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Keep Tybee caffeinated
Beth Howells (l.) and Jane Wood offer up strong coffee and local art at the Tybean off Hwy 80.

1213 Hwy 80 East, Tybee Island, (912) 224-5227

For a destination that welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, Tybee Island has a conspicuous shortage of espresso joints.

Maybe it's because beachgoers are more interested in sweet tea — perhaps spiked with something a little stronger. But in the past decade, Americans have come to demand their morning cup of freshly-roasted joe, and not just any weak, muddy brew will do. This may still be a sleepy beach town, but in these modern times, many folks want to wake up with a double latte with a dusting of cinnamon.

And as it stands now, there's only one place to get it without crossing a bridge.

"Tybee's ready for a real cup of coffee," declares Beth Martin, co-owner of Tybean Art & Coffee Bar.

She and partner Jane Wood opened Tybean two months ago to an instant clientele as vacationers and locals clamor throughout the day for the robust stuff. Beans are shipped fresh from Atlanta's Batdorf & Bronson for Tybean's hearty signature blend, Dancing Goats. The specialty drinks come from an industrial espresso machine named "Sophia."

"Well, she's Italian, isn't she?" shrugs Wood with a grin.

Operating out of not much more than a colorful shack, Martin and Wood are hardly your corporate coffee giants. Martin has owned several galleries around the state and Wood is a heralded folk artist. The duo has lived on the island for over a decade and ran Savannah Art Works, then Tybee Art Works, and before that, a little café in Atlanta. When the spot opened up in Tybee Oaks Shops on the north side of the island, they saw an opportunity to synthesize their past experience.

"We've been looking to combine the elements of art and coffee for a long time," says Martin as she washes dishes behind the tiny counter space.

A modest $6000 Kickstarter got them up and running (donors were rewarded with drinks named after them), and they've stocked the former screened-in porch with plenty of cream and coffee stirrers. A full array of espresso drinks, chai tea and whole beans are available. Also on the menu are fruits smoothies and locally-baked key lime cookies and scones from islander Sandra Nix.

Tybean shares real estate with venerated pizza joint Huc-A-Poo's, Hot Sushi's Surf Shack and a bevy of gift shops under the oaks, a micro-community of laid-back local businessfolk for whom authenticity and kindship remain paramount. Tybean's atmosphere is similarly cozy and casual as customers lounge on the outdoor patio or on a red vinyl couch that looks like it came out of your grandfather's pristine Cadillac.

The livin'-is-easy vibe applies to the art as well: On the walls are Georgia Kyle Shriver's bold portraits and Capt. Edwin Longwater's driftwood sunset scenes. Other affordable art pieces include upcycled frames made from found wood and dreamy beachscapes by local photographer Melissa Doud Freeman. Wood's own whimsical wire works range from decorative owls to twisted wall vases to entwined candleholders.

"We don't need to represent a lot of artists, we don't have the space!" says Wood. "It's just me and a few friends."

So far Martin and Wood split the day, from eight in the morning to six at night. Rather than hibernate like the rest of the island, they plan to keep Tybean open through the winter season. Which begs the question, when do they get a day off?

"We haven't had one of those yet," smiles Wood. "But we'll figure something out."

Though some impatient out-of-towners must be schooled on the slowed-down version of reality that is Tybee Time, most customers deeply appreciate being able to find a finely-crafted mug of java or their favorite espresso beverage.

"Coffee is a whole different interaction," observes Martin, who waited tables in the bar next door for years.

"People are tired when they come in and they wake up with good coffee — and then they're happy! You can't beat that."