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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Nun Better : The Abbey's cozy bohemian-inspired interior is absolutely divine.

Sacred Grounds

Abbey Coffee serves up expertly made java in a beautiful space.

By Camila Perez

Look up "shabby chic" in the dictionary and there ought to be a picture of the Abbey. Alcoves defined by cushioned benches and tall curtains line the blond-painted walls, overstuffed golden chairs and an emerald couch invite focused lounging in the main sitting area, and dark bistro tables and stools are perfect for doing homework or just perching with a drink. The atmosphere is charming and eclectic.

This is the Abbey Coffee, Art and Music Lounge, a little nook tucked behind the red brick Vintage Faith Church on Mission Street. The cafe occupies a space formerly open only on Sundays for the church community, but it has since been revamped into a nonprofit coffeehouse/art gallery/music venue open for everyone's enjoyment. It was dreamed up by church members like Kristen Culman as "a space for the community to happen and for people to hang out and feel safe." Donations from the church and help from volunteers and talented friends furnished the remodeling of the space to make it a whimsical, artsy hangout--a real community project.

There are high hopes for the place as an art and music venue as well--live music by local and traveling musicians happens every Sunday night on the small stage, and one well-lit wall is entirely dedicated to a rotating art show for local artists. And of course there's free wireless. Because of the cafe's nonprofit status, the staff is made up of enthusiastic volunteers and part-time employees. They hope to attract neighbors from the nearby Westside neighborhoods as well as university students and anybody else who wants to check the place out.

Sarah Peterson manages the Abbey. She is also the head barista, the perfect job for her, judging from her enthusiasm for the quality and creativity of the drinks she serves up. She shows up to talk to me a little while after Kat, one of the part-time baristas, has gleefully mixed me up something not yet on the menu that she says Sarah invented. She calls it the "Mounds bar drink." It's a mocha with coconut syrup, iced, with whipped cream, and it is so delicious I make myself slightly sick from drinking it too quickly. While I'm slurping my drink, Kat explains a little about the coffee and how they make it. The beans are locally roasted by Verve Artisan Coffee Roasters in Pleasure Point. Apparently Verve wants to make sure its coffee is put to proper use--Verve folks personally trained the Abbey baristas on how to make the drinks. The machines are on the cutting edge of coffee making: they have "naked portafilters," meaning the filter through which the coffee emerges is visible instead of covered by a spout. The trained eye can then see if the filter is working properly and therefore judge the quality of the coffee.

There's latte art in every drink, too--Kat makes a cappuccino to show me--which apparently is proof that your milk was properly heated. "We're a little obsessive." Kat confesses with a laugh. Yeah, but obsessive makes for one amazing cappuccino, even to my inexperienced palate.

When Sarah arrives, she waxes poetic about the drinks, too. "I didn't want to be a coffee snob, but I wanted to have something [real coffee drinkers] can appreciate ... as well as sweet drinks." And then she, like Kat, asks me if I like chocolate, and when I say I do she promptly goes and makes me another drink. Its name is "oh my ganache," and it comes in a tiny espresso cup garnished with a little nickel-size, powdered, sugar-coated Russian teacake. Sarah tells me this little pot of nectar is made from melted Scharffenberger chocolate and a little Guittard syrup, the base for most of their chocolate drinks, mixed with a little brown sugar, cream and milk. It's like drinking a truffle.

The Abbey is very particular about using a few, high-quality ingredients, so that the drinks are "made with love," and not from pre-mixed, pre-packaged powders. Their pastries come from local bakeries: the cookies and muffins and bars are from Mt. Herman Bakery, baked especially for them, and the bagels come from the Bagelry. Sarah hopes to add sandwiches and lunch options to the menu soon, as well.

An enclosed outdoor courtyard is coming soon, complete with heating lamps and landscaping. A place like Abbey Coffee, born out of the good will and hard work of the community, is bound to become a major hub. I'll definitely be returning, and not only for another "oh my ganache," either.

The Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge

Address: 350 Mission St., Santa Cruz

Hours: Open 7am-6pm Tue-Thu, 7am-10pm Fri, 8am-10pm Sat-Sun

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