It’s Café Ipe, but you can call it Coffee Coffee
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet …
That goes double for Café Ipe because everyone insists on calling it “Coffee Coffee.”
“We named it after the Ipe tree out front because we thought it was a cool tree and plus we get a lot of South American coffee,” said owner Dave Thomas. “The tree is South American, so we were kind of going with that whole theme.”
But with Surfy Surfy next door, it was a natural slip of the tongue, just as it was a natural fit when Thomas and his partners decided to open this neighborhood coffee shop.
“It was kind of just a freak thing,” Thomas recalled. “We’re partners in the surf shop next door and from working over there we noticed half the people that came in the surf shop had coffee in their hands, so we were like, ‘We should open a coffee shop.’ When this place became available, we decided to go for it.”
Three families had partnered in May 2010 to open Surfy Surfy – the Thomases, Panknopfs and St. Pierres – and teamed up again to unveil Café Ipe (aka Coffee Coffee) in November 2011.
“We didn’t want it to be one of those snotty coffee places where people come in and feel like if they don’t order the drink right they’re going to be looked down upon. We try to just be completely uncorporate,” Thomas said. “We don’t have a standard operating procedure where you have to make a latte this way. We hire really good baristas and trust their judgment as far as what to serve and the latte art. That way they’re always evolving.”
Besides their baristas, Coffee Coffee stands out for the rare practice of roasting beans on-site.
“At the surf shop we met this guy named Dan, who lives down the street, and he’s a total coffee aficionado,” Thomas explained. “He actually had that huge roaster in his garage and would just roast for himself and friends. So we talked to him and worked out a deal and, when we started building this place, we convinced him to bring his roaster over here and put it in.”
Dan “the coffee man” Shiebe roasts the beans for Coffee Coffee in his larger-than-life, commercial roaster that takes up a good portion of the café. But Shiebe’s passion goes way beyond that.
“Dan spends a lot of time when he buys coffee. I mean he loves coffee. He researches what the weather was like in that area at the time,” Thomas said. “He’ll actually come in and roast a couple small batches and see if he likes it, then he’ll order it and start roasting that for a while. Then he’ll switch it up to something else.”
Coffee Coffee offers about eight to 10 varieties of java a week, but they’re always willing to let the customers test out other options.
“If somebody comes in and they want to try one of our coffees and we don’t happen to be brewing it that day, we’ll just make them a pour-over cup and that way they can taste it,” Thomas said.
Along with catering to their customers’ coffee preferences, they also make sure to include choices such as sativa and agave as sweeteners and other healthy options. Thomas added, “I’m surprised at how many people like almond milk and coconut milk and the gluten-free stuff. We go through a lot of that.”
Customer Catharine Chichakian raved: “The little gluten-free muffin-cookie-cake thing is almost like a different shaped macaroon. I’m always looking for gluten-free stuff and that was really good.”
They serve edible treats from other local businesses (only paninis are house-made) with donuts from VG’s (Cardiff-by-the-sea) and pastries from Isabelle Brien’s French Pastry Café (Encinitas), benefiting themselves and the community.
“I like to support local, independent businesses. And they support local businesses. That’s a big thing,” patron Amy Stephens said. “Plus, they give my husband the coffee grounds for his garden. … They support his garden and composting, so I support them.” Then she added: “I always see somebody here I know, and I never know who it will be.”
Thomas seconded that: “A lady was in here a while ago and it was the midwife for my son 20 years ago. I haven’t seen her in a long time and here we were.”
The familial vibe surrounding the café isn’t surprising since all the owners’ kids take their turns washing dishes in the back and Thomas’ sister, Summer, works next door at Surfy Surfy. Talk about 100 percent homegrown. All of the owners are longtime residents that know the area and its inhabitants well. Keeping the community’s cup half full, they offer a quality product that’s well thought-out and executed. But beyond that, they encourage local musicians to sign up on weekends, occasionally show artwork and help support fellow small businesses.
“We just try to do things our own way,” Thomas said. “We don’t have firm plans other than to sell good coffee and try to be an inviting place for people to come hang out.”
Lauren Ciallella is a San Diego freelance writer