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What do you get when you cross Starbucks with Ron Jon's Surf Shop? A coffeehouse with a faux molten volcano, 3-D surf wave, saltwater aquarium and brews with an attitude, aka Bad Ass Coffee Company.

The fantastical decor of this Hawaiian-rooted chain fits right into its I-Drive location, south of Sand Lake Boulevard – so much so that owners Tom and Linda Clark haven't heard so much as a boo about the Bad Ass name (even though there was a bit of a "brewhaha" over the Tampa store), since they opened their family business in February. The Ass reference pays homage to the donkeys used to transport the harvested beans out of the mountains. They're not just talking dirty.

Being good parents, the friendly Clark couple invested in the store so that daughter Jennifer, a fresh Florida State University graduate with a master's degree in tax accounting, could follow her dream to open a coffeehouse, because she didn't really like numbers, after all. And it's the only Bad Ass in town.

This is the place to purchase genuine Kona beans – the only coffee grown in the United States. If you're late to the Kona controversy, there's been much to-do about the sale of fake or blended varieties, even by heavyweights such as Starbucks. The hoopla comes from the fact that Kona beans only grow on a 20-square-mile area on the island of Hawaii. The constant cloud cover and rich soil generate the distinctive low-acid, full-bodied beans that claim top dollar around the world.

Bad Ass carries a variety of 100 percent Kona roasts, from lightweight American to robust French. The ultimate delicacy in the store is the "Peaberry medium-dark roast" – $22.95 for a half-pound bag, which is a totally reasonable price. Most coffee beans have two halves, but the pea berry has a single core – a natural anomaly – and they are handpicked out of the processing line. A fresh crop won't be in until February, so there's little Kona (much less pea berry) to be found anywhere, except at Bad Ass, which stocked up for the holidays.

The store carries a lighthearted line of Bad Ass-branded mugs, T-shirts, calendars, even thong underwear. There's a limited menu of "Donkey Feeds" that includes pastries, sandwiches and ice cream served seven days a week.

The website (www.badasscoffeeorlando.com) is ready for mail orders and shipping is free until Dec. 15.

More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich - a sweet proposition.


Teaser: More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich ' a sweet proposition.

In an economic climate conducive to corporate crookery and deceit, an organization flies in the face of convention by giving away 100 percent of its profits back to the community. Sound like a trailer for a flick playing at the Socialist Film Festival? Maybe, but in actuality, it's the raison d'être for House Blend Cafe. Some may shudder to learn that the coffeehouse is run by a volunteer board of directors comprised of Christian businessmen, but there's nothing overtly religious in the makeup of the café, and besides, does it really matter? Buddhists run Thai restaurants; Hindus and Muslims run Indian restaurants; and Jews run delis.

Lattes and cappucinos aren't the only items worth sampling here. Above-average café fare includes the jerk chicken burrito, beef-and-brie sandwich and breakfast waffles, not to mention desserts like the peanut butter-filled chocolate cookie.

HBC's earnings have gone toward community service and restoration projects in Orange County and around the world ' home renovations for the elderly, face-lifting older schools and setting up water filtration plants in the Dominican Republic. Customers are encouraged to help out in community projects, so be sure to inquire if interested in more than just a cup of joe.

Sitting at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive, sipping Assam black tea ($2) and munching on delicious vegetarian hummus ($6), I reflect on what this place has in common with my favorite hot dog counter in the East Village: They are both what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls "Third Places." Naturally the First Place is home; the second is work (damn). Third Places are the gems, providing us the precious community we so often lack in our lives.

I went to Infusion for the third time in four days last night. I met up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and we closed ourselves off to the outside world to concern ourselves only with conversation and the vast menu of tea before us. Suddenly the choice of black, oolong, white, green or herbal seemed the most important thing in the world. Jasmine pearls? Or monkey-picked oolong?

Some places can just sweep you off your overworked and/or bored-at-home feet, and Infusion has the charm to do it. The quaint corner spot in a little retro building on Edgewater begs you to bike over and stay for hours. Owner Christina Cowherd is interesting and kind, and has created a special atmosphere where visiting and lingering reign over efficiency and the bottom line. She and her husband, Brad, got the idea to open Infusion Tea while in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and moved back to College Park to be near their families and down the street from their alma mater, Edgewater High School. Incorporating into their business many of the lifestyle changes they learned in Guatemala, they are avid recyclers, conscientious organic-food buyers and dedicated composters. Among their fantastic food choices are banana bread ($1.75) and gazpacho ($5) – recipes that Christina created with her Guatemalan students – and delightful organic tea-time bites such as scones ($1.75) with fresh cream and jam (add 75 cents).

