oday’s coffee culture thrives on aesthetics with a strong digital presence and visually appealing photo opportunities. Yes, people care that the coffee tastes good, but sometimes it seems like they care more that the presentation is perfect.
Farmer’s Horse Coffee—formerly Farmer Horse Coffee—doesn’t quite conform to the contemporary standard of coffee shop: Searching for it on Google, you’ll find that the hours aren’t exactly right. Its website is ‘under construction,’ and looks as if it has been for a while. Its Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2014. Its Instagram account posts about once a month—just often enough to remind its 6,300 followers that it’s still there.
The shop’s owner Meran Atoufi doesn’t particularly care about a digital presence, though. He’s more concerned with maintaining its friendly atmosphere with gradual improvements that will enact lasting change. Atoufi has worked in the restaurant business since graduating from Boston Architectural College (BAC). Starting out in franchises—he still owns multiple Subway locations, including one just across the street from Farmer’s Horse—Atoufi realized that his creative instinct, which was encouraged while he studied architecture, is incompatible with franchising.
was so bothered that there was nothing I could do—nothing with the lights, nothing with the wallpaper, nothing. Not even the food products,” he said. “I had no say and I was just a franchisee who just stayed and followed what the franchiser was demanding. It was really tough on me. I was like, no, I want to do something that I can show my skills and do good. That’s why I chose the coffee shop.”
With an itch for a creative outlet that would fit properly into his restaurateur lifestyle, Atoufi drew up the idea for Farmer Horse in 2011. Since its actual opening in 2012, it has seen a number of changes in sourcing and management—especially in the last year.
The name of the shop emerged out of the idea that the coffee would come directly from the source. The farmer’s horse is the vehicle that delivers the product from the source to the market. Farmer’s Horse aims to be that catalyst, emulating the task of an actual farmer’s horse.
In 2014, Atoufi began using single-sourced coffee beans directly from families in Ethiopia. The coffee brewers at Farmer’s Horse began roasting the beans themselves so the grounds would stay as fresh as possible. Around the same time, Atoufi found a business partner—a relative of one of the farmers from whom he sourced the beans who lived in Boston at the time. Atoufi, in essence, bowed out, remaining an owner but leaving the bulk of management to his partner. Four years later, when he decided to return to Ethiopia, Atoufi became the sole owner once again and decided to update the shop, slowly but surely.
ow, while Atoufi handles much of the logistical business behind the scenes, Larisa Bulicanu manages the floor. Between the two of them, Atoufi and Bulicanu are ensuring a united progression in the improvement of the shop, which includes plans to offer pre-packaged coffee grounds this winter and an outdoor seating on a unique patio by next spring.
“It’s a slow process—I don’t want things to happen overnight,” he said. “I look at it like a lifetime. Like a long-term business.”
Unlike Tatte’s clean minimalism or Caffè Nero’s bookish sophistication—which can be expected at all of its locations—Farmer’s Horse hides in a space that’s simultaneously cozy, like the dining room at your grandma’s house, and a little grungy, like your older cousin’s living room. Either way, Farmer’s Horse calls to mind a sense of familial comfort, which is exactly what Atoufi aims for with every development in the business.
“I want the place to have a character,” he said, “What I see here is that you just feel like you are comfortable, like you belong here, you know? Like, ‘it’s my place, it’s my spot.’ and I think I have made that atmosphere.”
The shop, on Mass. Avenue just off Huntington Avenue, is frequented by students from the New England Conservatory, Berklee, and Northeastern, as well as locals from neighborhood. With such limited seating and a constant stream of customers cycling in and out, though, Farmer’s Horse often fills up quickly. Of those who stick around, many have left their mark on the shop, signing names, scribbling cartoons, and inscribing quotes all over the fading red walls.
he shop is small and unique, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s also comfortable and personal. The enigmatic atmosphere makes the place all the more magnetic—with a rearing horse that guards the door, new customers’ curiosity grows while returners see a welcome in the ever-present symbol. Upon entrance, the baristas’ friendly smiles and casual banter set customers at ease.
“Coffee is very hard,” Atoufi said. “A lot of people, they think it’s very easy. It is very hard, just because you have to do something that is real and different. “People are very smart, customers are very smart. you can’t just—you know? you can’t fool them. They know what is good, what is not good.”
With a fairly small but standard array of coffee drinks and and a selection of sandwiches and pastries, Farmer’s Horse offers all the sustenance one needs at a coffee shop. It’s not superfluous, but there’s something for everyone on the menu that offers single-sourced coffee from Ethiopia, loose-leaf tea, fresh-made sandwiches, and pastries baked throughout the day.
Sometimes, you might want a pretty coffee with a design in the foam on a sturdy wooden table over clean tile floors to post on your Instagram story. Other times, maybe you want a sophisticated coffee with an intricate combination of flavors that came from an extensive menu with minor variations in foreign languages, most of which you don’t understand, differentiating one drink from the next. But when all you want is to disappear for a little bit with some simple, good coffee, Farmer’s Horse is just the place.
Featured Images by Mary Wilkie / Heights Editor