I needed an experience to lift my mood after the stress of midterms, so my partner and I headed to White River Junction again this weekend. Since we had such a pleasant time at Tuckerbox, we thought we’d see what else the town has to offer. After walking around the narrow, one-way streets, packed with parallel-parked cars on either side, we decided to check out a curious cafe on the corner of North Main Street: Juel Modern Apothecary.
“Apothecary? Who even uses that word anymore?” I thought to myself as I approached the door of the building. The last time I had seen that word was my freshman year of high school while reading “Romeo and Juliet.” Still, it was half past ten in the morning, and I needed a dose of caffeine.
When I first entered the building, Juel’s door was on my left, while Little Istanbul’s sat to my right. The noise, the colors and the smell of spices coming from Little Istanbul, a gift shop, directly contrasted Juel’s solid white, sleek design. It felt like a battle between tradition and modernity.
Juel was packed. It’s about as big as two triple dorm rooms put together, and that may be a little too generous. The furthermost wall was lined with hanging snake plants, spider plants and succulents, while the one closest to the entrance had a small fridge with fresh fruits and homemade kombuchas. These two microcosms of vibrance emphasized the minimalist white walls and light-colored wood. Shelves containing CBD products, beeswax wrap, metal straws and Abracadabra — a Woodstock-based coffee company — coffee beans lined the wall next to the barista counter.
The most interesting aspect of Juel’s design is the ceiling. It is black with rods and piping going through it, with tiny lights pointing down on the orderly, pristine cafe, as if it were a movie set. I think it captures the entire aesthetic of Juel — a perfectly designed mise en scène for millennial tastes.
As I soon found out, people know Juel for its coffee. As an avid coffee consumer, I understood this recognition as soon as I walked up to the counter to place my order: Right next to the cash register, as if to show off its credentials, was an industry-standard espresso machine with “La Marzocco” in bold, red capital letters. This quality item inspired some confidence in their drinks as I placed my order.
Though drinks comprise two-thirds of the menu at Juel, they serve food as well. The entire menu is vegetarian, and they accommodate very well to gluten-free and dairy-free options. I ordered a Golden Latte with homemade cashew milk for $6.50, The Buzz smoothie for $9, a Superseed Energy Ball for $3 and Kimchi Avocado Toast for $7.50. The total came out to $29, which seemed a bit expensive for the amount I got, but the aesthetic foreshadowed the high prices.
The Golden Latte, an alternative latte — sans espresso — made from “turmeric, coconut oil, black pepper, and raw local honey,” came out in a beautiful, handmade clay mug. The orange specks in the grey clay complemented the design of the cafe, as well as the yellow latte itself. The cashew milk was silky and matte, exactly what a perfectly frothed milk should look like, and it had no real aroma to it. When I took my first sip, though, all the flavors hit me at once. The texture was a bit gritty from the turmeric, but I found that it worked quite well. The sweetness of the steamed cashew milk, as well as its saltiness, helped balance out some of the stronger tones from the turmeric. The deep sulfur color of the drink piqued my curiosity, and I kept wondering how they achieved the thick texture; it was like drinking fresh cow milk. This is the best alternative latte I’ve ever had, and for a buck more than a venti iced chai at Novack, it was definitely worth its price.
Next, I moved on to The Buzz smoothie, which the menu simply describes as “Abracadabra coffee, banana, dates, organic oats, cashews.” It arrived in a plastic to-go cup; however, I was expecting at least a glass, since the mug of the previous drink was so beautiful. The greyish-brown color didn’t make me love the drink at first sight, but the idea of a coffee smoothie still interested me. Little chunks kept coming up the straw when I took my first sip, which I enjoyed as someone who favors heterogeneous mixtures. The smoothie itself was viscous: not viscous enough to clog up the straw, but viscous enough to coat your whole mouth. This would have been super great had I enjoyed the flavor of the smoothie. It was a bit too tangy, which makes sense since it had a coffee base, but I assumed that the banana and dates would have tempered that flavor note. For a $9 drink, the most out of my entire order, it felt disappointing.
Before I started with the Kimchi Avocado Toast, I tried the Superseed Energy Ball. It almost smelled like nothing. Almost. I associated the faint odor with vinegar. When I bit into it, it seemed like any other energy ball I’d tried in the past. The same nutty flavors, the same sweetness. It tasted good, but nothing popped out at me. Still, the coconut flakes helped leave a sweet aftertaste which I dwelled on before the avocado toast.
The toast, made with “gluten free bread, avocado, kimchi, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, and dulse flakes,” came in a clay plate that seemed to be from the same set as the mug. It wasn’t a big plate, so the amount of negative space only emphasized how small the serving was. The whole toast was about the size of an egg and cheese sandwich from Novack. It still looked beautiful: The toast, fully loaded with nothing spilling off, had reds, whites and greens that played off each other just like with Tina’s Toast from Red Wagon Bakery. The dulse flakes added a beautiful chrome purple that elevated this dish beyond the diner’s dish. The kimchi gave the toast an incredible taste that paired well with the sesame seeds and oil. Finally, the avocado, as if a wave, washed away the flavors with its fatty richness and left a calm, neutral aftertaste in my mouth. The bread, on the other hand, was a bit too soggy, a pity since the experience was almost perfect.
The items that made this experience worth it were the Kimchi Avocado Toast and the Golden Latte. Even then, I found it hard to justify the price of the toast compared to the serving size. The cafe provides a relatively quiet experience, one that feels a bit more chic compared to Starbucks or even Still North Books & Bar, but it all depends on whether you favor the millennial aesthetic. If you end up at Juel Modern Apothecary, I recommend ordering their coffees and alternative lattes. Regardless of whether or not you can justify the price of the food, I can’t guarantee you’ll feel full in the end.