Located at 1015 Railroad Ave, placed in an area that one could only describe as a “hole in the wall,” lies Onyx Coffee Bar.
My favorite kind of place in a town is the one that is located in a place that’s hard to find, that caters to a person who is not like another and that does things that you wouldn’t expect. I’m talking your Harry Potter Platform nine and three quarters type of place. Onyx Coffee Bar is all of that, plus more.
Walking up to it you won’t expect much. You’ll see a door, some foliage, a couple tables and a chair or two. Inside you’ve got a classy bar, a single barista, coffee tools and plenty of indie music. Is it something yet? The Spartan nature of Onyx’s setup makes your body crave for the secret to its deliberate simplicity.
Sitting down you’ll notice the conversation. It’s not your pretentious hipster drivel. No, the conversation is rich, it’s about the coffee and it’s friendly! The barista obviously knows his coffee. He takes you through the blend and the farm it came from in East Africa. He isn’t afraid to talk about life though, giving his own two cents of advice to the Western seniors in the room.
Onyx has a unique atmosphere that’s a combination of the people there and also the general aura of the entire building, its staff and its music. Edwin D. Martinez, the barista and founder of the shop, gave me some insight about what’s different about the place.
“I tried to get rid of all the things you would normally associate with a coffee shop,” he said. “Couches and chairs for reading, I got rid of those. Pastries and sodas, I got rid of those. I made it so that it’s just about the coffee.”
And coffee it was. With a menu listing drinks and blends all across the world, the experience of choosing my order felt more like reading a connoisseur’s manual on fine blends rather than simply a pick-and-choose piece of paper. I felt dignified to have the choice, yet humble enough to say that I did not know the coffee, only that I enjoyed the experience and that I wanted to learn.
Ordered by country then coffee, each item has its own description that details the different taste sensations and flavors that might be detected in each cup. For example, “Kenya; rich, tastes like chocolate, peaches and rosehip.”
When we had chosen our drinks Martinez elaborated on his shop. He ran a coffee stand in his youth and then he eventually traveled to Guatemala to visit one of his company’s farms. In two suitcases he brought back his choice of Guatemalan coffee, started a business and eventually began distributing his coffee all around the area. Today, on weekends, you can visit Onyx to try these coffees and others that he distributes first hand. He weighs, percolates and pours them before your very eyes, all the while giving his own commentary of the flavor, origin and history of each.
I have been to many coffee shops in Washington and in California, but never before have I felt such a connection to a place like Onyx. It’s a place where you can easily find good coffee and conversation, peace and fun, all at the same time. Can it be the one? A shop without couches, pastries or a stage for live music. Dare I say it? Onyx is my vote for the best coffee shop in Bellingham.