Coffeehouses in SD
- honkman Aug 29, 2006 12:53 AM
I am always looking for good coffeehouses in San Diego. I am looking for coffeehouses with (obviously) excellent coffeebeans, baristas who know their business (good microfoam, good crema, they should know the different ratios for steamed milk, foamed milk, espresso for the cappuccino, latte etc., etc), good snacks (paninis, cakes etc), good (cold) flavored coffeedrinks and good ambience. So far I haven’t found many who are good but would like to hear more suggestion.
Caffe Calabria: By far the best coffeehouse in SD. Excellent coffee and baristas (best cappuccino in SD,), great paninis. Only downside is that they close very early.
Café Lestat: Good example what happens with good coffee and average baristas. Lestat is also using coffeebeans from Caffé Calabria but it is sad to see that they don’t know how to make excellent espresso, cappuccino.
E Street Café: Average espresso but strange flavored cold espresso drinks
Old California Coffee House: Good to average espresso, but stay away from the smoothies (worst I ever tasted, very artifical).
Rebecca’s: Pretty good coffee, nice snacks (muffins), good lemonade but they should learn to empty the trashcans in front of the coffeehouse otherwise it smells outside like you sit in a garbagecan
Claire de Luna: Good cappuchino and latte, very relaxed ambience.
It’s a grind: Some good cold cappuccino drinks (last summer they had a addictive coconut drink)
Coffeebean and tea leaf: Same level as It’s a grind with good (cold) flavored coffee drinks
Pete’s: Better than Starbucks (though that is not too difficult). Cappucino and latte are not too bad.
Starbucks: Lousy coffeebeans (very overroasted), bad baristas.
I agree wholeheartedly with your short reviews of Calabria and Lestat's. I go to Calabria whenever they are open, but unfortunately their work hours corresponed with mine. My wife and I more often end up studying at Lestat's for the free wireless and 24hr environment, but the coffee is not much better than Starbuck's bitter brew.
I have chatted with the owner of Caffe Calabria on a couple of occasions when he was helping man the store, and he mentioned that is is disappointed that Lestat's and the other cafe's that use their roast do such a poor job of brewing the coffee.
As for other options, we have like Korova on Park Blvd well enough; their espresso roast is free trade, if that matters.
Further south on Park at University, Urban Grind used to pull good ristretto shots, but we have not been frequent visitors since they remodeled and raised prices. They stay open late, however, and always seem to be packed with students.
Gold Fish Point Cafe in La Jolla has acceptable coffee, but a world-class view of the cove.
Calabria is great - far and away my favorite. Try the espresso con panna sometime - their whipped cream is to die for.
Another good one not in your list is Caffe Italia in Little Italy, across from Cafe Zucchero. Good crema on the espresso, at least the last time I was there.
honkman, great topic. Unfortunately I find that there's not much to talk about re. the S.D. coffee scene in general. But that probably goes without saying in almost any U.S. city, except those exceptions with a vibrant "coffee culture".
I'm always amazed at the milk bombs being served at most cafes. Though it seems that most of the revenue at the typical coffeehouse is made on espresso-based drinks, it's an incredibly rare operation that actually knows how to make a decent espresso. It's terrible but it seems that ordering an espresso at most places is like playing Russian roulette, but with most, if not all, of the chambers loaded. (For a clearer and more entertaining read on this, see Tonx's blog at http://tonx.org/archives/9 , where he distills his thoughts into a "chilling fatwa from the espresso jihad"...)
My drink of choice is a ristretto, and barring that an espresso, and the best place to have either one, I've found, is at home. So ironically outside of home I find myself mostly resorting to the very milk-bomb lattes I despise, only because I find that that's what it takes to remove the awful taste of a poorly poured espresso. (Don't you find that espresso has two faces, a bit like the Roman god Janus? One face produces the worst-tasting beverage imaginable, while the other face produces one of the most complex and satisfying taste experience a foodie can ask for. Like David Schomer of Espresso Vivace says, a good espresso tastes exactly like ground coffee smells. [I would personally add that it tastes even better!])
However I do agree with the others here on this thread that Caffe Calabria stands out amongst all of the others for S.D. (And I agree with honkman that they do a good panini as well, though I find that they're a bit greasy...) I know that everytime I order a ristretto there that it will at the very least be enjoyable. On occaision I've had consistency issues there, but their worst shot is so far above the best shot anywhere else in town that I'm glad they're around to provide a reference.
Josh mentioned Caffe Italia, which I've been to only once when I had to kill some time before meeting up with a delayed flight arriving at Lindburgh Field. So after ordering my usual "safe Latte" and thinking it quite good, I started ordering espressos. In total I must have ordered 2-3 espressos, and they were all solid. Must return again to check-up on their consistency...
I've never been to Lestat's, but I know what you mean. E Street Cafe uses Calabria beans, but I've only once had a passable ristretto there. Every other time it's been a disaster. (One only need to look at their placing in Cafe Moto's "Barista Battle", which I'm assuing isn't that competitive to begin with... (http://www.cafemoto.com/barrista_batt... ) However a barista from a Cafe Terra clearly came out on top. Anyone know of that operation and how they are in actual practice?)
