A spoonful of sugar spins into wisps of feathery white as barista Pablo Arriola deftly twists a paper straw, gathering the sticky fibers into a cloud.
He plops the finished cotton candy onto an oat milk chai latte and hands it over. With a little chai flavoring, the ivory tuft smells faintly of spices. Active Coffee Co. owner Stacy Magana instructs me to pull the straw out of the fluff and gently push the center into the chai while leaving some sugar fibers on the cup's rim for my drinking pleasure.
The spun threads melt into the liquid—a satisfying show of science. Instantaneously, I'm nostalgic with memories of putting soft and sticky pink cotton candy against my tongue so I can feel the threads dissipate in my mouth.
"It's better than a sugar packet," coffee shop co-owner and Stacy's husband, Adam Magana, says as he walks by.
- Photo Courtesy Of Stacy Magana
- ACTIVE COUPLE Husband and wife Adam and Stacy Magana started Active Church, which meets Sundays at the Fremont Theater, and Active Coffee Co. at The Creamery.
The Maganas—who also run the Active Church at the Fremont Theater on Sundays—opened Active Coffee Co. at The Creamery Marketplace in downtown SLO in September 2020, hoping to provide a cool environment for people to hang alongside a hot beverage and a snack. With about 2,000 feet of office and conference space upstairs and a side area that customers can rent out for meetings, Active Coffee offers simple pleasures like Americanos, cold brews, and hot tea. But Stacy said she also wanted to make sure their menu included family-friendly drinks that were outside the box.
"We wanted to do something different. We also wanted to stand out a little bit, which is how we came up with our cloud menu," Stacy said during a phone interview prior to my visit. "Cotton candy with our drinks."
She got the idea from a coffee shop overseas that was adding cotton candy to the top of its drinks. Stacy also has a friend who owns Cottontale Kansas City, which makes all-natural cotton candy in flavors like maple bacon, cookie dough, and pink lemonade.
"She was kind of like my go-to cotton candy person," Stacy said.
At the moment, Active Coffee features several drinks on its cloud menu, including the chai cloud tea, a not-so-spicy creamy housemade mix with hints of vanilla. The gingerbread latte comes with gingerbread cotton candy, the Mexican mocha is paired with a peppermint cloud, and the marshmallow hot chocolate gets a marshmallow one. You can also just order the cotton candy if you're feeling dandy—those are called cloud pops.
The sugar is freshly spun in front of you, and Active has 25 different flavors to choose from.
- Photo By Camillia Lanham
- SUGAR RIDE Active Coffee Co. barista Pablo Arriola spins flavored sugar into a cloud pop ready to top a chai latte.
"It's super cool because it melts on the rim," Stacy said. "It's kind of like you have a margarita and you have the salt on the side."
Coava Coffee Roasters from Portland, Rishi Tea & Botanicals, and Fine Feathers Kombucha Co. out of Long Beach make up the bulk of what Active is putting in their cups, which you can get to-go or take to a seat on the sunny patio. As coffee shop manager Brandon Lyons—who used to work in sales for Adelaida Vineyards and Winery—puts it, carrying quality products from companies that care about ingredients and the workers who participate in crafting them is part of Active's "cultural value of excellence."
Drinks are sweetened with honey from Humblehive Bee Co. in Arroyo Grande. Active carries baked noshables from Seabreeze Cupcakes and Sweet Treats right across the Creamery courtyard, and Stacy said Active Coffee is currently on the hunt for another food partnership for things like breakfast burritos, bagels, and salads.
Originally from Bakersfield, the Maganas made their way to the Central Coast via Las Vegas. Adam said he started working in the restaurant industry before attending Fresno Pacific University. While he was working for a tech firm in the Central Valley, he said he got really involved at the ministry at his church and discovered that he had a passion for helping young people—a passion that he and Stacy share.
- Photo Courtesy Of Stacy Magana
- EXCELLENCE Rishi Tea & Botanicals, Coava Coffee Roasters, and Fine Feathers Co. Kombucha are the main products that Active Coffee Co. features.
So the couple moved to Las Vegas to start a church in the inner city. They started a family, and Stacy was six months pregnant with their second child when she went into preterm labor and gave birth to a boy.
"We hugged him and we kissed him and we just gave him back to God," he said.
The Maganas scattered his ashes on a hill in Montaña de Oro. That particular hill was Stacy and Adam's hill. It was part of the couple's first out-of-town trip in 2005. It was the hill on which Adam proposed.
"On a Saturday in 2014, we were on that same hill scattering those ashes," Adam said. "We got off that hill, and Stacy was holding her sunflowers that I bought her because those are her favorite flowers. ... And I just looked at her in silence, and I was just holding her hand, and I said, 'I just feel like this is going to be home someday,' and she looked at me and said, 'Me too, babe.'"
A few months later, Stacy discovered she was pregnant again and the Maganas now have two kids. Three years later, they moved to the Central Coast. Stacy worked at MindBody and Adam for a solar company, eventually returning to their passion for ministry and starting the Active Church at the Fremont.
"At our church, every Sunday morning we serve coffee. We would just have coffee dates in coffee shops all throughout the county, and we were actually looking for office space, which was next door to the coffee shop," Stacy said, adding that they were checking out the upstairs space for the church when they saw the empty coffee shop downstairs. "For me, I was like, 'It's too beautiful to have someone come in and demo it.'"
The coffee shop owners were looking for a buyer at the time, and a sale fell through, so the Maganas were able to put an offer in that was accepted. They purchased the coffee shop as is, changed the name and the interior, trained the staff, and opened. Adam said the pandemic created opportunities for smaller operations to get into an open space that they might not have been able to otherwise.
"Timing is everything, I think, especially in times like that," he said.
While Active Church still has coffee shop meetings, those meetings now all take place at Active Coffee or above it in the office space. But the coffee shop is definitely a space for everyone, they both said.
"We wanted to create a community space," Stacy said. "We just want to make the place for people to feel comfortable and welcome." Δ
Editor Camillia Lanham wants a maple bacon cloud pop. Send your food desires to firstname.lastname@example.org.