Celebrate Northampton’s history of strong coffee and stronger women with any of these great gift items!

Many of our most popular gifts here at Northampton’s Pride & Joy, ranging from coffee mugs to shirts to magnets, feature the phrase, “Northampton: Where the coffee is strong and so are the women.” People new to the area may wonder, what’s the correlation between strong coffee and strong women? How did this come to be the city’s unofficial motto?

Perhaps the most obvious answer is the combination of ubiquitous coffee shops lining Main Street and the presence of Smith College, which is the largest women’s college in the country (another top-notch women’s college, Mount Holyoke, is also just down the road in South Hadley). Walk into any of Northampton’s coffee houses on a Sunday afternoon in November or April, and you’ll find a sea of young intellectuals poring over their laptops and textbooks, or excitedly debating paper ideas with classmates.

But there’s more to the history of strong coffee and strong ladies in the Northampton area than seven sisters colleges and trendy cafes. Firstly, Western Massachusetts has been home to intelligent, courageous, and outspoken women for centuries; Sojourner Truth, one of the earliest and most widely quoted advocates for the rights of women of color living in the United States, lived in the Florence section of Northampton from 1843-1857 after escaping from slavery in the South. A memorial statue stands in her honor at the corner of Pine and Park Streets, and interested visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of Truth’s neighborhood, the path for which is available online. Another nineteenth century powerhouse, grandmother of modern poetry and legendary independent spirit Emily Dickinson, lived out her entire life next to the train station in nearby Amherst, where her house has been turned into a beautiful museum that remains open to visitors year-round.

Now well into the new millennium, educated and independent women continue to flock to the Pioneer Valley. In recent years, brilliant journalist and political commentator Rachel Maddow, accomplished film actress and comedienne Jane Lynch, and nationally recognized performance poet Alix Olson have all lived in Northampton and the surrounding towns. In celebration of this heritage, Northampton’s Pride & Joy proudly carries Maddow’s critically acclaimed book, Drift, as well as Lynch’s hilarious and touching autobiography, Happy Accidents.

And the coffee? Unless you live here you may not realize it, but some of the best coffee available in the United States (outside of the Pacific Northwest) is roasted in the Pioneer Valley by independent, artisan companies truly passionate about creating the perfect cup. Most of these companies feature fairly traded, organic coffee beans from all over the world, and carry single-origin coffees as well as blends. Local roasters include our Thornes neighbors, Rao’s Coffee, as well as Esselon Cafe, Dean’s Beans, Indigo, Pierce Brothers, and Shelburne Falls Coffee. Many residents have a favorite blend and a favorite local roaster. Some have even developed cult followings; ardent fans of certain local roasts frequently declare their allegiance with t-shirts and bumper stickers.

Our favorite local purveyor of coffee here at Northampton’s Pride & Joy is Gay Coffee, which is owned and operated by an alumna of Smith College. Roasted in nearby Williamsburg, MA and housed in attractive, reusable tins, each of these fragrant, carefully created whole bean blends was inspired by and named for a different element of queer history. For example, “Good Morning Mary!” celebrates the importance of camp to queer humor with a blend of medium and dark-roasted beans of varied origin, resulting in a hearty cup with sweet caramel overtones. There’s a Gay Coffee blend for every kind of coffee drinker! For fans of classic Central American coffees, the smooth-drinking “Stone Butch Breakfast Blend” features lightly roasted beans from the highlands of Guatemala for a chocolate-tinged taste.  If you prefer your morning coffee strong enough to put some hair on your chest, check out the robust and full-bodied “Big Bear Blend” or the ultra-dark and rich “Red Hanky Roast.” Each tin includes a short explanation of the phenomenon it was named for on the back, as well as a humorous photo on the front. A tin of Gay Coffee makes a fabulous gift for a caffeine-loving friend (especially paired with one of our Northampton mugs!), as well as a delicious treat for yourself if you’re a serious coffee aficionado. All of the beans sourced by Gay Coffee are fair trade, meaning the workers who grow and maintain the beans before shipping them to the United States are paid fair wages for their work. Gay Coffee donates 1% of its profits from each tin sold to the LGBTQ Task Force, so purchasing this coffee not only supports a wonderful local business with excellent trade practices, but also an important cause.

So: whether you call ‘Hamp home or you’re experiencing NoHo’s charms for the first time, and whether you’re looking for an excellent new coffee blend to try, an exciting new book to read, or a t-shirt or mug to remember your visit, Northampton’s Pride & Joy can help you celebrate and support Northampton’s unique local legacy of strong coffee and even stronger women!