A Stage for Reconnecting Coffee and Conversation

BY: NORI KATO

As the presence of mom-and-pop shops around our growing city continue to diminish, shops in east Long Beach have stood their ground firmly, especially when it comes to coffee.Our sprawling urban city is frantic with chain coffee shops like Starbucks, and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, many within a few blocks of each other.

But Fourth Street has held strong from the coffee chain gang. Though mostly recognized for its vintage clothing stores, the Art Theater and charming eateries, residents expect quaint hometown charm over the artificially created "coffeehouse feel".

One such independently owned coffee shop on Fourth that is anything but generic is Viento y Agua, a small but prominent institution for city dwellers eager to drink quality coffee in an eco-minded and almost exotic setting.

Viento y Agua is known for its Mexican Moka, a steamy caffeinated choice with a subtle melding of spices and chocolate that can spontaneously cause one to formulate reveries of nighttime festivals in Chichen Itza.

Walking into this coffee shop might not be anything like walking into an actual cafe in the Chiapas, but Viento y Agua is certainly the next best thing, with the café offering similar products. All senses are triggered when entering the cafe as frequently alternating collections of art adorn the multicolored walls and an arousing smell of roasted Arabica beans floods the room.

The baked goods choices vary each day, but are always fresh and never contain a shortage of frosting or chocolate chips. The smoothie choices are appealing, with combinations from strawberry-banana to peach-pear-apricot. The most popular is the peanut butter-banana-oats smoothie, served up smooth and creamy without a sweet taste and heavy viscous consistency.

Although it may not appear like it at first, the small coffee shop offers a lively entertainment scene including live music performances, open mic nights, and several ongoing workshops. On Friday nights, the burnt yellow facade is reduced to the background while chain smokers in cut-off jeans and verbally expressive T-shirts lean on the walls outside and dangling twinkle lights hang sentimentally over the doorway.

Inside the darkened cafe, one section has been transformed into a small concert room, a local performer sits perched atop stool on the small stage which is now flooded in red light. Couples crowd around little mahogany tables with their mugs of Yerba Mate tea or jars of four-berry smoothies and listen intently to a Spanish guitarist. It is immediately evident that Viento y Agua is about much more than the coffee, but about the community it hosts.

Ordinary people can seize the microphone and deliver real talk on stage or put their pieces on display, and people will pay attention. So while corporate coffee shops encroach every possible corner of Long Beach to advertise their convenience and consistency, rest assure that some voices can still be heard loud and clear.

Reposing on one of the velvet sofa chairs and sipping a house blend from the Chiapas, one can't help but think, life would be a lot less comforting without the warmth of a good cup of coffee. And all a thirsty visitor needs to enjoy a night of entertainment in Mexico is enough for a gourmet drink and maybe a baked dessert at Viento y Agua.