Where: Moonlight Coffee & Tea, 345 S. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024 (Moonlight Plaza)
Open: Daily 06:30 AM – 2:00 PM
What: Batch brew blend roasted by La Costa Coffee
Price: $2.55 for a 12oz
What I’m listening to: Izaak Opatz, “Drunk on a Plane”
It’s late in the morning when I pull into the Moonlight Plaza parking lot just north of the iconic Encinitas sign stretching over Coast Highway 101. Moonlight Coffee & Tea is the newest addition to the roughly 20 other cafes, coffee roasters and coffee carts that already call this three-and-a-half-mile stretch of blacktop that encompasses Encinitas and Leucadia home.
I didn’t know it yet as I walked up to the small, white-washed building with the blue roof and trim, but there was a whirlwind inside. Victoria, the owner, is a force of nature.
Frankly, I’m surprised the cafe can contain her.
Inside is a walk-up counter with a pastry case filled with locally sourced carbs that make me wish I were hungry. A cooler filled with cold drinks is tucked into the corner behind me. There is an espresso machine to the right, and a hand-written chalkboard menu on the wall to the left overflows onto a second board.
Vintage coffee tins fill a shelf that wraps around near the ceiling, and directly overhead is a chandelier of colorful coffee mugs. There are no lights in the chandelier.
I order a cup of black coffee, which is without question the cheapest (in terms of price) cup of coffee I’ve had in, oh, I don’t know, three years? Then I asked Victoria, “How’d you end up here?” and in short order, I learned the following:
- The coffee is a house blend roasted by La Costa Coffee Roasting.
- Victoria cut her teeth at Peet’s Coffee for the better part of a decade before touring the country, where she’d pop into coffee shops to help train baristas for a few months before moving on.
- Victoria is from Orange County but regularly visited Moonlight Beach as a child. There was a Mexican restaurant in this plaza that she used to come to and remembers fondly.
- When the opportunity arose here, it felt right.
- Victoria wants to do everything.
Like I said, a force of nature. This is a tiny coffee shop with a lot of personality. I take my coffee outside and am confronted with the difficult decision of figuring out where to sit.
There are tall tables and chairs just outside the entrance under a mural of a whale and a few more looking out at the palms waving over the highway. Even more chairs are near a new bike rack, and behind the cafe are the low tables and chairs that at this hour offer just the right combination of sun and shade.
I sip on my coffee and look up at the palms. It feels like a very California experience. Even though there isn’t much foot traffic through the plaza, I can feel the energy radiating from the cafe behind me. A few locals with dogs sit closer to the cafe entrance supervising the parking lot line painting crew, and the team from Piña next door is getting ready to open for lunch.
Moonlight Coffee and Tea is in the same center as The Coast News, and at some point, one of my very mustachioed* colleagues comes over to say, “Hello. Howzit?”
He tells me how happy they are this little cafe has moved in. I’m paraphrasing, but he says something to the effect of, “It’s nice having coffee so close.”
“What?” I ask. “From where I sit, I can see at least three other coffee shops!”
“Yeah,” he says, “but this is coffee, coffee. You know?”
*He can pull it off. Really.
Roast! San Diego is a new column by Ryan Woldt, host of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast, which can be streamed at: TheCoastNews.com. Look for features on North County coffee shops, cafes, and coffee roasters.