for an easy drink to grab on their way to work, but I love getting to make lattes in the first few hours after opening, before we get our big morning rush. There’s something relaxingly methodical about pulling the shots and steaming milk and getting to sort of rely on muscle memory.

Philosophy on coffee brewing and/or the enjoyment of coffee.
I think I included this in my advice section, so this is a bit redundant, but I always think that coffee drinking and prep should be an individual experience. For me, I do brew coffee at home sometimes, but I prefer to go out to a local business and really get to enjoy the environment. I like black coffee sometimes, but I also love trying new flavor syrups or experimental drinks and learning what I like that way. There was this place I went to on a coffee tour that did an espresso tonic with lemon juice and while I probably wouldn’t order it again, it was neat to try a creative drink that someone else came up with. 

Is Barista your day job? If not, what else do you do for a living?
Right now, this is it for me. I can’t express enough how fortunate I am that I have the privilege to make enough money doing the job that I love. I think that being a barista for the past seven years has been invaluable to my experience in this community. I see so many people day-in and day-out that have become acquaintances and friends. Eventually I would love to use my English and Comparative Literature degrees a little bit more than I am currently. I write in my free time with some mild success at the moment, but I would like to dedicate more energy and care into those avenues as I get older.

During a typical week, what days/shifts can you be found at St. Thomas Roasters?
Typically, I’m behind the counter or roasting Tuesday through Sunday from opening time to late morning, early afternoon-ish. When we’re training a new employee, I sometimes make appearances in the afternoon as well, so there’s a fair chance to find me almost any time of day.