In the nearly two decades that we’ve been visiting Santa Cruz, they’ve arguably lacked a vibrant café that excels at both coffee and as a student hang out. Recent café openings in town, such as Verve Coffee Roasters, have helped tremendously — but at Verve the focus is squarely on the coffee. (Not necessarily a bad thing.)

With the Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge, Santa Cruz has a solid contender at both — though a bit unexpectedly in the form of a non-profit operated by the Vintage Faith Church. Open since mid-2008, their slogan is “made with love.” And given the quality that goes into the coffee and the commitment of the staff, it’s hard to argue with that.

Approaching the entrance to the Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge Inside the Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge

We liked how the Abbey offered samples of Verve for sniffing Even the coffee menu keeps the religious theme of the Abbey

The staff here, volunteers, are incredibly friendly and coffee enthusiasts to boot. Inside it’s a packed scene of collegiate youth, with occasional jazz performances at night. The space is vast and somewhat dark, with an odd, edgy feel of someone’s old antique store: mismatched sofas, tables, chairs, church benches, hanging window panes, pianos, candles, light fixtures, and found art.

Using a two-group Nuova Simonelli at the front bar, they serve Verve‘s Sermon blend (how appropriate) with a dark brown swirl of modest crema in traditional brown ACF cups. (Date-stamped Verve coffee is also available for retail sale.)

The resulting shot is a little light on body, but it carries a lot of flavor in an appropriately sized shot: some dark caramel notes over a pungent flavor of cloves and herbs with a sharp brightness at the bottom of the cup. Sermon blend never knocks you over, but it has a nice balance of spice with just a hint of sweetness. Served with a small cookie on the side.

Their cappuccino is typically “traditional”: lighter on the milk and volume (so you can taste the espresso) with thick and creamy milk just barely frothed in as a thinner layer. Maybe not the best Verve shot you’ve ever had, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to enjoy one.

Some of the 'art' in the Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge The Abbey's Nuova Simonelli at the front counter

The Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge espresso The Abbey's espresso, cappuccino, and a pack of Verve to go

As for negatives, while our espresso drinks were solid, rumors among the locals have it that consistency can be a problem. Quality control could be an extra challenge with their volunteer staff.

And when we purchased some of the Sermon blend here for home use (from beans they packaged for us out of the supply they were using at the coffee bar), we audibly encountered the first bit of rocky debris in our Mazzer Mini in the seven years that we’ve owned it. There are few more alarming sounds than a pebble coming into contact with your burrs; small pebbles make big, bad noises. We wouldn’t think much of it, but after seven years of home roasted and retail roasted coffee in our Mazzer, it’s very unusual that a “defect” like that came through in their coffee supply.

Read the review of The Abbey Coffee, Art & Music Lounge.

More of the interior inside the Abbey A little pebble in your beans is like floating space junk