True Life: Eagerly Awaiting Cocoa Cinnamon No. 3

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A cheery “Hola” welcomes guests to Cocoa Cinnamon’s third location in Lakewood. See those tiles leading up to the entrance? Like most aspects of a Cocoa Cinnamon shop, those have a story, too.

If you follow the magazine on Twitter, you’ve seen plenty of photos of coffee mugs and glasses, and a fair number to-go cups, posted @Cocoa Cinnamon. Ninety-seven percent of those tweets are my own. The coffee shops – first the Geer Street location and then the Hillsborough Road spot, which opened over a year ago and is a bit closer to home for me – have been a refuge for getting work done on the go, but more importantly, for connecting with folks in the community. And that’s an intentional design by the mindful owners, husband-and-wife team Leon Grodski de Barrera and Areli Barrera de Grodski.

“Coffee is a people’s thing, and it always has been,” Leon says to me on a recent visit to Cocoa Cinnamon’s third and final (so I’m told!) location and roastery in the Lakewood neighborhood at 2013 Chapel Hill St. Phoebe Lawless‘ new restaurant, The Lakewood, is just a few addresses up the block. “But, [coffee] can be a little intimidating, and part of our business aim is to undo that,” he continues, noting how many of the shops’ drink menus were thoughtfully constructed, keeping in mind the history and travel of coffee. That means that there might be unfamiliar words and flavors, so, “it’s important for us to say at the counter, ‘Hey, what do you love?’ and start with the person,” Leon says.

These coffee flavor tasting wheels – in both English and Spanish – hang in the shop as “a fun way to engage the audience and teach folks about coffee,” Leon says.

At this location, the menu is going to be smaller, Areli says. There will be the Italian-style beverages – your cappuccinos, macchiatos – plus hot chocolates, ready to go. “We’ll probably come up with our own different styles of chocolates from around the world: French hot chocolate, Italian hot chocolate, Spanish hot chocolate, they all have different consistencies – we’ll be playing around with that to have options.” As with the other two locations, there’s likely to be one or two specialty latte drinks that will rotate.

A new twist to the drink menu? A Mexican frozen chocolate beverage.

“It’s been an interesting question for us as specialty coffee people,” Areli says. “I feel like blended drinks are just meant to be sweet, and for the most part we’ve kind of steered away from that, but in thinking about this new location, and having been inspired by this place in Guadalajara, Mexico, that just had this very beautiful, homey space … in those hot countries, frappes are just about cooling off in hot weather.

While this vintage grinder is not in use, it has a lot of history to it – Lex and Ann Alexander gave this to the shop; Lex used the grinder at Wellspring Grocery in the ’90s, and when the grocery moved up the street, Ben Barker used it to grind the coffee at Magnolia Grill.

“For me, it’s been a developing taste experience,” Areli says.

That same notion translates to their coffee brand and roastery, 4th Dimension Coffee, which takes up about a quarter of the cafe space (Rivtak is creating curtains that can partition off the space as needed for private classes or while roasting is taking place). “The taste part of that name comes from the idea of it being a multiple tasting experience,” Leon says. “It’s the way you would go to different countries – we benefit from learning from tasting many different styles.

“The [other parts] become more complicated,” Leon continues, “thinking about how do you approach your business, how do you approach your community, how you employ people and having that be a multi-dimentional consideration. In the same sense of the menu or the way the shop designs exist, there are layers to the experience.”

Runaway’s Gabriel Eng-Goetz worked to design the new logos for both Cocoa Cinnamon and 4th Dimension Coffee. The inspiration came from a floor tile in the house of Areli’s paternal grandparents in Mexico.

Speaking of layers, there’s one more to this new location – the couple’s first foray into creating their own pastry items in the form of authentic churros, an homage to Areli’s heritage. They’ve been training staff on the process for weeks, and the churros will be served hot alongside chocolates, hot chocolate and ice cream from The Parlour, an idea stemming from churro ice cream sandwiches they found at Churreria El Moro in Mexico, which has been crafting churros since 1935.

So, when can we expect to enjoy the fruits of all this thoughtful labor? As Leon playfully says on my visit, “we’ve been saying ‘weeks’ for months.” But, as he points out, the beta testing element has always been a part of the fabric of Cocoa Cinnamon – they’ve already hosted a pop-up in the shop, and they will continue with a few soft openings, including a Spanish-speaking-only soft opening.

“Participation is such a big part of our business,” Leon says. “It’s an artistic process; we’re going to play.”

Cornelio Campos, who painted these upper cabinets, will also paint a mural on the history of coffee in the new location.

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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

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