Employee and patron Kenny Keune reads and relaxes with his giant mug Wednesday night at Coffee Zone. Coffee Zone is known for these large cups and its unique atmosphere. 

Peter Yankowsky/Senior Staff Photographer

Coffee Zone: not just an escape, but a cultural junction

MOVE spends an evening in a middle-eastern café.

By Cade Cleavelin | Feb. 11, 2011

Tags: Columbia business Community


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There is no shortage of places to get a decent cup of coffee in Columbia. But just up the street from where Kaldi’s and Lakota sit in jest is Coffee Zone, a small place that will take you farther away than the two blocks you walked to get there.

6:12 p.m.: My arrival

I walk in to a softly lit café, with middle-eastern lanterns hanging from the ceiling and what sounds like soft Mediterranean dubstep playing over the speakers. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. A few solitary people are found here and there at tables of their own, laptops open, pouring over what could be homework or papers in the process of being graded. I set my bags down at a table toward the back. It’s near a power outlet and allows me to better get a lay of the landscape. I order a chai from the counter, which comes in a pint glass that makes me feel more like I’m in a pub, not the middle of the United States.

7:20 p.m.: Behind the counter

Behind the counter, two college-age gentlemen with heavy facial hair run the ship — taking orders, preparing coffee, tea, chai and food, all the while keeping up some continuous conversation I can only barely make out — something about pandas? I get up and order a gyro, which comes back piled impossibly high with lamb, lettuce, tomato and some of the most excellent spices. But as good as the food is, as far as I can see most people are sticking to coffee tonight. Food would only get in the way of the conversation.

8:14 p.m.: Eavesdropping

Clusters of people huddle around tables, talking in English and various middle-eastern dialects. The café isn’t loud, but the collective murmur hovers and flows like smoke in the air — not loud enough to bother anyone, but discernible to the skilled eavesdropper. The two sitting in front of me turn out to be a professor and her significant other. He sits rifling through pages of The New York Times, while she dances back and forth between her computer and stacks of papers. Behind me, a man carries on to his cell phone, iterating over and over, ”before you do anything crazy, listen to me, I wrote you an email about this…” It’s enjoyable to be in the thick of so much conversation, but I wish most of all that I could understand the two older men speaking animatedly in what I think is Turkish. The culture here is as refreshing as the chai.

8:38 p.m.: Closing time

The owner, Osama, makes an appearance before closing. He walks in, stopping by a few tables of people who seemed to know him personally, exchanging pleasantries in a yet unknown middle-eastern language, and cursing the bitter cold weather outside. As he proceeds about his business, people start filtering out, which is my cue to be off as well.

A mixture of middle-eastern culture and relaxed bohemian flair creates a very quiet, chill atmosphere at Coffee Zone. It’s perfect for studying, escaping the outside or just joining the regular group of gentlemen for conversation over coffee and American Spirits — weather permitting, of course, as there’s no smoking in the café. Coffee Zone was an excellent escape, and I think I’ll find myself getting lost here more often.

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