Jason Park, one half of the husband-wife team at Alpaca Coffee & Tea in Idyllwild, works on perfecting his latte game.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY ALPACA COFFE & TEA
Lavender honey lattes and rose and bee pollen cinnamon swirls are enough to entice travelers to make a beeline up the "Hill" to a new "tiny mom and pop tea house." But the owners say the biggest draw to Alpaca Coffee & Tea is their one-year-old son, "Ollie", nicknamed the "CEO", who serves up so much joy that he has the community wrapped around him.
Jason Park and Grace Han, both in their 30s, launched their start-up at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown a year ago, but say they weren't afraid of the timing. "We figured there was no way to go but up." Now, they're adding more staff to keep up with demand.
Starting a business with a baby was "a doozy," Grace says, but Ollie's infectious smile (seen on Instagram) has warmed hearts. His parents and grandmother take turns watching him while they all work alongside each other, and even some regular customers pitch in, while their drinks are being made. "It's the perk of small town community," says Grace. "It's great that Ollie gets to see his grandmother all day."
"Oliver receives so much love and joy from seeing his favorite people every day, and it makes us happy that his little smiles can also bring joy to our visitors," says Grace. The company's Facebook page is adorned with "CEOlliver" images, including the little guy in his Halloween outfit. On his birthday, his parents posted, "We're taking the day off to celebrate." One post stated, "We're going on a date. Closing at 3:30."
Alpaca has options that rival any big city operation. The top seller has been the strawberry matcha milk tea, with freshly pureed strawberries and ceremonial grade matcha, "with its perfect balance of sweet, earthy and bitter." Next up are the honey lavender latte and chagaccino.
This season, expect lattes flavored with pumpkin spice or maple syrup or grab the popular "dirty chai." Jason has been baking "fabulous pumpkin spiced chai cinnamon rolls – a mouthful to say and eat – that have been selling out every day," says Grace, who gained baking experience while at Mile High.
Drinks are made with Stumptown Coffee from an Oregon company. "We love their values and efforts to keep their partnerships with coffee farmers around the world on a very high standard, from wages to education and community building," Grace says. "They also roast insanely delicious decaf beans, something that is difficult to come by." In spite of supply chain delays, she and Jason try to use compostable plastics and paper straws. They also offer the used daily grinds to friends for their gardens.
Grace says the name "alpaca" is an inside joke: "I'll-pack-a-you a cup of coffee." Pins and stickers with the sleepy alpaca on them offer a sense of belonging to a club. More swag is coming.
Due to Alpaca's diminutive size, only outdoor seating is available, so a jacket is advised for visitors from the flatlands. Visitors coming up via Palm Desert will find Alpaca Coffee and Tea on the right on Highway 243, just past Tollgate Road, which is the turnoff to the Idylllwild Arts Academy. Watch for Mile High Cafe at the corner of Saunders Meadow Road, then look for the tiny new business next door, with the big following. Map them at 26600 Highway 243, or call 951-468-4487.
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