As the Italians are fond of saying, making a good espresso takes not only good beans (la miscella), but also a good machine (la machina), a good hand (la mano), and a good grinder/doser (la macinadosatore). I always do wonder what effect it has on operations such as Calabria when otherwise good beans gets so poorly represented due to faults in execution at the cafe.
If there's another place that serves a decent espresso out there in S.D., I'm not sure how one can find it. Certainly the beans used has little bearing, as I've found with my E Street experience, and I guess I'm hearing the same about Lestat's. As I've hypothesized in another thread in the Los Angeles board (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... ), I wonder if a high-end machine supplier like Synesso can make available their clientelle list. Though a machine alone does not a good espresso make, it'll be hard to imagine a "java jockey" shop ordering such a high-end machine without committing to at least some semblance of a comprehensive coffee quality program. (http://www.synesso.com/VictrolaArticl...)
Going on the hunch that shops which use a Synesso are more likely than not to take their espresso seriously, I just contacted them and they had listed 3 Southern California retail customers: Farmhouse Coffee in Fallbrook, Cafe Luxxe in Santa Monica, and West Burton Antiques and Coffee in Westwood.
Anyone have any experiences with these three shops?
They also mentioned that a Synesso will be used at the next Southern California Barista Jam, to be held at Caffe Calabria on Oct. 20-22.
If you are downtown, Tony's coffee cart at the corner of Broadway/Columbia is where you want to go. He opens early (7?)and closes mid-afternoon. Good prices; great coffee. Please forgo the nearby Starbucks and take your business to Tony.
If you work downtown you probably already known about Tony. He has a loyal following.
I posted this to sdnet.eats back in March 2002 after my initial visit to this place.
218 N El Camino Real # A
Encinitas, CA 92024
Stopping in here was an impulse buy, plain and simple.
In our rush to get down South, I missed packing the daughter-units' sandals. We needed some and TJ Maxx seemed like the perfect choice: cheap and throw-away if they didn't work. SWMBO1 was assigned that odious task while I waited in the SUV with three very hyped kid-units.
It dawned on me as I listened to Spawn crankin' down on her sister-units, Alpha and Beta, that I'd missed my morning latte infusion. The wail that erupted from Spawn as her sisters explained (in sibling fashion) that they were tired of her abuse and were very willing to retaliate spun me around. Dire threats and a louder voice quelled any further outbursts from the Gallery and I went back to looking at the coffeehouse2. The longer I looked, the greater my impulse became.
It's unremarkable exterior and hidden-from-the-street location gave me momentary pause but caffeine deprivation soon had me unbuckling Spawn and ordering the other two out of the car. As we walked the 20 feet through the deserted parking lot, I reminded them all of how much shorter the day would be if they misbehaved. Promises assured, the four of us entered the coffeehouse.
ObHimmel3: The interior is as unremarkable as the exterior. High ceilings, several deuces with seating for four per table, purchasable bric-a-brac along the walls... No clientele.
A tall fellow greeted me from behind the bar. Alpha and Beta had instantly become "bored" and wandered over to a table to play Rock-Paper-Scissors. The <thwap> as rocks crushed scissors gave me a simple preview of the remaining day. The menu, posted high on the wall behind the counter listed many combo drinks, with different prices and sizes (three) for each. I ordered a large triple latte.
The gentleman smiled and quickly started making it. He is very out-going and personable. I started asking about the different iced drinks on the menu. Beta had grown "bored" with getting hit (again) and came over to stand by me. During one description, a chocolate mocha infusion of some form, she perked up and asked if she might have one. I ordered three. Hyper-sugar-whacked kids, what a combo.
SWMBO had long-since found suitable footwear for the daughter-units and when she saw that we weren't where we were supposed to be, "just knew where I'd taken them." (Sad: I am that predictable.) To appease the Goddess of my Real Life®, I ordered her a tea. To my pleasant surprise, he fill a tea-filter with loose-leaf Earl Gray and poured boiling water over and in a cup for her.
I ended up getting pastries and those little boxed cereals for our group. The bagels were fresh. The cereal choices nice (lots of sugar-bomb-based cereals for the kids to ogle and choose.) Total bill came to less than US$24 -- cheaper than any $tarBuck$ run by US$10.
I took a sip of my latte. It was excellent! As we were leaving, the gentleman was receiving quite a regular stream of customers. Confirmed that the latte wasn't a fluke.
If you find yourself in this portion of the State, just south of Carlsbad along El Camino, stop in. You /can/ do a lot worse with all the $tarBuck$ around.
1 She Who Must Be Obeyed
2 Was originally "coffee shop" but I was convinced that "coffeehouse" was more appropriate.
3 Shiela Himmel, former SJMN 'food critic', could describe a restaurant's interior for several paragraphs.
I am an espresso/cappuccino freak too, but it's really hard to find a good one here in town. Usually it's too milky or not hot enough (or both!)
For my money, the best two places for espresso are Diedrichs and Gelato Vero. Diedrich's has two locations, in PB and Hillcrest. They are a So Cal chain - started in OC. Gelato Vero is on India Street.
