It’s a Tuesday night and 40 Valley music-lovers have wandered down to an independent coffee joint to check out a live show by three local singer-songwriters. The trio of female crooners takes turns wowing their audience, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder in the cozy performance space, soaking up tunes over the steady hum of the espresso machine. When one singer finishes her set, she hops behind the counter with the other baristas and helps whip up luscious coffee concoctions for the line of customers.
By the end of the night, patrons were exchanging Facebook information and tips on their favorite beverages. Making new friends, supporting local music and a local business – isn’t that what community is all about?
It’s all par for the course at Ciao Coffee and Tea, a small Sherman Oaks java house that fosters community in a big way with its funky vibe, monthly art shows and amiable staff. Tucked in the corner of the Gelson’s strip mall on Van Nuys Blvd., Ciao has catered to its loyal fans since 2005 with a creative menu, free wi-fi and an old-fashioned emphasis on unhurried, friendly service.
“We try to stay true to our indie, homey feel,” said barista Alisha Angelina Belladonna Lopez, who organizes Ciao’s arts events and performed at the recent music night. “We see our regulars every day. We know our customers by name and by their drinks.”
Speaking of those drinks, there’s something for everyone, from daily light roast, dark roast and flavored coffees ($1.85-$2.75, depending on size) to decadent ice blended freezes ($3.50-$4.65), which include Vanilla Latte, Caramel Mocha, Cookies and Cream and non-coffee Strawberry and Chai beverages.
Hot or iced espresso drinks come in standard favorites such as Caramel Macchiato and White Chocolate Mocha, and also venture off the grid with house-made original creations that must have been as much fun to name as to drink. Try the Marilyn Monrocha, a white chocolate mocha with cherry and almond flavoring, or the Garfield, a mocha with orange and cinnamon flavoring (much like the fur color of the ubiquitous cartoon cat).
Does the thought of sugar make you shudder? Ciao offers low-carb, low-cal and sugar-free mixed or blended drinks for the diet-conscious crowd. And for non-coffee drinkers, there’s hot chocolate, hot cider, Italian soda (infused with syrup), loose-leaf tea and a hot or iced chai latte.
Stop by in the morning for breakfast croissants, bagels and wraps. Otherwise, panini sandwiches are served all day, along with an assortment of cakes, cookies and muffins.
Drop in often enough and you might find yourself immortalized in dry-erase marker on Ciao’s “customer of the week” whiteboard, portrait courtesy of barista Elyse Schwartz.
Even after your cup has been drained, it’s hard to say “ciao” to this local indie gem.
Ciao Coffee and Tea, 4566 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. (818) 986-7477. Look up “Ciao Coffee & Tea Company” on Facebook for special offers and art event announcements.
Rachel Heller is a Sherman Oaks-based freelance writer and grammatical stickler whose work has appeared in the Ventura Blvd Magazine, Whole Life Times, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Sun Community Newspapers and the Los Feliz Ledger. She is a graduate of Boston University. She shudders at misspellings of “then” and “than,” and can subsist for weeks at a time on frozen yogurt. Stay tuned for her next venture — Rachel Sarah Jewels.