Today, I am blogging from Small Town Coffee in Kapaa, Kauai.
“I’ve been thinking about our idea,” I say to the owner, Anni, as she writes my tea order on the side of a plain white, recyclable paper cup. A couple ahead of me hovers around the counter, waiting for their drinks. A family gathers around two tables pushed together, one child noshing on a cinnamon roll; one eating a bagel topped with cream cheese, tomato and capers; another eating waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. A quick glance tells me every table in the place is taken, except for one, a 1960s chrome-trimmed and grey-spattered-linoleum-topped table with four matching chairs—the complete set.
Ever since the Border’s Books closed on Kauai, Annie and I have talked about opening a combo used/new bookstore within her wildly popular community gathering place, the local coffee shop.
“12-ounce latte,” a busy barista calls out, as she designs a leaf in the drink’s foam. It comes served in a delicate, white ceramic cup with an actual saucer.
At the family table, a toddler decides he’s had enough and starts whaling. That gets the desired result—thankfully—and the family gathers its belongings and leaves its dregs behind—half-eaten bagel, picked-over waffles, empty smoothie and coffee cups.
I decide the bagel with cream cheese, tomato and capers looks good and order one. I am given a laminated card emblazoned with a “G” and a photo of a catcher’s mitt to place on my vintage tabletop.
A woman behind me orders a pound of coffee for Anni to grind.
“Busy morning,” I say.
“And, yet, I am amazingly calm,” Anni says. She is, always, even with a line out the door. And, yet, she still takes time to create a book design in the foam of my chai.
“Do you live here?” the woman, with an accent I can’t place, asks.
“Yes,” I say. “Obviously you do, too, because that’s not a vacation week’s worth of coffee you just had ground.”
She laughs and nods her head, points out the window behind the counter, and says “North Shore.”
I take my seat at the empty table, plop my big “G” on top and open my laptop.
More people stream in—from obvious visitors reading Kauai travel guidebooks and carrying visitor publications, to regulars toting their own to-go mugs whom Anni greets by name, to smelly hippies playing guitar (they usually sit outside), to geeks seeking WiFi.
When Anni opened five years ago, free WiFi was a big deal, and she knew it. The “free WiFi” sign hanging out front was more noticeable than her own. It was a good way to create an immediate following. Now, WiFi’s not the only thing Small Town Coffee has going for it. The coffee must be pretty good. According to her website, Sunset magazine thinks her lattes could be the best in the world. A barista behind the counter pumps out iced and hot coffee drinks—from the aforementioned lattes to mochas, cappuccinos, macchiatos and Americanos to espresso and regular, old-school brewed coffee.
The word that comes to mind when I think of Small Town Coffee is eclectic. Artsy is another. They’re pretty obvious words; I don’t have to think too hard. The tables don’t match. Neither do the chairs. The wide-wood-plank floor is uneven. The walls are covered in local artist’s work—some good, some bad; some in frames, one painted directly onto a wall. The building, a leftover relic from the sugar plantation days, is painted a marine blue. A bright marine blue. KauaiBackstory has held author readings here in the past. Knitting night is held every Wednesday evening. Tango night on Tuesdays.
When there’s a break in the traffic, Anni sweeps by to pick up my plate, empty of everything except a few capers.
“How’s the chai,” she asks. “I forgot to add sugar when I made it, so I added some honey in the bottom of your cup.”
That’s the key for me, of course, that Anni makes her own chai—from scratch. No powdered mix for her. No syrup from a box. Nothing but real spices, real tea leaves. “Spicy,” I say. “Just the say I like it.”
But Anni’s chai is not a chai for beginners. I’ve had to work my way up to it.
“So, how about that book store?” I ask.
“I have an idea on how to make it work,” she says.