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Beer adds to Kofenya's cozy ambiance

When senior Natalie Wink talks about beer, a smile stretches across her face. Her eyes light up and there's an excited cadence in her voice as she speaks about porters and IPA's, about different flavor notes and her favorite breweries. She talks not of pitchers and shots, but of community, of the excitement and relaxation associated with "grabbing a beer" as opposed to chugging one.

And as an employee of Kofenya, Wink now has the ability to share her love of beer with the rest of the Oxford community. The cozy coffee shop on the corner of Beech and High is now carrying a selection of craft beer.

Ever since its opening in 2004, Kofenya has operated as a community hub, a place where students and community members can convene to study, play games or simply hang out while enjoying a cup of joe. Couches and bookshelves are scattered across the maple hardwood floors while local artwork adorns the walls and folk music trickles softly out of the speaker system. When the liquor license from Morning Sun Cafe became available last spring, the shop saw an opportunity to strengthen its welcoming ambiance through the addition of beer.

"Meeting over a cup of coffee and meeting over a beer I would say are very similar ways of connection," said Wink, a senior professional writing and interactive media studies double major. "It aligns well with community and community-centeredness and just having this space be a space for all those different types of meetings."

The shop carries five beers every season, which are featured on a blackboard to the right of the front counter, accompanied by descriptions of flavor notes and alcohol contents handwritten in chalk. It always offers a porter, a stout, an IPA, an amber ale or pale ale and a hard cider. The managers try to pick beers that correspond to the season. For instance, they currently offer Bell's Brewery Winter White Ale, a Belgian-style wheat ale marked by cloves and fruity aromas.

Additionally, Kofenya carries Mancan wine-in-a-can, as well as Jameson and Bailey's, though the liquors can only be enjoyed in a cup of coffee, not on their own. The only shot available is called Hot Nuts, a combination of hot coffee and chilled hazelnut liqueur.

Beer sales don't start until 2 p.m., and patrons are limited to two drinks per visit. According to manager Kathryn Marsman, the focus is on quality, not quantity.

"We are not a bar for people to come and get drunk at," Marsman said in an email. "First and foremost we want to be a place where people feel comfortable, where people can try new things, and where there's a positive atmosphere for people to enter into... Just like our beliefs in craft coffee, we want the products we offer to be enjoyed."

In a town chock full of drinking establishments that often compete to sell the most for the cheapest, Kofenya aims to offer a space where people can grab a drink and truly appreciate it.

"Once you turn 21 in Oxford, there's like a little bit of a crossroads where you're kind of like, 'Oh I'm kind of over the Natty Light pitcher party scene,' but I still like to go out and have a beer with my friends," Wink said.

While the customers who do order beer appear to enjoy it, according to Wink, the biggest issue the shop is facing is awareness. Even regular customers have yet to truly view Kofenya as a destination for beer.

To combat this, the shop has started offering a happy hour from Monday through Wednesday from 2 to 7 p.m., with $1 off of every alcoholic beverage. Additionally, they have hosted several special events, such as Bell's Flight Night (four pours for $12) and a Books and Beer Night.

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These events have proven most successful at getting beer-drinkers in the door. Victoria Thompson, a senior nutrition and pre-med major, said she is most likely to drink at Kofenya during the brewery events. She enjoyed the recent Flight Night event, which was held on Feb. 9 and offered an opportunity for patrons to make Valentines crafts while enjoying the beer.

"It's a lot more about the community atmosphere, and they really highlighted that with bringing in local beers," Thompson said. "It was definitely about being there for the experience and not just the drinks."

This is the image Wink has in mind when envisioning the future of Kofenya -- a house of community, enriched by the beer but not defined by it.

"We want it to be a safe space where people can come, feel welcome -- feel welcome to bring their groups of people to do whatever, or just meet one-on-one and have a drink," she said.