Café Maji: Where Willy Wonka Would Work

Snow Affogato at Café Maji. (Photo: C.C.)
Snow affogato at Café Maji. (Photo: C.C.)

Cafe Maji is super nondescript on the outside. You’ll pass right by the corner building that your Google Map app indicates where the café is located at least once. There’s no distinctive signage outside after all. And you can’t tell from appearances that the café takes up a part of the second floor of a community gym that can best be described as worn in.

You still can’t really guesstimate what’ll greet you, even after you register on the gym’s guest sign-in sheet — which you’ll invariably have to do before you can even take the short flight of stairs up to Café Maji. So when you see the neat L-shaped operation themed like a primary school classroom, you’ll begin to grasp the extent of the café’s creativity. The entire café is set up in a seemingly makeshift fashion, on one corner of what might have been the gym’s aerobic studio, appearing rather like the set of a movie or TV show.

The menu itself looks like a craft project, laid out in a photo album, mirroring the playful decor. Anyone who hold dear their school days can appreciate the two-person maple desks lined alongside the counter — all too reminiscent of those you’d find in a throwback classroom. The crowd, often students, only helps to enhance the overall vibe, making the café a good go-to if you’re studying for your LSATs or learning all about Python.

You’ll experience a certain wonderment in the food and drink — whether it’s the snow affogato composed of three scoops of vanilla ice cream capped with a tall, sturdy cotton candy dome or the range of latté art drawn onto different versions of the hot milk foam drink. The contrast is particularly sharp against the backdrop of the classroom-themed café.

Perhaps if Willy Wonka came to life in this particular time and space as a laptop jockey working on his programming skills, he might appreciate the various unfolding elements of surprise awaiting at this Arcadia café.

Cafe Maji: 56 East Duarte Avenue, Arcadia; (562) 677-5595. [map]

Ambiance: Studious, even with K-pop as muzak and the low hum of gym activity below.
Amenities: His and her restrooms. Password-protected wifi. Just a few outlets for charging your electronic study buddies.
Drink/Food: Presented in a small photo album, the mostly Korean SoCal menu: bulgogi quesadilla, fresh juices, red bean green tea shake, and various affogatos (including a cotton candy dome-topped version). There are lattés galore from caffeinated (almond roca, banana mocha, s’mores) to non (white chocolate, taro tea, jujube).