Organic coffee and food and singer-songwriters taking turns at an open microphone seem out of place in a corporate coffee house world. And a style of dress that says ‘bohemian combined with bed head’ rather than ‘Gucci combined with bleach-blonde Barbie hair’ seems like a rarity in Newport Beach. Nevertheless, a down-to-earth aura persists against the odds at Alta Coffee Warehouse and Roasting Company on the Balboa Peninsula.
Mugs of organic coffee rest on clean but unpolished, slightly scraped wooden tabletops. Unlike some cups of coffee, where cream and sugar is needed to hide the bitter flavor, a spoonful of cream will suffice for a cup of coffee from Alta.
On a side street on the Balboa Peninsula, hidden from the sight of Carl’s Junior, is the white coffee house. A planter of ferns sits under the large paneled window and redwood benches adorn the otherwise flat facade.
Families, teenagers, old folks,and party-going people in their 20s walk through the forest-green door and order the coffee drinks and teas listed on the chalk board. Behind the counter, servers wear everyday clothes instead of corporate uniforms and name tags. The female servers wear little makeup, adding to the mama’s kitchen atmosphere.
People sporting expensive brand names or categorizable kids with black eyeliner and side-swept shags would look out of place at Alta, where style is toned down and relaxed. And if the bar-going Newport ladies who wear low-cut shirts and sport designer bags show up, they modify their look to sweatshirts and jeans.
The local folks have been going to Alta ever since the owners took apart an old bookstore and started to sell coffee from its side door in 1985. One of the original owners, Tony Wilson, still tells the story to customers. He said that he and his then-wife planned to brew and sell coffee, but her homemade coffee cake tasted so good that they had to open a bar and bistro.
The organic coffee at Alta comes from various places around the world like Salvador, Columbia and Costa Rica. Some of the coffee beans are roasted in the roasting room at the back of the house.
Along with international organic coffee, half of the breakfast, lunch and dinner menu is organic. Breakfast customers can order buckwheat pancakes, bagel and salmon sandwiches, omelets and bowls of fruit. Lunch and dinner includes seven different salads and 10 different sandwiches served on homemade bread with pepperoncini peppers and chips, ranging from $6.25 to $7.25.
As they enjoy their meals, customers sit and listen to live bands and performers every weekend night. The coffeehouse also features open mic nights every Tuesday, when singer-songwriters perform an average of three songs each.
An acoustic band, all men (and some with white hair), play bluesy folk music every last Friday of the month at Alta. The band, called Denis Roger Reed, recreates the independent coffeehouse atmosphere of the early 1960s, when artists like Bob Dylan started to frequent coffee houses.
Harmonica solos echo off of the whitewashed brick walls of Alta, where pastel drawings hang ready to be sold. In between the drawings are thick holes from previous hanging paintings.
On the mismatched tables are non-uniform coffee mugs and teacups along with candles in red glass vases. Plants rest on the bar. The outdoor seating area is surrounded by walls consisting of various plants.
A taste of old Newport mixed with a new appreciation for the natural and healthy comforts the locals at Alta.