Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Alta's charm lies in its chai
Alta Coffee Warehouse & Restaurant floats as if it were a breeze. Being situated on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach certainly helps in that regard. Anything outside of perfect weather and utter financial security is foreign to Newport’s environs. Alta helps keep up this breezy image while defying it simultaneously. It’s beachy without being too posh, down-home without being too suburban. While coffee may be its source of income, it seems to deal in the economy of relaxation. It’s an escape by diving deeper in than ever before.
Keep quarters in your pocket if you visit. Each journey to Alta starts with either a long walk or putting some change in a nearby parking meter. A welcoming alleyway marks the path to your chosen libation. The shop’s sign outside is circular, hoping that your journey will be too. Once you enter, you realize that Alta doesn’t just want to be a destination, but a second home: not so much a place you go to as a place you return to after a long, hard day.
Alta provides multi-sensory atmosphere
Inside, it feels like the kind of coffee shop Don Draper would happily frequent. There’s a retro feel that lies more in the overall atmosphere than any specific element. Nothing stands out as particularly 60s, but the low-lit, delightfully musty interior harkens back to a time when protest songs and folk singers first echoed out their words of hope from forward-thinking cafés. Outside it isn’t much different. Space heaters and kindly people ensure warmth of body and soul. The bright red tables are hard to forget against the more nautical environment surrounding them. They fill the function of a lighthouse, beckoning sailors on the sea of life to beach here and stay a while.
Like no other coffee shop I’ve been to, Alta uses scent to its advantage. There is a wider diversity of drinks and foods offered here than at Kéan Coffee and Portola Coffee Lab combined. You would think this would result in a smell something like when you colored in a small area with all the crayons and it turned brown. Instead, the aroma of Alta is indicative of an espresso shalom. Peace overwhelms as chai tea mixes with sandwiches and salad to ecstatically waft happiness to your nostrils.
Restaurant menu overshadows coffee
So what of the drinks themselves? I hope the reader will not mind if I inform them to stay away from the coffee here. Just about everything else tastes heavenly (including espresso drinks), but the filtered black bean on its own leaves a lot to be desired. By no means is it Laodicean — no one’s going to spit it out in disgust. Still, it’s just a couple notches above the coffee at work and a tiny bit over Starbucks. Men and women alike should lose their pretension and just order a Vanilla Chai Latte when in Alta’s walls. The baristas here have managed to steal a sublime secret from the Far East. The chai here puts a mug around feeling good, then serves it warm and kind. The food here is lovely as well. Don’t expect gourmet cuisine, but just about any mom-and-pop sandwich on the menu will not leave you disappointed.
Alta personifies the Balboa Peninsula. While Newport Beach at large can seem too rich and snobby for some people’s tastes, the Peninsula’s charm is hard to resist. Picture the town of Amity from “Jaws” minus the shark problems. More than anywhere else, Alta does a lot to feel like home or a corner store. It succeeds wonderfully in that attempt.