A new downtown destination combines two favorite vices
by Gay Lyons
Coffee and chocolate: They do go together well. Knoxville native, Central High and UT graduate (with a psychology degree) Sharif Harb certainly thinks so. Heâ’s relocated his coffee and chocolate shopâ"aptly named Coffee and Chocolateâ"from Walker Boulevard in North Knoxville to 327 Union Avenue in the heart of downtown, just around the corner from Market Square, a block or two from the Regal Riviera Cinema and the Tennessee Theatre.
The previous location had developed a loyal following, but Harb says, â“I decided to move to a place where there was foot traffic.â” In the couple of weeks since opening, Harb is not only pleased with the â“huge responseâ” from customers but also the â“tremendous welcomeâ” from other downtown merchants.
Harb says he has found the perfect spot. Itâ’s a great location, but Harbâ’s hours add to the appeal: Coffee and Chocolate is open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Thereâ’s the morning coffee and pastry crowd, the gotta-have-a-quick-chocolate-fix mid-day crowd, the mid-afternoon wi-fi espresso and chocolate-covered fruit crowd, the hot chocolate-drinking ice skating crowd, the post-dinner downtown crowd, and the pre- and post-show decaf and tiramisu crowd. Not that Coffee and Chocolate can exactly handle a crowd.
The space has been expanded since its previous incarnations as a cigar store and a boutique, but itâ’s still pretty small. At peak times, you and your laptop may not get a seat. Be prepared to grab your goodies and go. The richly colored room has six wooden tables. The new hardwood floors and red pendant lights add warmth. Paintings (for sale) from local artists add color. This monthâ’s artist is Ben Yates. There will be a new artist featured with each First Friday downtown.
The majority of the coffee is fair-trade and organic. This is not the place to pick up a cheap cup. This is where you come for quality stuff. â“We all have things we splurge onâ"diamonds, chocolates, coffee,â” Harb says. This is a place to splurge on coffee. The coffees on the menu board and most of the coffees sold by the bean are no more expensive than those served or sold at any other specialty coffee placesâ"and Harb guarantees their quality. The coffees are pure, not blends. For about $12.99 a pound, you can get Nicaraguan, Peaberry, Papua New Guinean, Sumatran, and Ethiopian. The two most expensive beans are sold by the half pound: Hawaiian Kona for $19.99 and Jamaican Blue Mountain for $29.99. Itâ’s a matter of taste and quality. â“You have to pay that extra amount for quality. Thatâ’s what we sell,â” Harb says.
Harb also claims to offer the â“best hot chocolate in town.â” Made from Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, cocoa powder, steamed milk, and topped off with whipped cream if you want it, it has proved to be popular with ice skaters on Market Square.
This is also the place to splurge on fine chocolate. Harb gets his chocolates from different chocolatiers. He describes them as â“very small businesses that specialize in quality.â” His enthusiasm for the luscious things in his display cases is evident, from cashew whispers and turtle pretzel sticks to dark chocolate-covered cherries from local chocolate maker Southâ’s Finest Chocolate Factory. The cannoli are so good that Harb says â“itâ’s hard to keep them in stock.â”
Coffee and Chocolate also offers desserts. A couple of the best are the one-person sized servings of tiramisu and, for an incredible treat, the chocolate calypsoâ"white chocolate mousse surrounded by dark chocolate mousse covered with a soft chocolate shell, sitting on a cinnamon-dusted graham cracker.
My quick-to-go favorites are the bags of chocolate-covered treats at $4.99 a pop: Brazil nuts, cherries, espresso beans (outrageously good!), and more. Iâ’m enamored of the chocolate-covered blueberriesâ"double the anti-oxidants, double the fun. Itâ’s good to find something so decadent thatâ’s so good for you.
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