What draws you to a coffee shop? Great coffee is the first requirement, of course, but doesn’t friendly ambiance and comfortable chairs matter almost as much? Do you look for places that have numerous outlets to plug in your phone, tablet and laptop? Other factors might raise a coffee house to your home away from home status: convenient location to meet friends, late hours with live music, and great food.
Across the Valley, a select few independently owned coffee shops and coffee houses are small enough the owners and baristas soon know your name or recognize you. In Edinburg, Coffee Zone (MVEC member since 2001) has two locations that attract college students and local business people along with Winter Texans. The same can be said of Jitterz in Edinburg, Moon Beans in McAllen, the Daily Grind in Weslaco, and many more.
One year ago, Michelle and Danny Quiroz realized a long-term goal when they opened Reserva Coffee Roasters at Palm Crossing. “We learned from the ground up,” she said. Intent on roasting and grinding the coffee they would serve, the couple’s learning curve included attending barista school and buying a coffee roaster that had no real instruction book.
Walk into Reserva to be immersed in the invigorating aroma of freshly brewed coffee from Guatemala and Columbia mingled with the aroma of just-baked, made-from-scratch pastries: fruit empanadas! chocolate chip cookies! “We have patrons who make this their office. STC students study here. We have regulars who come in every morning and Winter Texans. We like to please all ages and make it fun for them to be here,” Michelle said.
My friends sipped a Guatemalan dark roast (“full-bodied coffee”) and a double expresso topped with whipped cream and smiled in contentment on a cool morning. My citrus hibiscus tea, served in a large, light green cup, matched well with a pumpkin empanada. “To me, a good coffee shop roasts and grinds its coffee,” said Virginia Gause. Where the coffee was grown and how is also important to her shade grown? fair trade?
“A lot of people ask where the coffee comes from,” says Cynthia Ortega and her husband Jorge Banda, who own Luna Coffee House at 113 W. Nolana. Their espressos are brewed with an organic Chiapas blend. Luna opens at 11 a.m. and stays open late with live music, open mike nights on Saturdays, book readings and poetry nights, and features a different artist monthly.
Luna’s frappes, identified as tea-, coffee- or caffeine- free base, cover an intriguing range of flavors. I tried the Mexican horchata hot, which was almondy scrumptious on a cool day. One friend ordered the regular coffee which had a hint of Mexican cocoa and cinnamon and said, “So smooth it goes down like a good brandy.” The beans for each cup are ground fresh as ordered. Another friend enjoyed the lemon and ginger tea—“a delicious blend of flavors.” Add a tasty, in-house blueberry or banana nut muffin and settle in for a friendly chat.
Go all out with a Luna-tic, the signature frappe enhanced with topping, rim dusting, and a drizzle. Students, first responders, and veterans get a discount. Every month works of different artists are featured on the walls.
At Seventh and Park, a coffee and bicycle shop opposite Linear Park in Brownsville, people tapping on laptops, looking at phones or listening to music while sipping coffee and tea. The copper-topped tables set off my husband’s cortado, a double espresso in a cream-topped glass. From the ‘Slow Bar’, I sipped Saigon, brewed with lemongrass in a glass pot.
Owner Graham Servier is often busy on the bike side, which stocks Biannchi and Scott bikes and does bike repairs. Nevertheless, the cold brew menu lists his prize-winning Shandy, sweetened with orange juice. Behind the white subway tile counter front, the barista reported, “The most popular brew here, hot or cold, is the Mexican mocha, a latte with spiced chocolate.” He observed Valley people will go out for coffee when it is cold, but less willingly when it’s cold and rainy.
In downtown Harlingen at J&B’s, the menu goes beyond flavored and cream topped Arabica coffees to sandwiches and soups. Yet the ideal match for the lattes may be the owner’s homemade scones: maple-pecan, currants blueberry and ham and Cheddar. Or the pies. Or the Bundt cakes.
It’s time to get out and smell the coffee … and the pastries.