Stepping into the newest location of Durham’s renowned Cocoa Cinnamon is akin to entering an Aztec utopia. The new location on Hillsborough Road is a far cry from co-founders Leon and Areli’s original bike coffee.
Speaking with Leon, his enthusiasm for the Mexican and indigenous narratives, all of which greatly influenced the design that Areli and Leon, working with designer David Solow Art + Design, intended to create for the store, was contagious. I quickly learned that each individual trinket, light fixture and inch of the cozy café was meticulously designed, selected to display the history of centuries-long exploration for extraordinary ingredients like cacao, caffeine and spices. Intended to accommodate a growing fan base, the second Cocoa Cinnamon store opened in the first week of February this year.
The fact that the furniture, wall ornaments and composition of the café were almost entirely created by local artists and designers. Included among the 31 contributors are Duke alumni and designer Andrew Preiss and multi-media installation artist Luzene Hill.
During my conversation with Leon I learned that the inspiration for this second shop was the concept of cultural fusions, reminiscent of the ever-exciting and often surprising flavor combinations – from hot chocolate to coffee to tea. They sought to captivate individuals and allow the shop to tell a story of indigenous cultures, influenced in large part by Areli’s own Mexican culture, and the wonders of human navigation, inviting clients to discover something new around the shop each visit. For example, the next time you grab a custom latte keep an eye out for fragments of a 45 billion year old meteorite, part of an installation by Co-Founder of Duke University Zoology BioDesign Studio and inventor Chuck Pell, stuck in surprising crevices around the room.
From the painstakingly sculpted mini beeswax figures that dangle from the ceiling to the Portolan chart that extends across the floors, through the tables and onto the walls mapping the history and travel of coffee, Cocoa Cinnamon II truly captures the essence of discovery, growth and nature.
And now we get to the really good stuff – the coffee and chocolate itself. As a very experienced chocolate consumer, I like to pride myself on knowing the intricacies of flavors. However, I must say that my cocoa extravaganza’s have been somewhat limited by campus eateries and personal laziness, so I was definitely spoiled during my blind taste test of three very different but equally delicious chocolate pieces. If you’re looking for a smooth and rich dark chocolate definitely invest in a bar of Parliament chocolate. If your taste buds are more inclined towards fruitier and sweeter flavors, the Taza Chocolate company bar will satisfy your desires. And finally, the closest version to classic drinking chocolate comes from the El Rey Venezuelan Company that stays as true as possible to the origins of chocolate production.
In terms of the coffee, who knew that elements like tobacco, earth or blueberry existed in a single coffee bean? I am by no means a coffee connoisseur so I was shocked to be able to identify the nuances in flavors in the Peruvian Centro coffee, the Indonesian Tana Toraja bean and the Ethiopian Wazzala brew. Each small tasting cup held such a distinct taste but this is what gives each Cocoa Cinnamon concoction its personality. Whether the baristas are mixing in their homemade syrups, cardamom or rose water you are in safe (and definitely creative) hands.
When asked his favorite, Leon said that the first thing to try on the new menu is La Frida. Designed by Areli, this beverage is a nod to the prominent Frida Kahlo inspired wall of curiosities in the shop, this latte brings together elements of spice with fragile rose flavors. I was lucky enough to try the incredible Lawwcchiatto 3 days before it was officially revealed to the public and I would return for this drink alone. An inspired blend of chocolate, half and half milk and an espresso shot, the brew embodies the spirit of the newest Cocoa Cinnamon store. Its aroma is strong, its flavors both sweet and spicy. But it is the deeply rich and velvety chocolate taste that made the Lawwcchiatto my new love.
To anyone looking to enjoy an exceptional cup of coffee in a one-of-a-kind environment, Cocoa Cinnamon II is the place to go.