Queuing up at the counter of a chain coffee store, grabbing a grande and rushing off to work isn’t everybody’s idea of the perfect café experience. Wouldn’t you rather curl up on a banquette, linger over a latte or kava, nibble a freshly baked croissant and chill for a while?

Punta Gorda chocolate factory gets caffeinated

As if Haley Handcrafted Chocolates, wine, beer and cheese weren’t enough pleasures for the discerning palate, chocolatier/sommelier Patti Haley-Herndon and husband Stephan Herndon, of Punta Gorda Chocolate & Wine, have branched out into organic coffee and tea, too.

Their Punta Gorda Coffee & Tea recently opened in a 1,200-square-foot space around the corner from their Herald Court chocolate and wine shop.

Given its happily unique marriage of candy and coffee, the new café has nothing to fear from the mammoth Starbucks going up at Punta Gorda’s Cross Trails Center.

Not only does it offer 25 international teas and 5 Black Gold Fair Trade coffees by cup and bag, it also orders its own Black Gold organic house blend — a mix of black cherry, cocoa and, of course, “sweet notes.”

To complement the drinks with even more unique touches, candymaster Haley-Herndon has created her own Haley Handcrafted vanilla sugar, as well as her own chocolate, hazelnut, caramel, ginger, blueberry, raspberry and vanilla syrups. Decadent “truffle-ccinos” let you slow-melt a Haley’s white, milk or dark chocolate truffle in your coffee.

You can also purchase local organic fruit there, from Irene’s Produce, along with fruit yogurts and Zoet Sweet Boutique‘s baked goods, spritz cookies, ham and cheese pastries, spinach-ricotta and Dutch sausage rolls.

Punta Gorda Coffee & Tea ($), 941-916-9095, 117 Herald Court, Unit 118, is open Monday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tina’s is now Ana’s

This summer’s closing of Tina’s Café & Bakery Vienna, housed in a historic Taylor Street bungalow, left a void in the hearts of Punta Gordans who loved the relaxed refinement of an unhurried European-style sidewalk café.

New owners Ana and Jonathan Stark were drawn to Tina’s from the beginning, for the ambiance that reminded them of their own European roots. So, they bought the place from their friends Bernhard and Tina Weidinger and plan to carry on the European tradition while adding a chill soundtrack of smooth jazz and expanding the menu — which now includes a full complement of coffees, fresh-baked pastries and plates from Vienna, France, Italy and Ana’s native Romania.

Ana’s European Café ($), 941-888-0525, 315 Taylor St., is open Tuesday to Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kava Culture brings new kinds of cocktails to Port Charlotte

Port Charlotte’s newest bar — Kava Culture — sounds a lot like a coffeehouse. And it sits next to Gatorz Bar & Grill, a full-on bar.

As a kava bar, it is neither.

Entrepreneurial Naples sisters Caroline and Jacqueline Rusher have transformed a former breakfast café into an eye-catching organic beverage bar — their third after Bonita Springs and Fort Myers. Coming next: bars in Fort Myers Beach and Naples.

Charlotte County’s first kava bar feels as laid-back as a coffeehouse but serves euphoric beverages with often-controversial ingredients.

They’re made with kava, kratom and hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) — natural substances already available at local vape and tobacco stores, but drawn from plants that tend to raise regulatory eyebrows.

Kava is the root of a Polynesian shrub in the pepper family.

Served cold and flavored, in a faux coconut shell, kava helps people unwind and acts as a social lubricant like alcohol, but without inebriation or aggressiveness. Users report experiencing a state of happy, relaxed attentiveness with an analgesic effect.

Kava’s more controversial cousin is kratom, a psychoactive substance also sold in kava bars.

Derived from a Southeast Asian evergreen leaf, related to coffee and similar in taste to strong green tea, kratom is brewed. Unlike relaxing kava, kratom is an energizer, reportedly helping users focus and easing narcotics withdrawal.

“I’d never heard of kava or kratom before,” said Gatorz owner Doug Harris. “But if they help people feel better, that’s OK with me.”

Born along on the rising wave of plant-based living and all-natural remedies, the Rusher sisters have wasted no time introducing Southwest Florida to the kava-bar culture popping up nationwide.

“We’re excited about opening more bars because we’ve seen the good they’ve done in people’s lives,” said Caroline.

Nevertheless, opinions are sharply divided over the substances they serve.

In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory on the potential risk of liver injury from dietary supplements containing kava. Most kava bars advise patrons not to consume alcohol while drinking kava, because both are processed through the liver.

Kratom has been banned in several countries and, according to the Pew Research Center, seven states. Sarasota County, Denver and San Diego have also moved to ban it.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers kratom a drug of concern, but lack of conclusive scientific evidence has prevented making it a controlled substance.

Kava Culture serves only customers 18 and older, and provides reading materials to educate patrons.

Kava Culture ($), 941-889-7442, 3822 Tamiami Trail, is open Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 2 a.m.

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at suewade47@aol.com.

Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.


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