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CocoaJava readers review their favorite haunts. Why not check out some of these fine places and let them know you heard about them at CocoaJava.com?

2726 Riverside Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202 • 513-321-4200
Koka is open Monday - Friday 6:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

Defend Your Local Coffeehouse
By Kent Lyle

Everyone has a favorite nearby coffeeplace. Sort of the Cheers equivalent where everybody knows your name. My good buddy Renard made a second home at New World Coffee in my old hometown of Raleigh. Whenever I came into town, I could be sure to run into him there.

Mine is the newly arrived Koka in Mt. Adams, which is a 2 minute walk from my apartment. It is in a location where several previous coffee shops have failed, but the market really is ripe and these folks have a real heart for the business. Not only good coffee, but good sandwiches and tasty goodies. The kind of thing that a coffeehouse needs to remain viable. The extra nice touch is the outside dog water bowl labeled "Koka Loves Dogs" and the jar of free doggie treats.

It's safe to say that I get to know everybody who works there. It's almost like family, in a way. Most of the workers are going to college, either at the University of Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky University. A good percentage of them are majoring in music. Even one of the owners is a professional clarinetist and plays in a small ensemble in picturesque locations throughout the city.

As you can tell, I'm proud of my local coffee place and try to show it off to others every time I can. So you can guess that I was enthusiastic when they got reviewed in the Enquirer's CIN Weekly tabloid. "2 for $20: Koka Coffee Lounge". However, the staff immediately cautioned me, "Did you read it yet?" I should have known that things would get off to a bad start with the line "This place would scream urban chic if it weren't so un-chic to scream." The review then proceeded to point out every little nitpick possible. It comes across as snide when you sneer at the employees for being friendly as if they are simpletons worthy of contempt: "our friendly counter-service person said Koka doesn't make the soups or desserts in-house."

The employees were crushed by the snarky review. The comment that stuck in my head was, "You try so hard, and here it seems like it doesn't matter." This filled me with indignation, and I planned my response to the article as a letter-to-the-editor. Later I found that the website allows users to write their own review, and I used this as my primary springboard. The approach I followed is to point out all of the good things I like about Koka that other readers might want to know about, rather than spend my time flaming the author to death. I've already learned from Livejournal that the latter may feel good for an hour or so but doesn't actually accomplish any useful goal.

The employees eventually found my counter-review and spread it around on Facebook, which they are all members of (none on Livejournal, sadly). They thanked me for my words of encouragement. It felt good. I think I helped lift the dour mood which had permeated the folks there. To be honest, it was a pretty small deal, but these are the small things that we all can do for the things that we care about. I know I was taught to avoid using the word "things" in school, but I couldn't think of an alternative for either case.

So... whenever someone unfairly knocks down something you feel passionately about, talk back and tell them how great it is!

Victoria Station Cafe
83 Main Street
Putnam, Connecticut

Reviewed by Caitlin

This absolutely fabulous café is situated on the edge of the antique district in Putnam, CT. Decorated with antiques, every inch of Victoria Station is unique unto itself, and any reason to visit is perfect, because the atmosphere plays perfectly to coffee dates, business encounters, and just general hanging out. Many nights feature live music, there are board games available for customers to play for free, and the coffee is superb. Victoria Station emphasizes its fantastic array of specialty flavors, and one particular drink, the Espressotini, tops them all. A must visit for any coffee culture enthusiast.

Beyond the Brim Coffeehouse-Café
611 Emory Drive
Owensboro, Kentucky

Reviewed by Rachael Sinclair, proud “Brimmer” since 2002

From the vibrant cherry’s first kiss of dew to the bean’s final bath of sunlight, coffee longs to reach Owensboro, Kentucky and Beyond the Brim Coffeehouse-Café. With the freedom of a bohemian café, and the uncompromising quality expected from a chain, this independent coffee shop has the best of both worlds. The expertly crafted coffee has a smooth, perfectly roasted flavor and the other beverages are superb. The entrées are flavorful, singular creations and the treats are a heavenly sin. Take a peek over a mug at this inviting shop and see how great life is Beyond the Brim!

