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Coffee, Tea and Big Dreams 

A new drinking and dining adventure in an unexpected place

Some people hold their dreams tight to their chests, gazing at them periodically and holding them safe, secure and still within their grasp. Others prefer to open their hearts, toss caution to the wind and actively pursue their dreams. The difference? It's like the difference between dangling your feet off the dock or running, jumping and doing the world's biggest cannonball into the clear, cold water. Both are enjoyable, but the latter is certainly more fulfilling. It's an all-or-nothing sort of endeavor.

You probably know both kinds of people. But you might not (yet) know Dorelle Raab-Peters, who is pursuing her dream at maximum velocity, plunging into the restaurant business head first and learning as she goes.

Dorelle has just opened Sencha, a coffee and tea caf, in the totally overhauled remains of an old Jack in the Box on the corner of Nevada and Costilla. Why sencha, a Japanese green tea? "What we do is so eclectic, it's not a traditional combination of things. I wanted a neat word, a word that didn't already have a lot of connotations. It's not a word that everyone would know."

What prompted Sencha? Dorelle said, "One day last summer, I said, "I have to open a coffee/teahouse." She laughed (something she does frequently) and went on to explain that she has always thought having a tea house would be wonderful -- some place comfortable, where you can sip on warm drinks and munch on little snacky things. She acknowledges that Colorado Springs has some excellent coffee/teahouses but wanted hers to be more contemporary. Besides outstanding coffee, she wanted to go farther with tea than anyone else. The uniting strand of thought at Sencha is a love of high-quality simple fare, be it coffee or tea or food.

Sencha is not, thankfully, just another coffeehouse. First of all, the atmosphere is too eclectic and warm and elegant. Second, they have other excellent drinks besides coffee. And third, the food is to die for. Really. Dorelle has given Brent Beavers, formerly of La Petite Maison, free reign in the kitchen. After months of begging, the intrepid restaurateur convinced him to work with her. Beavers really wanted to do dinners, where he felt he could best express himself, but the physical space doesn't lend itself to sit-down dinners. They decided, instead, on tapas, which Dorelle says are perfect for "casual, low-slung nibbling."

If the regular menu is as good as the opening-night fare, Sencha will have standing room only. The hummus is the best I've ever tasted, and the texture is light, with a mousse-like quality. The pasta salad was excellent, and I don't even like pasta salad. But the corkscrew pasta was perfectly cooked, neither soggy nor pasty, and the light dressing coated everything without drenching the salad. All the breads were homemade and toothsome. Exquisite springs to mind to describe the deep-brown crab cakes. Chris Adrienne, chef at La Petite Masion, is working part-time at Sencha heading up the baking and pastry department. I would relegate her to the status of goddess based only on her fruit tarts, which I'm told will be a menu staple, featuring whatever fruits are in season.

The interior of Sencha is hard to describe and do it justice. It's got an open, airy feeling that defies the small space. The chairs are funky and so comfortable I wanted to take one home. Low-slung, purple armchairs are covered with soft, supple leather. Other oversized chairs, equally exotic but equally comfortable, are covered with a lime green and purple upholstery that sounds bizarre but is really quite tasteful. The back patio, not quite completed, is designed for use year-round, with gas heaters for cooler weather. Dorelle and Beavers are already planning some "sunset tastings" on the patio, where wines will be paired with special appetizers created specifically for the event.

The windows are the best feature. Sencha is blessed with a terrific view of the mountains, from Cheyenne Mountain to Pikes Peak. It also fronts onto South Nevada Avenue, a busy thoroughfare to say the least. The solution? The bottom half of each window is a stained glass piece by Mark Clinton with the Sencha logo worked delicately into a swirl in each one. The windows utilize a lot of frosty texturing with some small purple accents. The results are beautiful, blocking out the traffic on Nevada while still letting in a lot of light and a view of the sky.

What does Dorelle want to accomplish with Sencha? "My hopes are that we're able to provide a relaxed, comfortable environment, where people can find drinks and food of quality. And service is paramount to us. We want people who come in to feel taken care of, and to provide them with a real pleasant experience."

Although I highly recommend dining in at Sencha, they aren't letting the drive-through window from the old Jack in the Box go to waste. The full drink menu (not including alcoholic items, obviously) and bakery items will be available at the drive-through every day. So you can make that 8 a.m. meeting with a fabulous cup of coffee instead of fast-food swill.

And who knows? Maybe some Friday evening while you're sitting on the patio with a glass of wine, you'll make the decision to follow a dream of your own.

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