Depending on what time you arrive at TaZa Coffee n’ Creme, your nose is likely to tell you that you’re in the right place. For starters, the door opens to stairs that give you a bird’s eye view of the laboratory where Chocolates By Kelly are often perfuming the air in their molten form before taking shape to be packaged and sold in stores (and more importantly upstairs at TaZa).
The actual coffee shop reminds you that you’re in the Blanchard’s Coffee headquarters – their roasting machine sits right in the middle of TaZa’s seating area. Again, for brief windows, the smell of roasting beans sets the stage for serious coffee enjoyment. And then there’s the food. It may be mundane, but a Cupertino’s everything bagel with cream cheese does it for me every time here, in no small part due to the toasted onion and garlic aroma that arrives long before the first bite. What started as a list of good smells has turned into a description of a ‘general store’ stocked with locally crafted products, one of the most impressive functions of Taza’s Forest Hill hideaway.
While I’m imposing my tastes on you, let me just say that bagels aside, I don’t generally want big piles of flour with my coffee. Muffins, scones, even most pastries weigh like a ton of bricks in my belly. Are these even complimentary flavor pairings with coffee? Maybe for some palates. Not to take the proletarian cup of joe from utilitarian to epicurean (too late), but I just can’t think of a better way to enjoy strong coffee than to nibble on intensely flavored handcrafted chocolates between each swig. Then again, chocolate and coffee together is probably my favorite flavor combination. Am I alone in this?
There are exceptions to every rule. In that refrigerator case, along side tons of Kelly’s curious chocolates, you’ll often find fresh La Sabrosita pastries waiting to tempt you. Most of their stuff is light and often accented with tropical fruit fillings, or some other sweet creaminess. Last I checked, the coffee shop offered sandwiches too. But for me, the biggest draw isn’t coffee, chocolate, bagels, or pastries (though, in total, that’s a pretty good spread that should draw anyone from the surrounding neighborhood, or across the river, to their off the beaten path location).
A list of local providers featured on Taza
The “cream” at TaZa Coffee n’ Creme puts this place on my radar. Why? They’re bringing in the ice cream and frozen pops from La Michoacana (so, maybe we should say helado and paletas). If you’ve ever tasted the stuff from out on Midlo or waaaay out on Jeff Davis (and non-existent online), then you know what a incredible treat La Michoacana ice cream is. They typically draw on the flavor palate of the ice cream shop owner’s native Mexico. While I find that extremely rewarding (try the pine nut with a hint of coconut, the oreo spiked with cinnamon, or anything with tropical fruit, like guanabana) there are plenty of regular-seeming varieties like strawberry, chocolate, etc (though, even the standards will come across with great subtlety or more intense fruit flavor). Thanks to TaZa’s positioning in the city, Richmond residents now have a pretty convenient way to snag a taste of fantastic helado or bring home a half dozen paletas for our own freezers.
Sharing ice cream with a food-obsessed infant. They just come right up to you here!
On the coffee front, TaZa has the inside track on freshly roasted beans and barista training. Drinking coffee roasted on premises by Blanchards is arguably the biggest privilege of a TaZa trip. But, aside from all of the well chosen products, it’s the tenacity of Ben and John, the mainstays behind the counter, that makes me think that Taza has a bright future. They’re always eager to please, looking for feedback, and personalizing their service. There was once a time when their macchiato was more of a latte, but after some feedback (mainly from me, I’m sure), they now offer a traditional Italian style too.
Not on the menu, but always on special, is the distinctly small-town vibe that’s cultivated in the space. Sitting back in my chair or on a couch at TaZa, I’m always struck by the banter and the familiarity with which everyone seems to regard each other there. It’s relaxed. Anachronistically slow-paced. Almost Mayberry-esque. And it’s rarely over-run. Considering John and Ben’s attentive and friendly service, I can’t imagine what would happen if the line got to be 7 people deep. This is the reason people like to keep hidden gems a secret: A newly popular place might not preserve the pleasurable experience with faster action and nowhere to sit. But, something tells me TaZa would find a way to keep it authentic. Success goes to some people’s heads more easily than others.