I couldn't help but ask about their goal in opening the tea shop. "This may sound hokey," Christina said, "but I read this book called Great Good Places by Ray Oldenburg …"

"The one about Third Places?" I asked.

"That was my primary goal," she said.

Doesn't sound hokey to me at all. In fact, I'm happy to switch my affection from all-beef kosher dogs to Assam tea when it provides me with something nourishing that I crave: community.

Tea for kids that adults like, too! Bubble tea at Lollicup. The very thought reminds me of simpler days when I worried about such things as having tea parties with my stuffed animals. What is bubble tea? A drink invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s by pushcart tea vendors who competed for sales outside of elementary schools. One clever vendor added fruit flavors to tea and vigorously shook, creating bubbles. How totally kid. Another vendor took the idea a step further, adding tapioca pearls, thus creating the illusion of big bubbles sitting on the bottom of each cup.

Today, bubble tea is still shaken and the imbiber merrily sips "boba," those characteristic dark tapioca pearls 6mm in diameter, through an uncharacteristically large straw. Orlando has a delicious little bubble-tea hut of its own called Lollicup. Owners Quang Vu and Angela Vu have just opened their third location in Central Florida on the corner of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue, which is many a tea party in kid talk. The space is small and colorful, just a place to stop in for a moment or two, but not to lounge.

Tea makers busy themselves mixing and stirring and shrink-wrapping customer selections with a special Lollicup closed-seal-to-go system. No need for a lid, just pop a straw through the shrink-wrap and you're good to go. Neat-O. I couldn't decide on just one, so I tried three: almond coconut milk with boba ($3.50); avocado smoothie with boba (4.50); and a baffling concoction of "four-color pudding chocolate, eggnog, milk and taro" mixed together, poured in a cup, studded with boba and other candied fruit jewels, shrink-wrapped and handed to me by Quang, who promptly said, "Wow. You're really adventurous," which translates into, "Wow. You're really overdoing it."

Four-color pudding ($4.50) was the mudpie of the tea party, for sure. The other two drinks were nothing short of delicious and fun. The almond coconut milk was subtly tannic, and mellowed into a fragrant, creamy blend. My favorite, and the one I was most skeptical about, turned out to be the avocado smoothie, a sweet shake made with real Haas avocados. I wish they had this around when I was a kid.

Coffee and Internet access: They go together like skateboards and beer. Nothing like answering important e-mail while throwing back your third espresso.

While just about every caffeine pusher in town is also a wireless connection hotspot, the folks at Natura Coffee & Tea brew what they consider the finest beans available: from Cafe Britt, a Costa Rican company that supplies green (unroasted) coffee to Starbucks, Barnies and illy. Go right to the source, we say, and sample grinds like Shade Grown Organic and Tarrazú Montecielo.

While just about every caffeine pusher in town is also a wireless connection hotspot, the folks at Natura Coffee & Tea brew what they consider the finest beans available: from Cafe Britt, a Costa Rican company that supplies green (unroasted) coffee to Starbucks, Barnies and illy. Go right to the source, we say, and sample grinds like Shade Grown Organic and Tarrazú Montecielo.

Natura also serves Sir Aubrey's English teas for those with a more refined taste, along with quiche, croissants and sweet treats like brownies and cheesecake. The techno-hungry can satisfy their jones on Dell workstations and a T1/broadband Internet connection, along with high-speed wireless access from the comfy sofa.

There are still times when you can feel the flavor of old Park Avenue. One is in the civilized morning hours, when parking spaces are plentiful and the aroma of fresh coffee is strong enough to follow into Palmano's Espresso Bar

This "coffee roastery" owned by Richard and Teresa Palmano sits in the back of the complex that fronts the avenue, in the same block as Park Plaza Gardens. (Look for the shoe-shine stand.) The classy storefront spreads onto a breezeway, where ceiling fans kick up the air, tables and chairs are invitingly arranged, and people mingle.

This "coffee roastery" owned by Richard and Teresa Palmano sits in the back of the complex that fronts the avenue, in the same block as Park Plaza Gardens. (Look for the shoe-shine stand.) The classy storefront spreads onto a breezeway, where ceiling fans kick up the air, tables and chairs are invitingly arranged, and people mingle.

Oh, and the coffee -- it's meticulously fresh-roasted and packaged by the bean (starting at $9.75 per pound) or by the cup; the basics are covered, with specialties such as the summer-friendly "café mocha frost." The raisin-pear scone by Old Hearth Bakery was an added old-school charm.

