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.