Time for my first cafe review in my new town, Durham. I discovered Cocoa Cinnamon a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve more or less been living here ever since (I’m a grad student – I like to study in public places so I can pretend I have a life).
Be warned: Cocoa Cinnamon is hipster heaven. I have absolutely no problem with that, but idk, some people are odd. Built in what I’m assuming was an old auto garage (it’s in a part of town where pretty much every building was once an old auto garage – how one city could have supported that many auto garages I’m not entirely sure). Today, it’s a rare not-sweltering summer day, and the old garage doors are open, transforming the place into an indoor-outdoor airy respite that’s simply lovely. There’s plenty of seating outside, and enough seating inside if you’re ok getting cozy with strangers. The foyer boasts some nice bars for studying and a sunny window seat. The main room reminds me a bit of a daycare for hipsters and students – everyone slouching into a cushy chair or worn-in couch, nibbling at their snacks, preoccupied by the laptops perched in front of them, practicing their social skills by tentatively asking their neighbors if they could borrow a much-coveted power-outlet.
The building, along with the quirky decorations and the fliers for local events, is visually-stimulating enough to keep you from completely zoning out on your work. If your brain starts to mush, take a moment to stare out the big windows or let your mind wander over the old-school world maps they use as curtains (yeah, best curtains ever.) A week ago I was in here when who I assumed was one of the designers was giving an interview about the place – apparently the wood features are reminiscent of the flowing cosmos. Yeah, sure, whatever works – the whole place is so colorful and unique it just makes me happy, cosmos or no.
I think this place was recently voted by Indy Week as the best place in Durham to have a blind date. I can see that, but if you’re prone to paralyzing social awkwardness (um, hello) you’re going to want to study the menu beforehand – this place is intimidating. There are coffees I’ve never ever heard of. In languages I do not speak. Even just ordering a plain old coffee can be a challenge if you’re less-than-versed in coffee lingo.
BUT HERE’S THE SAVING GRACE – you can ask any barista for a recommendation and they’ll gladly give you one. And you should take advantage of that – this is not the place to play it safe. Go to a Starbucks if you want something boring. I did that on my first visit here and the barista cheerfully recommended something called a Neurovascular Coupling that was cold, bizarre, and amazing. It’s not even on the menu anymore so I have no clue what it was, but I’m ok with that. Just go for it.
But make sure you try their chocolate drinks at some point. It may sound weird to order an iced hot chocolate, but it works. I recommend a big old iced Caoba with whipped cream. It’s milk chocolate, and not too sweet to overwhelm you. It’s ridiculously refreshing and will make you feel like a queen. I messed up my order once and got a small hot dark chocolate instead of the iced drink I was aiming for, but it was amazing as well – I’ll definitely be revisiting that order in winter. Heaven in a mug. Again, the baristas can give you recommendations if you need help.
Their pastries aren’t bad – actually, I’ve discovered they have the best fruit tart I’ve ever tasted. The chocolate croissant is as lovely as a chocolate croissant could be. Sometimes they have sandwiches and wraps. The food selection doesn’t completely thrill me, but the drinks are more than enough to keep your attention, and there are usually plenty of food trucks in the area if you’re really starving.
I also just learned that they’re opening a second location across town next year. Um, yes please.
What you’re drinking: Anything made out of chocolate. If you need more caffeine then that, try an iced mocha – it has much more depth than what you’d get at a typical coffee shop. I tried an iced Middle Eastern coffee once – it didn’t float my boat, but I’m just assuming that my tastebuds weren’t quite sophisticated enough for the cardamom in it. If you’re into tea, they seem to have an extensive collection as well. Really, just open the menu and point – be adventurous.
What you’re eating: A fruit tart – the pastry is flaky and mildly sweet, the cream in the middle a perfect complement to the berries on top. They also have a pretty nice selection of chocolate bars, cocoa nibs, honey, and nut butters if you want to give your kitchen a sophisticated spin. I haven’t given their wraps a try yet, so if you have, let me know!
What you’re listening to: The playlist depends on who’s working. Once the baristas chose to play old-school Destiny’s Child. It made my entire day better.
What you’re reading: Go with feminist literature. Or philosophy. You can get away with pretentious lit here. Or grab a book off of their “revolving bookshelf” to borrow!
What you’re looking at: You’re wistfully staring out the window wishing you could enjoy the sun without the ridiculous humidity and heat that Durham seems to specialize in during the summer.
Bonuses: A PARKING LOT! And a very cheery little bathroom. Also, the best idea I’ve ever seen for coffee stirrers – uncooked fettucine pasta. It’s not in your hot drink long enough to get soggy, and it does the job with so much less waste than plastic or wooden sticks.