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Photograph by Pete Shea
Well grounded: Verve co-owners Colby Barr (left) and Ryan O'Donovan are on the business end of one of the best cappuccinos in town.

Wave of Espresso Chic Hits Opal Cliffs

No, there can't be too many coffeehouses in Santa Cruz, especially if they're as stylish as Verve.

By Christina Waters

In the centuries-old feng shui of coffeehouses there have always been distinct attitudes. At the far edge of coastal paradise those attitudes have tended to shake down to funky-cozy and metro-sleek. Holding down the pulsating corner of 41st and Portola, in the never-never land that is Opal Cliffs, Verve has clearly grabbed onto sleek and is running with it. The effect is something like a cross between Milan and Berkeley, and yet it's 100 percent Pleasure Point.

Enjoying a fine spring shower through the huge windows that front the end of 41st Avenue, I admired the view of the low-slung counters and the gleaming jars of coffee beans. Through the window behind me I could see Verve's very own coffee roasting equipment, one of the keys to just why the cup of Rwandan coffee I was drinking was so vibrant. From a single-portion French press, the coffee had been poured into a large mug right at the table (incredible service as well as smart, upbeat attitude are house specialties). With the strong, rich coffee, I swiftly dispatched a flawless carrot cupcake from Black China Bakery--one of a choice handful of pastries available here, which include brownies, croissants, scones and glamorous cupcakes with mile-high icing.

Everything in this high-ceilinged WiFi interior is easy on the eyes, from the hip baristas to the faux-leather banquettes, silky throw pillows and feisty artwork. The effect is wraparound ambience, the sort of ambience that makes you an offer you can't refuse. Everything at Verve is the color of coffee in one or another of its many incarnations. Floors the color of a very wet latte. Walls the hue of a perfectly made café au lait. Curved wood counter stools gleam like a New World ristretto.

The sound that afternoon was brilliantly DJ'd to coax even more atmosphere into what is already a hipper-than-thou space. Tangos morphed into disco classique, and then on to something in the key of early Vedder. I was enchanted. And so were my fellow caffeinistas working their laptops, cells and newspapers.

On my second visit, it was a sunny Sunday, and I sampled what the boys of Verve can do with an espresso machine. Packed to the max, it was a visual sauna of beach chic. Today the sound system poured out some vintage reggae, and the beach community swirled in and out the glass doors. My macchiato doppio was hand-delivered to the table in a tiny, heavy black cup. Regulation espresso-ware with a white interior, all the better to admire the artful design. The thick crema layer made delicate calligraphy through the white foam. I inhaled rich coffee and admired the sensuous leaf pattern. Sweet. But even better was the tasting. Completely full and rounded, it offered velvety mouthfeel, sweet/salty balance with a deep, deep center, like red wine. I searched for some rough edge or bitter finish. But there was none. This was caffeinated satin, easily the best macchiato I've had since last year in Italy. Certainly this is the classiest espresso on this side of greater metropolitan Santa Cruz. And judging by the action, the energetic traffic flow in, out and around Verve last weekend, the Pleasure Point neighbors are mighty happy about having Verve and its fresh, fresh roast coffee.

Maybe my only issue is with the name. Verve is one of those onomatopoetic words that sounds like what it means. Jumpy, energetic, lively, edgy, vivacious, vroom--you get my drift. And yet the look and feel of this metro-sensual, neomoderne space is actually much more refined, more confident than the word "verve" implies. If I were in the naming business, I'd call this terrific new coffee spot something like "Macchiato" or "Espresso Point."

Only the other hand, what's in a name? The true energy at the corner of 41st Avenue and Portola is in the cup. This is flavor that will not only get your day started, it could just jump-start your whole life.

Verve Coffee Roasters

Address: 819 41st Ave., Capitola

Phone: 831.475.7776

Hours: Open 6am-7pm Mon-Fri; 7am-7pm Sat-Sun

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