High Point’s enduring coffee shop

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by Eric Ginsburg

It’s not every day that a friend in Greensboro or Winston-Salem recommends something in High Point — in fact, it’s so rare that I always take it seriously.

DeBeen Espresso is one of the oldest coffee shops in the Triad, operating since 1997 even though it shares an unremarkable intersection with a Sheetz. And that’s just one of the striking things about the small coffee shop.

Coffee bags from places like Colombia, Indonesia and Panama cover the entire ceiling, billowing out like sails catching a breeze. A large fountain — fully operational, with three levels and surrounded by a circular, brick basin — acts as the centerpiece of the seating area. The trickling sounds emanating from the fountain are audible over soft indie music from 10 years ago and the sound of steaming milk.

Before we get any further, let me make an important disclaimer: I hate coffee, and not for lack of trying. I worked at the campus coffee shop during college, led a campaign for fair-trade coffee at my high school and have been on coffee plantations in four countries. When you’re staying in a coffee-growing family’s home and they serve you their crop, you try your damnedest to like it. No such luck.

The back of the shop
The back of the shop

DeBeen must be doing something right to keep its doors open this long while being this far from High Point University and this close to Sheetz. And with coffee shops, it’s at least 50 percent about the atmosphere, a factor this institution has down.

But there are plenty of other drinks here, including frozen green tea, frozen chai tea, and smoothies including a memorable blackberry one. And DeBeen sells a number of baked goods, made in-house, many of them vegan and gluten free: a peanut-butter chocolate espresso-bean muffin, s’mores muffin mounds, a banana-walnut muffin, a gluten-free and vegan Amish bar and a great gluten-free and vegan granola brick.

Oh, and there’s gelato. Several flavors, actually.

A piano greets patrons in the front passageway of the shop, though there’s no chair positioned in front of it. It shares a space with a yoga studio next door, and a parking lot with a Laundromat and State Farm.

About half of the patrons on a recent Thursday night, after college let out, were newcomers. Most were there for coffee, a few for company and some grabbing beverages to go. The vibe was relaxed and easygoing, a far cry from the hectic and busybody feel of any Starbucks and several local joints.

SONY DSCMost of the seating is set up to accommodate groups, including large chairs with varying upholstery and a few tables with chairs for three or more. Boxlike cubbies flank one wall, packed with merchandise including coffee bags, tea, shirts and DeBeen cups, taking up the wall space unused by abstract and realistic art hanging around the rest of the venue. A large window makes up most of the front wall, but it’s out of reach to patrons unless they’re sitting in front, because the window is behind the counter.

It’s easy to see why DeBeen Espresso shatters stereotypes about a lack of culture in High Point, and why an out-of-towner would find it cool enough to want to return for an afternoon. It can hold its own with Camino and Krankies in Winston-Salem, and is similar to what Common Grounds or Vida Pour Tea offer in Greensboro.

In other words, it fits right in.

Visit DeBeen Espresso at 709 W. Lexington Ave. (HP) or at debeenespresso.com.