How many painfully hip coffee shops playing Sufjan Stevens and pouring $5 cold brew have you been to this year? One? Three? Too many to count?
Fortunately, for those tired of predictable cafes serving interchangeable brews, the next wave of American coffee is on the horizon. It’s called fourth-dimension coffee, and its point of origin is Durham, N.C.
Cocoa Cinnamon is equal parts neighborhood cafe, roastery, and philosophical movement. Independently owned and operated by Leon and Arieli Barrera de Grodski, the company has three locations in Durham. It strives to incorporate the history and culture of global coffee-producing regions in every cup.
This may sound heavy handed, but it is a natural step in America’s coffee evolution. First-wave American coffee was all about convenience, and characterized by big, steaming pots of Sanka. Starbucks brought in the next wave, introducing espresso drinks and places of origin to the mix. The third wave, embodied by labels like Stumptown, consists of responsibly sourced, sustainable beans.
Cocoa Cinnamon’s next iteration takes this a step further, celebrating the history and culture of its beans’ origins in its custom creations. The Strait of Hormuz pour-over, for example, is brewed-to-order African and Asian coffee infused with Malabar black pepper. La Frida Latte features housemade mole syrup and Latin American beans, a nod to Areli’s Mexican heritage. Cocoa Cinnamon’s take on a mocha latte is called Al Mokha. It shares its name with a Yemeni port on the coffee trade route, and is topped with Sri Lankan cinnamon, which was also exported via Mokha.
At their cafes and via their house label, Fourth Dimension Coffee, the Grodskis aim to celebrate the unique flavors of different coffees, without separating them from the cultural heritage of their destinations of origin.
“It’s about trying to encapsulate the entire universe into a cup of coffee,” Leon says casually over a plate of freshly baked churros at Cocoa Cinnamon’s newest location in the Lakewood District. He namechecks Einstein, Duchamp, and Stephen Hawking as influences.
“These scientists and artists were striving to see into the depths of space and down to the quantum level,” he says.
In the fourth dimension, coffee is inseparable from travel, history, and culture. Because traders brought coffee from western Ethiopia through the Muslim world, Cocoa Cinnamon serves drinks that celebrate ancient spice routes through those regions. “This is something much more than a one-dimensional take on taste and experience,” he says. “It’s what we think of as a fourth-dimensional approach.”
“Fourth Dimension Coffee is about being able to see all the different perspectives that can help inform our approach to coffee while being open to the unexpected and embracing it — and to adapt with it as part of the process,” Areli says.
The Grodskis also believe in coffee shops as important “third spaces” in American society. Leon likens them to Irish pubs, or any place that provides an instant sense of community and belonging. Coffee is “a kind of connection, an engagement” with a destination, he says.
It may sound a bit heavy handed, sure; but so does a sprinkle-topped, rainbow-colored unicorn frozen cappuccino.
“While a Unicorn Frappuccino may taste good to someone, it only hits the surface,” Areli says. “We always strive to nourish with each sip through our intention behind the creation. We believe that creating our beverages through honoring the history breathes life back into the products.”
“Our goal is not to blindly stick to a dogma of coffee,” Leon says. Instead, he believes fourth-dimension coffee lovers will think about the origins of what they’re drinking in bigger, broader terms than a point on a map. “It includes learning about the cultures, languages, and places of the people who grown and harvest the coffee,” he says.
Like most things, Cocoa Cinnamon coffee is best enjoyed with an open mind.