Saturday, May 23, 2009

Full service

I was still buzzed from morning java when I headed for afternoon caffeine at Greenville’s Coffee and Crema on South Pleasantburg. I’d recently read about its expertly pulled shots and decorative latté—reconstructions of top-quality beans from Durham, NC's, gifted purveyor, Counter Culture Coffee—and was hoping to find a stand-in for my city cappuccino.

But thinking of Coffee and Crema threw my mind to another fresh-faced spot—Coffee to a Tea—in West Greenville. When I walked into the sunny shop (once a mom-and-pop diner, features still visible through artsy-eclectic décor), two young women (presumably the owners) were chatting up a patron leaning casually against the bar and flipping through a magazine. The man, I learned, lives in the neighborhood and comes daily for fellowship, banter, and maybe a fresh cup. You see, instead of setting up shop in a posh ’hood or downtown storefront, the owners opted for a lower-income area, one that looks amber-preserved circa 1965—a commercial ghost-town, where the city’s less privileged make their homes.

And then it hit me: These women—entrepreneurs, bakers, coffee mavens—are public servants. And their shop is more than meets the eye: part gallery for local artists, part classroom for nutrition and sustainable foods (everything, from the homemade cakes to the chocolate for the mochas, is all natural. Plus, coffee comes from West End Coffee, bagels from Greenfield’s, milk from Happy Cow Creamery), and part melting pot—classes and cultures converge for fresh coffee.

I often consider the relativity of my interests, my work—how best I can package them to serve. Coffee to a Tea reminds that a food business not only offers culinary and gustatory pleasure: It is a crossroads of diversity, history, information. And that’s what I call exceptional service.

(By the by, I found my cappuccino’s counterpart at Coffee and Crema—whose charming owner serves great conversation and an endless knowledge of the bean, along with fine espresso.)