One of the many blessings that comes with attending a university with such an acclaimed dining program as Virginia Tech’s is also one of the most necessary: the coffee. Students living on campus have access to such quality brands as Peet’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Au Bon Pain when a caffeine kick is their best shot at making it through an assignment-heavy day. However, when it comes to off-campus options, Hokies’ favorite coffee joint is a short, but worthwhile, walk away.
Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, which has earned readers’ vote for Best Coffee a number of times, has been around for nearly 30 years, though it did not originate in Blacksburg. Founder Dave Johnson, a Virginia Tech alumnus, opened the first shop of his eventual tiny empire in Roanoke, naming it after the peak that the Roanoke Star calls home. Over the years, the business grew to eventually inhabit its six current locations, which include shops in Salem and Daleville. The Blacksburg location, which is tucked between Foamo and 622 North and is within walking distance of the Surge Building and Moss Arts Center, is currently operated by Scott Elich. Elich, formerly a business partner of Johnson’s, took on sole operation of the Blacksburg store when he started a family.
Jackie Walsh, a shift manager at the Blacksburg shop and a senior studying management at Virginia Tech — one of Mill Mountain’s many student employees — believes that the friendly, welcoming environment and service is what keeps its many loyal customers coming back.
“I feel like the people who work here really cater to the regulars,” Walsh said. “Like, you’ll walk in the door and ask for a cup of coffee, and it’s already sitting on the counter, waiting for you.”
The staff’s attentiveness to customers’ wants and needs is especially impressive given the wide variety of products Mill Mountain offers. The back wall parallel to the storefront is lined with depositories filled with coffee beans from Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia, each a unique roast and blend made on-site. Atop the wooden countertops sit a number of large jars filled with various tea blends, of which patrons can order a full pot if they so please. The chalkboard mounted next to the cash register lists each day’s special brews, with such colorful options as decaf chocolate raspberry (which happens to be this writer’s favorite item on the menu). And at the front of the store stands a glass case exhibiting a variety of pastries and small entrees to keep visitors’ hunger at bay.
Not content to merely keep the customers’ sense of taste and smell satisfied, Mill Mountain also acts as an idyllic spot for study and socialization, its open floor plan abundant in seating, electrical outlets and natural light. It is open for 16 hours most days, making it a suitable refuge for the earliest bird and the nightliest owl. At its busiest, one will spot visitors cranking out term papers, perusing religious texts, catching up with old friends or even chatting with perfect strangers. With community engagement being such an important part of the Hokie mindset, it’s easy to see why the shop caters to so many Tech students and faculty.
“It’s easy to meet people here and just have a relaxed time,” Walsh said. “It’s just a friendly place.”
Virginia Tech’s campus offers plenty of options for students needing a grab-and-go cup of joe or a study spot within shouting distance of their next class. Still, Best of Blacksburg voters agree: For those willing to go a little out of their way to engage with the Blacksburg community over a fresh roast, Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea is well worth a try.