The endless cup of Joe

Self-professed “coffee tourist” Matthew Hebb reckons he has patronized at least 582 independent coffee shops in his relatively short lifetime (he’s 26). He’s even driven upwards of 100 miles just to visit a specific coffee shop—for both the flavor and the ambience.

He’s got your fix: Matthew Hebb at his new 24-hour coffee shop, Caffiend. photo by Jonathan Welch

“Only part of it is the coffee,” he says. “The other part is where you get the coffee.”

Tired of selling tractors at Sears, the erstwhile entrepreneur recently realized a dream: Hebb has opened his own coffee shop in north Asheville. The goal, he says, is to create a space that not only sells a killer cup of Joe, but also entices other java fiends from near and far to settle in and sit a spell.

Hebb’s new enterprise, Caffiend, is located at 120-A Merrimon Ave. And the newest addition to Asheville’s coffee-klatch culture can claim at least one truly unique feature—this specialty coffee shop is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hebb says he’s intent on creating a coffee “destination”: the type of place where locals and tourists go expressly for coffee or specialty teas—including a flowering tea that actually blooms when you add hot water.

But you don’t have to be a coffee snob to enjoy the place, he says, noting that nearly everyone’s taste can be sated. For example, one of Caffiend’s concoctions is the “Gas Cap”—a coffee drink made to taste like a more upscale version of machine-made gas-station cappuccino. (“Because some people are simply used to that,” he explains.)

“The goal here is to have fun,” he says, adding that Caffiend not only serves up such extras as wireless Internet service, but also plans open-mic and poetry nights, live music and comedy from local troupe The Oxymorons each Saturday at 9 p.m.

If Hebb’s name sounds familiar, it might be because he is was a 2005 candidate for Asheville City Council—a post he intends to try for again in the next election. Though he is a Republican and a group calling itself the “Latte Republicans” uses his shop for their get-togethers, Hebb is adamant that Caffiend is separate from his political life. The place, he stresses, is not meant to be a conservative enclave.

“I wouldn’t limit myself like that,” he says. And whatever his political leanings, Hebb says it was Asheville’s diversity that attracted him here in the first place. In fact, the city’s alternative and fringe sets offer up some of his best customers.

“I like those people,” he says. “I like artists and freaks. I’m getting some really interesting cats in here, and I like that.”

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