Vancouver BC, Canada

Reviewed by "China Kitty"

Yesterday, I had visited a great Italian café called Sciué (Pronounced "Shoe-eh") up in Vancouver, Canada. The place have some great and original coffee drinks and they're made by one of the café owners himself. (The drinks, along with the food there, sounded SO good I had a hard time making up my mind. ^_^)

One of the drinks I've tried there is called "Chocolate Web." It is layered with Crema di Latte, Caramel, Espresso and topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup! Yum!! What's nice about it is that the drink is served in a large martini-style glass and the rim is lined with sweet melted caramel. Because it is served in a glass, you could see the layers and you can either drink them separately or mix them together. Best of all, you could see your drink being created in on the front counter for you (just like a cocktail.) Next time, I'll try out another one when I came to visit.

So, if you ever drop by to visit Vancouver, Canada, I recommend Sciué and try out the original espresso creations there.

The Solstice Cafe
529 Pandora Avenue
Victoria BC, Canada

Reviewed by by Cheryl DeWolfe

The Solstice Cafe in Victoria, BC is a wonderful alternative to the big-name coffee chains so prevalent in the city. Walking through the doors of Solstice, you find yourself in an open yet cozy renovated heritage building. High ceilings and raw brick walls surround comfortable furniture and sturdy handcrafted wood tables. In addition to great coffee drinks, made with organic, fair trade Kicking Horse coffee and Denman Island organic dark chocolate, the menu features organic snacks and light meals, with vegan choices. As if that weren't enough, the staff are friendly and the local art on display changes regularly.

Hubbard & Cravens Coffee Co.
Indianapolis, Indiana

Reviewed by Rachael Sinclair

The same way people appreciate fine art and award-winning literature, true coffee connoisseurs are sure to be passionate about Hubbard&Cravens Coffee Co. This artisan company based in Indianapolis, Indiana roasts and brews some of the most flavorful coffee around. Their individually crafted roasts, which number near 30 different varieties, are to coffee what each brushstroke is to Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Each batch is carefully selected and combined to create works of aromatic art. A visit to one of their contemporary cafés is truly a walk through a gallery of flavor. Step inside and find a new favorite masterpiece.

Master’s International Coffee
Louisville, Kentucky

Reviewed by Rachael Sinclair

Would you like a coffee shop in your living room? Master’s International Coffee is like a cozy den complete with the most unique coffee in the Louisville, Kentucky area. The small cafe boasts a large leather sofa, flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi. Their coffee, all from independent roasters, is always fresh and never burned. If you like channel surfing while enjoying a sweet treat, Master’s is for you. The chocolate muffins are exceptionally moist and go great with a latte. This convenient shop even has a drive-through so you can enjoy Master’s in your own living room.

Heine Bros. Coffee
Louisville, Kentucky

Reviewed by Rachael Sinclair

As coffee drinkers, it is our responsibility to take care of the earth and the hard-working people who produce our passion. Heine Bros. Coffee in Louisville, Kentucky has taken their responsibility to a new level. This hometown shop roasts and serves only Fair Trade and organic coffee to feed body and soul. Each eclectic location proudly supports many causes dear to their consumer and is a caffeinated hub for community activism. Established in 1992 Heine Bros. is now a daily guilt-free indulgence for hundreds of customers. Each visit to one of their five locations is a feel-good treat.

Espresso Bar Ancient History
Pasadena, California

Reminiscing by Margaret

I had a coffee bar, well more a coffee nightclub, called "The Espresso Bar" back from 1979 till 87. My friend Gordon then had it from then for another 8 or 9 years. I had taken it over in turn from my friend Michael. It was back up a dog-leg alley in Old-town Pasadena, with no sign on the street. You had to be taken there by a denizen of the (coffee) dark to even find it! It had the best juke box, and big red Chinese lanterns, and smart-ass jokers behind the bar.

There is now a web site or you can google "Pasadena Ebar". All these years later, people are still grieving that it is gone.

One of our best drinks was the Coffee Royale: a double or triple shot with some hot chocolate, then a big glob of (just whipped) whipped cream and topped with shaved Mexican chocolate. YOW!

On hot Saturday afternoons we made hand-cranked ice cream to give to the first arrivals. I would start with a recipe for French vanilla. Chop up a pound of good dark chocolate, then melt half of it in 5 or 6 shots of espresso. Pour the mixture into the vanilla a few minutes before it's done. Then just before it's finished, toss in the other half of the chocolate pieces and mix in. Then at the end, toss in about a half pound of just toasted sliced almonds, still hot! As they mix into the mixture, their flavor permeates everything! You will faint when you taste this!

Those were great days...

There was a lot written about the Ebar at the time, in the press. It was a very special place, and each person seems now to have a unique perspective of their time there. Of course the coffee was great, but more than that was the experience of timelessness...in a place where "it's always 10:52".....