The Santa Cruz Coffee Experience: Five Variations on a Theme

Nov 24, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Christina Morgan Cree, Travel

by Christina Morgan Cree

Self- proclaimed coffee “connoisseurs”, “geeks” and “aficionados” abound in Santa Cruz. They don’t just want an expertly crafted and unique cup of coffee, they want an atmosphere in which they can savor both good coffee and good conversation. Santa Cruz offers several different experiences for those who want it all: here are five Santa Cruz favorites from oldest to newest..

Caffe Pergolesi, “Oldest coffee house in Santa Cruz”

Caffe Pergolesi

Known to locals as “the Perg”, this longstanding Santa Cruz establishment inhabits an old Victorian with plenty of character. Always looking like a well-worn, well-loved friend, the Perg has four rooms and an outdoor seating area. The Baristas are part of the culture here, locals who study at the university and community college. Grab your drink and a seat out on the porch for some people watching and find out for yourself why the adopted motto is “Keep Santa Cruz weird”. For a true Santa Cruz experience, don’t miss Caffe Pergolesi.

“The Mocha at the Perg could get you high.” –Marcia
“I don’t drink coffee, I go for the French Sodas… YUM!!!!” –Brie
Drinks to try: Mocha, Kiwi French Soda

Mr. Toots “the second oldest coffeehouse in all of Santa Cruz County”

Mr. Toots

Located in the Capitola Village right on the esplanade, Mr. Toots is a Capitola icon that has endured despite earthquake and flood. Back in my college days, we’d dash off to Toots on the pretense of studying. I’d order the Steamed Milk with hazelnut and we’d end up staying for hours, listening to the pianist alternate between Chopin and Joplin–all the while trying to stay on the good side of the edgy female servers who looked down on those of us who could only afford one drink, but somehow made it last for two hours. You’ll find Mr. Toots as it always was (up the narrow staircase just to the left of Margaritaville) still with its homey, no fuss interiors.

“Back when we were dating, we spent many, many nights out on that balcony, huddled close, sipping our drinks and watching the moonlight flicker on the water.” –Anthony
Editor’s note: Mr. Toots is a personal favorite!
Drinks to try: Toot ‘n’ Kaman (latte with honey and spices), Irish coffee

View from Mr. Toots

The White Raven “Home of Larry’s Famous Chai”

Nestled in the tiny town of Felton just 10 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz, the White Raven was the first coffee shop in the lush and green San Lorenzo Valley. The White Raven has created “a unique atmosphere where people come to relax, read, meet old friends and make new ones”. The sign out front reads, “Home of Larry’s famous chai” and I’ve heard it’s well worth going out of your way for. Grab a chai and stay a while.

“[Their Hazelnut Chai] requires a slow brew process…the brew process takes around 8 minutes or so…but it is soooo worth it!!!! Their site claims that they make the best chai in the world and I agree!” –Sadie
Drinks to try: Dirty Chai, Hazelnut Chai

The Abbey “art, music, and coffee lounge”

A Santa Cruz favorite on the westside, The Abbey is tucked into the red brick building that houses Vintage Faith Church. Their interior is eclectic and inviting and extends out onto a beautiful enclosed patio space. They also serve locally made gluten free goodies.

“The Abbey is both unique and beautiful.” –Holly
Drinks to try: Bowl of Soul (tea, honey and soy milk), Brickhouse


The Verve

When Verve opened there was quite a buzz. If you’re looking for the ultimate coffee experience, you’ll want to check out this local original. A favorite of the coffee connoisseur, Verve has their hand in every step of the process. They source their own green coffee, hand roast it while keeping meticulous records, and rely on the feedback of both staff (their Baristas have placed in both regional and national competitions) and customers. Locals hail them as the best coffee around. Period. The interiors are notable as well: Hip, clean, spacious, modern, and organic; inviting conversation, creativity, and relaxation.

“I would recommend the off the menu item I always get, a One & One. It is a split double espresso shot, then one is turned into a macchiato. So you are served an espresso shot and a macchiato on one plate. This was the creation one of the baristas there.” –Juan
Drinks to try: Velvet tea, Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate

Check out more Santa Cruz articles by Christina here in KRL, Santa Cruz Staycation: Where the locals go to get away and Where the Locals Eat In Santa Cruz, and watch for more in 2013!

Christina Morgan Cree is an enthusiastic Agatha Christie buff. She’s seen nearly every film adaptation and read almost every book. She lives in Santa Cruz with her three children and divides her time between fashion design, performing on stage and writing. Finding inspiration everywhere, she squeezes the most she can out of each day chasing ideas, over-analyzing everything and loving the people around her.


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