Sipping chocolate has made its way to Durham, thanks to the couple behind Cocoa Cinnamon. Areli Barrera de Grodski and her husband, Leon Grodski de Barrera, who hail from Asheville, have brought not only exotic, sustainably sourced coffee, chocolate and treats to the Bull City, but also a new level of customer service.
Cocoa Cinnamon's focus on chocolate is limited to drinkable forms. First, a definition: Sipping chocolate is not hot cocoa. The former is melted chocolate with cream, milk or water. The latter is made from powdered cocoa.
My first cup ($3.25) was pretty incredible. Although it had a noticeably overripe banana flavor, it was still scrumptious, just a bit, er, banana-y. The second time the chocolate tasted perfect, and perhaps was even sweeter. It coated my 3-year-old's lips and chin—he even got it on his forehead somehow. Both times the drink was just warm enough to please; don't waste time trying to savor it, because it's not as delightful when it cools.
One of Cocoa Cinnamon's first signature drinks (there will be dozens) is Dr. Durham, a cappuccino with housemade vanilla, ginger and maca—a Peruvian root thought to promote energy and serve as an aphrodisiac—and finished with black lava salt.
Leon wrote down these ingredients so I'd remember them, and when I asked about microtexturized milk, he offered an illuminating explanation of how frothed milk, when done correctly, has a velvety texture. Bringing it to my mouth, it smelled a bit like sushi but tasted like a very mature, elegant and exotic coffee drink indeed. A few complaints, aside from the banana experience: The hot chocolate, though richly chocolatey, was a bit tepid. A vegan chocolate cake was not fudgy, as I thought it would be. And while the couches and coffee tables give a cozy living-room feel to the former filling station, it is a bit tight in there. When the weather warms up and ample outdoor seating is available, it will be easier to hang out.
Cocoa Cinnamon also sells "beer bombers" in 22-ounce bottles, as well as wine. Like everything on the menu, the origins and taste profiles are explicitly spelled out. For example, the Great Divide Yeti, a brew from Denver with 9.5 percent alcohol, gives a "big, roasty malt flavor that gives way to rich caramel toffee notes."
The shop sells cakes and candy bars (many vegan and/or raw) made by other local vendors, but the confections Areli concocts with raw cacao beans and agave nectar are not yet available. I was told it might take months since health inspections are needed, yadayadayada ...
Nonethless, the trio of mini cheesecakes I sampled with friends was rich—and must have been popular, as there were none to be found on the second visit. The locally made custom pottery is also a wonderful touch; the small vessels for the sipping chocolate looked like old-fashioned egg cups.
The signature drinks, chocolate and customer service: I hope this café is rewarded accordingly and word spreads that genuine coffee aficionados are running this place.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A loving cup."