Want interesting sandwiches (yellow curry chicken salad with toasted almonds, red apple and onion), unusual tea (raspberry-rose), killer desserts (lavender-peppercorn creme brulee), and a cheery atmosphere? Find it all here. Open 24 hours Friday and Saturday.

The Disney community of Celebration, steeped in 1950's atmosphere and designer architecture, isn't a place one would associate with English high tea or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yet this is the place that two Londoners have decided to open a tearoom filled with Sherlock Holmes memorabilia and the aroma of Earl Grey.

Tony David worked right next to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London for many years and came to Florida with the aim of bringing a unique experience to Celebration. He and his wife June opened Sherlock's not on tourist-attractive Market

Tony David worked right next to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London for many years and came to Florida with the aim of bringing a unique experience to Celebration. He and his wife June opened Sherlock's not on tourist-attractive Market

Street, but on Bloom Street. It's a small, intimate shop packed to the ceiling with deerstalker-capped bears, boxes of loose tea, a diverse selection of wines and miniatures of Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty. The room holds only a few tables, but the outdoor courtyard affords a delightful place for a hot cuppa and a serene lake view.

Street, but on Bloom Street. It's a small, intimate shop packed to the ceiling with deerstalker-capped bears, boxes of loose tea, a diverse selection of wines and miniatures of Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty. The room holds only a few tables, but the outdoor courtyard affords a delightful place for a hot cuppa and a serene lake view.

Most Yankees know little about what goes into a proper English tea ("tea" is the entire meal, not just the drink), something David is emphatic about. "Serving loose tea is an art form," he says. "You must heat the pot first, and steep the leaves for only five minutes." And if you're in the company of Brits, never put the milk in first (milky tea is the lifeblood of the English.) The teas at Sherlock's come in four formal varieties, the largest being "Sherlock Holmes' Tea" ($13.50). The three-tiered tray had other customers peering in envy at the buttercream-rich pastries and moist, rich scones (it's "skon," not "skown"), and these are the best in Orlando. An authentic "tea" would have had little finger sandwiches instead of spinach pies and egg rolls, but I guess it's a compromise for Americans. The other offerings are smaller versions, the "Mrs. Hudson's" being the best value of a fresh pot of tea (your choice of variety) with homemade scones, real Devon cream and strawberry jam ($6.95).

Most Yankees know little about what goes into a proper English tea ("tea" is the entire meal, not just the drink), something David is emphatic about. "Serving loose tea is an art form," he says. "You must heat the pot first, and steep the leaves for only five minutes." And if you're in the company of Brits, never put the milk in first (milky tea is the lifeblood of the English.) The teas at Sherlock's come in four formal varieties, the largest being "Sherlock Holmes' Tea" ($13.50). The three-tiered tray had other customers peering in envy at the buttercream-rich pastries and moist, rich scones (it's "skon," not "skown"), and these are the best in Orlando. An authentic "tea" would have had little finger sandwiches instead of spinach pies and egg rolls, but I guess it's a compromise for Americans. The other offerings are smaller versions, the "Mrs. Hudson's" being the best value of a fresh pot of tea (your choice of variety) with homemade scones, real Devon cream and strawberry jam ($6.95).

The hot items are still in the shakeout stage. "Vegetable egg roll delight" ($7.95), three crisp rolls filled with julienned veggies, were tasty, but nothing I'd travel out of my way to eat. Meanwhile the microwave does nothing to enhance the puff-pastry shell of the tiny "brie en croute" ($6.95).

The hot items are still in the shakeout stage. "Vegetable egg roll delight" ($7.95), three crisp rolls filled with julienned veggies, were tasty, but nothing I'd travel out of my way to eat. Meanwhile the microwave does nothing to enhance the puff-pastry shell of the tiny "brie en croute" ($6.95).

There are more than enough other venues for egg rolls; Sherlock's should be your destination for a real tea in the grand English manner.

Boho coffeehouse perks up the Aloma/Semoran corridor with bold brews, live music and a colorful aesthetic. Soups, salads and sandwiches comprise the menu offerings; butternut squash and tomato-lentil soups are spot-on, while sandwiches can be hit ("roast beef yum") or miss ("Tofurkey Day"). To end, the chocolate trilogy provides another caffeine fix. Closed Sundays.

Stardust started life as a video rental place that served coffee and over the years has morphed to serve the changing desires of the community. Among its many functions (work and study spot, café, live music venue, market host) and despite its ramshackle air, the ’dust is prized by anyone looking for a quality buzz. The bartenders of the Slanted and Enchanted Bar (in the big room) are given free rein to come up with inventive craft cocktails; the Scotch Bar (in the smaller room) stocks exquisite bottles; and the bottled beer and cider selection is choice. For many, it’s a home away from home.
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