One tip someone gave me (at Gelato Vero actually) is to order a doppio macchiato instead of cappuccino - you get less milk and more espresso that way - but not much foam.
MY big pet peeve is coffee bars that put the coffee out in vacuum pots for hours. It's ok in the morning, when the coffee bar is busy - but in the afternoon the coffee sits in there and gets cold and nasty. At least Starbucks makes it fresh. They also have different varieties every day - so some may be overroasted and some not. Not that I am a fan - I'm just saying...
re: Alice Q
All the stand alone *$ have timers on the regular coffee pots; one hour and they dump it and make fresh. And there is always a "bold", "mild" and "decaf" of the day. You can ask for a taste if you aren't sure of what you want. When I just want a cup of plain, fresh coffee and they do fill that need.
re: Alice Q
Gelato Vero makes lousy espressos. Both time I tried them their espressos didn't even have a crema. And also their tip to order a doppio macchiato instead of cappuccino to get not much foam is odd because a classical italian macchiato should never have any foam but just a little bit of steamed milk. I would rank them them on the same level as Peets - a notch above Starbucks. But as their ice cream - nothing reminded me there about Italy.
I haven't actually been to Gelato Vero lately - so it may have gone downhill since my last visit. I hope not though, since I was planning to go back now that I will be working downtown soon. I also thought a macchiato was "marked with foam" and that's why they called it that? Anyway, it worked for me.
I also have to say my standards for a coffeebar espresso are much much lower than yours. I don't expect to get any more than a shot of espresso made with good coffee beans, at the correct strength, served hot. If I got my hopes up for any more than that I am afraid I would be eternally disappointed. In fact - I generally just order coffee to avoid said disappointment.
I've actually heard good things about a place called Cafe Forte in North Park. Have you tried it? A friend of mine tells me that "all of the Italians" go there. Her brother in law is from Italy, and he goes there, so it might be worth checking out? Also, I have had a good espresso at Cafe Chloe, and they make a good affogato - so you might want to give it a try.
Good luck on your quest - let us know what you find!
I left SD about 10 years ago but still travel there for work ocassionally. I see that Calabria is on 30th. What is the nearest cross street?
Same question about Lestat. Where exactly is it?
TIA (From one who makes an obligatory stop at Peet's for fresh beans because there isn't one anywhere near Fresno. (Don't get me started.)
Lestat's is on Adams at Fenton (approx. 33rd st), right under the Normal Height's sign.
There is also a coffeehouse in South Park open 24 hours on weekends: http://www.rebeccascoffeehouse.com/
You can always mail-order fresh beans from Calabria or many other good roasters, if you use up a pound or more a week. Check out their site: http://www.caffecalabria.net/home/
Apparently a big never mind on Caffe Forte - it was sold a while back. The Italian who used to go there now goes to Peets. I guess that tells you something. He also apparently likes Gelato Vero's coffee, but not the rude service - it never bothered me.
We tried two other coffehouses this weekend:
Twiggs: Average cappuccino, latte and sandwich but sometimes this is enough when you have a nice book and a lot of time.
Vinaka (Carlsbad): Above average cappuccino (perfect foam) and latte. Not as good as Calabria but definitely worth another visit.
I love Twiggs, but their brewed coffee sucks. Out of all the coffee places I frequent, it's got the absolute worst brewed coffee. Weak and doesn't taste like much.
But Twiggs is such a community magnet and it's a great place to sit for a while and relax. My friend Chef Vinny and frequently end up there after pilates class on Saturday and talk for hours. I think it's one of the most comfortable coffee houses in San Diego, I just wish they had better coffee. Their cookies are really good, carrot cake is pretty good too.
Korova, in the next block up (towards El Cajon) on Park has pretty good brewed coffee, but the ambiance sucks. It's horribly sterile and not much about the place makes me want to stay and talk for hours.
An update and uptick on Encinitas' E Street Cafe. It looks like they've just hired a new barista (James) who has spent many years pulling shots in both Portland and in the Bay Area. Though the machine was running hot, he poured me 2 good double ristrettos and asked for feedback on each one. Without having to ask they were each poured into pre-heated porcelain tazzinas and made it a point to deliver it w/o delay. (I had them so fast that I paid for the shots only after I had already finished them standing at the counter...)
He clearly knew his stuff and could talk the "espresso/coffee geek" talk. I then asked for a double latte w/an extra shot, which was made w/the best latte art that I've seen in S.D., including Caffe Calabria where he had recently trained. The taste was well balanced with a nice microfoamed top.
Though the two ristrettos were not equivalent, (the first one was near perfect other than temp, while the second one had a thinner crema and just as hot), they were clearly not created by lucky accident either.
Will have to return again. Hopefully they'll do something about the brew temp on their machine. (The amazing part, though, is that it didn't pick up any of the characteristic burnt tastes that I associate with an espresso that is as little as a couple of degrees too hot... That says some good things about the Calabria blend that they use - it must have more temperature margin/forgiveness than is typical for most espresso blends...)