Something about the holiday season sends people inexorably towards the coffeehouse, where the warm fragrances drift over the senses and overstuffed chairs invite extended stays. The coffeehouse tells folks to stop what they’re are doing and stare below the rim as stream rises overhead, as if somehow stopping time just long enough to catch a breath, renew the senses and refresh the spirit. Sit down and read the paper, chat with a stranger sitting next to you or just stare out the window and daydream of summer. Whether it’s that morning jolt to start the cold winter morning or after a long day of frantic shopping, it seems like there’s something magical about the aura of the coffeehouse.
"When we are roasting the beans, people say they can smell it four blocks away," said Bonnie McDonald, a manager at Misha’s Coffeehouse on Upper King Street in Alexandria. "This time of year, we see a lot of tourists who are taking a break from shopping."
Whether it’s menorah-shaped cookies, gingerbread lattes or winter-inspired hot chocolate, area coffeehouses are making the most of the holiday season — offering a variety of delectables to soothe the wary winter shopper.
One of the area’s most mysterious concoctions is the famous "$5 hot chocolate" at Murky Coffee in Arlington. The landmark coffeehouse sits at the heart of Clarendon, where several well-traveled streets meet in a seven-pointed star — a beacon of sorts, where travelers will find the enigmatic wintertime concoction. Murky Coffee employees are sworn to secrecy about $5 hot chocolate, so don’t ask them to tell you what’s in it, how it’s prepared or what it tastes like.
"We believe in the experience of wonder and expectations," said Murky barista Katie Duris. "As a result, we won’t give any explanation or description of it. But we can say that nobody has ever said it wasn’t worth $5."
AT ST. ELMO’S, the popular Del Ray coffeehouse that’s a favorite location for the hunched-over-the-laptop set, owner Nora Partlow has a mind-boggling array of holiday-themed drinks and treats. There’s the eggnog latte, the gingerbread white mocha and the peppermint chai — just to name a few. Then you can pair it with a low-fat pumpkin muffin or a high-octane slice of gingerbread cake. If you’re not into coffee, you can have a St. Elmo’s original: the Merry Berry Coco, a mixture of berries, chocolate and cinnamon.
"We have so many flavors that people could come in here every day during the holiday season and never have the same drink twice," said Partlow. "Right now, I’d say my favorite is the maple spice latte with whipped cream on top. It’s delicious with a slice of the gingerbread cake."
If cookies are your thing, head to the Firehook Bakery on Union Street in Old Town. There you will find a colorful assortment of holiday-themed cookies — including a wide assortment of Jewish-themed cookies featuring the star of David, dreidels and several different styles of menorahs. Firehook also carries cookies in the shapes of Christmas trees, candy canes and snowmen. One of the store’s most popular items are the gingerbread man and gingerbread woman pair.
"The gingerbread women are always a hit with little girls," said manager Lizet Mendoza. "My favorite is the snowman because I like the icing."