A small patio with black wrought iron tables and chairs for the Coffee With A Beat
Coffee With A Beat embraces its African roots, provides ‘vibe’ people like (Community Voices)
D. Jean Collins
I walk through a small patio with black wrought iron tables and chairs belonging to Coffee With A Beat, a coffee shop on a side street facing the beautiful landscape of Lake Merritt Park and Fairyland. The building is a classic from the days of Old Oakland.
As I enter, I pass Congresswoman Barbara Lee who says hello and gives me a friendly smile on her way out. Nate Smith, co-owner, is restocking items after the early morning rush. As people come in, most are greeted by name. Around me, I listen as they sit, sip and share news about their families, jobs and life in general.
“Coffee shops are like barber/beauty shops,” Smith says. “People stop by, talk and debate on every kind of subject. Others sit with their laptops and cell phones.”
Playing in the background there is the smooth sound of old standards, jazz, rhythm and blues. With big, comfortable chairs and couches and the eclectic decor throughout the shop, it’s easy to see why artists, musicians, office workers and other neighbors who live and work in the Lake Merritt area gather here.
Discussing what business to start, co-owner and Smith’s wife, Joyce, says she wanted a cafe. Smith, who is a musicologist, wanted a music store, bookstore or coffee shop. They compromised, opening a coffee shop that serves sandwiches, bagels, pastries and, of course, fair trade coffees and teas.
On hand is a small library of books for the customers. There is display space for Smith’s music memorabilia and a chance to share his admiration and knowledge of music and musicians. The couple and two of their four children, Justin and Nate Jr., work the shop.
The name came from Smith’s passion for music.
“While I was in Africa, news came that a place had become available for the coffee shop we wanted to start. And the name came to me, Coffee With A Beat,” he says. “I went to Ghana, Senegal, The Gambia and the Ivory Coast … everywhere I went, whatever I did, there was always the beat – the drums, the music, the rhythms.”
Smith proudly shows a carving of an Ashante King with the name of the shop carved into its base. The carving was done for him in Ghana for the store’s official opening in 2001.
I asked some of the customers why they like Coffee With A Beat. Hanif, who is a saxophonist, says, “I like the vibes. Everything is in keeping with the name, the interesting people, good music, great coffee.”
“I don’t know why I come here, but every morning for the past five years, I’ve found myself here,” Grand Dame” Francesca says.
“The diversity of people, the vibe, the great music and being close to a park,” Nick says.
And Chloe says, “I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops. They are new and pretentious and the coffee isn’t that good. But here the coffee is good, the people are friendly and it has good vibes.”