Cacao. It is a word most people do not think about, yet here in the US many of us see, smell, nosh, or sip food and drink made from the cacao each day. The cacao tree is native to South America and is the mother of chocolate, cocoa (both the drink and the powder), and cocoa butter. Cocoa was the preferred drink of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II almost 500 years ago and was served with spices and whipped into a froth. Perhaps the most important discovery from the cacao plant, in my opinion, is chocolate. As far as I’m concerned, chocolate is one of the four basic food groups. Whether the chocolate is in the form of a confection or a creamy hot cocoa it does not matter to me!
I began following Cocoa Cinnamon in Instagram last year. North Carolina has many great restaurants, most of which are locally owned or source their food locally. Going back to the local community model with restaurants and farmers markets is not only sustainable, it is vital to the survival of communities, farmers, industry, and the local economy. Cocoa Cinnamon is one such place.
What really piqued my interest in Cocoa Cinnamon was their feature on the UNC-TV show NC Weekend. Only a few minutes long, it gives you a peek into the cafe and its owners Leon and Areli Barrera de Grodski. Not only are they located in the downtown Durham area in an old service station, they are heavily invested in sustainability, the city and its inhabitants. The cafe features local artists, baked goods, a large outdoor seating area, and a red microphone to announce to the cafe when a beverage was ready.
On a warm January day a couple weeks ago I went to Durham to see the city in more detail. Usually I go to Durham to see shows at the DPAC and eat at Bull City Burger & Brewery prior to the show. My first stop this day was lunch at The Q Shack followed by a visit to West Point on the Eno, a local park on the Eno River near the heart of Durham. Although it was a pretty warm day, the temperature dropped as the sun began to set behind the trees at the park. With cold hands I set off towards downtown in search of a warm drink.
Fortunately, only a few minutes from the park was the Cocoa Cinnamon cafe. Sometimes google maps on the phone isn’t exactly on point. In this instance it was close but no banana and I sailed right past the parking lot. Taking the scenic route around town back to the cafe I saw a lot of revitalization. Durham, like many other southern towns is working hard to bring the city back to its former glory. Businesses such as Cocoa Cinnamon are part of that rebirth.
Parking is a little tight in this old service-station-turned-coffee shop, but they have quite a few spaces. I love this repurposed building with white-washed brick, old style lighting, and the brushed metal logo. There is plenty of covered outdoor seating, which was full of people sipping and chatting on this beautiful day. Inside the building hints of its old life, but the new configuration is decidedly cafe-esque. Numerous students were huddled up around laptops taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi while getting their caffeine fix.
One thing I can say is that for a late Saturday afternoon they were hustling. People of all ages were there ordering up tasty treats and hot beverages. The baristas were friendly and the drinks were served piping hot. Cocoa Cinnamon has a varied menu of coffee and chocolates, including the Al Mokha, an homage to the cafe, which includes both cocoa and cinnamon. I chose to sample a classic hot chocolate and a Moctezuma latte (research of course!). The Moctezuma is a dulce de leche and cayenne pepper latte that is not too sweet but packs a serious wallop to your tastebuds. It reminded me of the spicy chocolate drink served by Juliette Binoche in the movie Chocolat. The hot chocolate was creamy and chocolaty served with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Heaven!
Freshly warmed, I drove of across Durham to the wander around the American Tobacco Campus to capture the sunset and some evening shots of the old factory. If you are in the area a stop at Cocoa Cinnamon is a good way to start your day with a baked good and a cup of coffee or a midday pick-me-up. As I write this Cocoa Cinnamon is set to open a second shop on Hillsborough Road on 1 February. You can find the original location on 420 W Geer St Durham, NC. Give it a try!