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Oct 2, 2007 06:00 PM

Fear and Loathing in Oakland – Starbucks has better baristas than Cole Coffee

To say I detest Cole Coffee is an understatement.

I went prepared for attitude. Cole Coffee exceeded my wildest expectations.

For anyone at the top of their game, I’ll tolerate some nonsense.

However don’t serve me lukewarm cappuccino, an undercooked poached egg (uncooked whites – shudder), sloppy lattes (the cup was stained with coffee that had spilled over the side), lose my order, have the staff argue among themselves whether I did order … etc, etc, etc.

And most of all don’t do this BEFORE I’ve had my first cup of coffee in the morning and expect my business again. Did I mention that first cappuccino was lukewarm … ick.

The good about Cole – the prices are low and the coffee quality (if I make I myself at home) is fairly good … but not good enough for me to return.

Cappuccino: Even had this been hot it would have been disappointing. The foam was weak, there was no cap art. Points for making a dry cappuccino. Points off for making it badly.

Latte: Nice thick brown foam, but French Café on Shattuck across from Chez Panisse makes a better latte.

Poached egg and toast: Service issues aside, good but not the best in the area. Café Fanny and Gorilla Café do a better job. They don’t really pay attention to the eggs and mine came out with some runny uncooked white. Nice piece of toasted sourdough with a little ok jam and a pat of Challenge butter. $2.50 for 1 egg, $4.95 for 2 eggs, $2.25 for toast and jam only.

Vegan organic donut: Best thing I had there. Not just good for a vegan sweet, good donut period. It was a moist cake donut that had a light dusting of coconut. According to the Peoples donut website, I can get them lots of other places

Thanks to Chuckles the Clone for that link and the tip that Coles will take off 30 cents if you bring your own cup.

Coles has a lot of fair trade and organic coffee that can be ordered by a filter drip or press pot infusion

Other breakfast items are Strauss Dairy Organic Yogurt and granola cups ($3.99), breakfast pastries from La Farine, cookies, biscotti, muffins, brownies and coffee cake.

For lunch they have three sandwiches
- Diestel farms oven-roasted turkey and Swiss cheese on La Farine rustic bread ($5.50)
- Fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato sandwich on sourdough ($4.75)
- Peanut butter and jelly ($3.95)

Sandwiches are served starting 11 am. Eggs are served till 1pm weekdays and 2 pm weekends.

They also serve tea ($1.50 cup, $2.25 small pot, $3.50 large pot), espresso drinks, Orange juice ($1.50 sm, $2.25 large), hot cocoa ($1.50 sm, $1.75 med, $2 large), Milk (.85 sm, $1 med, $1.25 lg) chai, iced coffee, iced tea and bottled water.

Part of the reason for putting the prices is that it would take a lot for me to have such an active dislike for a place with reasonable prices that seems to care about the quality of the product it sells.

However, it needs to care about its customers too. For me personally I’d rather pay a buck more at a place like the nearby Lulu Rae, Mokka or Pizzaolio where I can get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate made by skilled baristas, in a relaxing café with a staff that cares you are there.

I did get a cup of Ethiopian Harrar which was strong with lots of flavor and thankfully hot. However, I still like Graffeo’s dark roast better.

I walked into the separate coffee shop next door prepared to bring some beans home and was met with the same indifferent staff attitude and just had enough and walked out. If you buy a pound of beans, you get a free cup of coffee which is brewed in the coffee shop rather than the café.

If I was 15 I might be more amused by Cole Coffee.

I went at 10 am thinking I’d miss the morning work crowd and the lunch crowd … nope most of the tables and couches were filled with computer pounding hipsters, parents with kids strollers and dogs. There are four tables, one couch and two chairs inside and a number of tables and benches outside. It is not a quiet place … another minus before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.

Customers didn’t bother me … but that staff … yuck. The drill is
- wait in line. A few orders get taken and then the rest of the line ceases to exist for the staff until they start those orders … not complete … start
- place order and wait and wait and guess if the cup that was just made belongs to you. The staff gets pissy if you guess wrong.

I was ok with this until they lost my order for the eggs. In fear and trepidation I asked how my eggs were doing since people after me were getting orders of toast and eggs.

That’s when a little argument broke among the staff about whether I ordered the egg. One woman kept insisting that I didn’t order eggs because I didn’t have a number while another pointed to the hand written order. “Do you have a number” she asked accusingly … three times. Let’s see, the staff screws up by not giving me a number that I’m supposed to mysteriously know I need to have.

It was the third time this woman shrilled at me … before I had yet had a decent cup of coffee … that I lost it … I had been in line a second time for over 15 minutes to check on the eggs and get another cup of coffee … after sitting outside about 20 minutes nursing a lukewarm cappuccino.

I skipped over verbally getting angry and went right to my silent, deadly homicidal face with the maniacal gleam in my eye. One … and only one … of the staff picked up on it and placed my order. “Do I need a number? I asked with teeth clenched trying to keep my cool. “Yes”, she said finally pushing the coveted number at me.

The nice touch was they made me wait for my order while they served the same damned egg to people who came in long after me. They put me at the end of the order queue. Then they served me the half-cooked egg.

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  1. LInk

    Cole Coffee - retail store
    307 63rd St, Oakland, CA 94618

    3 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      So is it in Berkeley (locator) or Oakland (subject line)? Poor Oakland gets enough bad press without being blamed for a bad restaurant that isn't even in Oakland!

      ETA: According to the places map, it's definitely in Berkeley -- it's north of Alactraz, and the city line crosses College south of Alactraz.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        The places map is wrong, it's definitely Oakland -- the line is about a half a block past Cole's.

        1. re: JasmineG

          Yeah, the place record even had the wrong address on College, It is 6255 College. Hopefully that will show up here eventually. It is on the corner of College and 63rd. Sorry for the bad Oakland food press. Everyone but me likes the place, so there you go. I did have some lovely ice cream in Oakland later in the day which I'll report on in the appropriate thread to give Oakland its props ... I'll put off the fair taco report for another day.

          Here's the address for the attached coffee store.

          Cole Coffee - retail store
          307 63rd St, Oakland, CA 94618

    2. Wow. Did you go there today? They had some *serious* issues this morning.

      I was there at about 8am. No one in line. First I got the ignore thing from the
      non-dreadlocked woman. Then a sneer. I ordered a small drip cup. She made it
      with about half the required water and I had to ask, please, for a splash more so
      I got a full cup. Another vague "don't bother me I'm working" look.I also asked for a
      morning bun. When I got to the car and opened the bag, it was some cranberry roll

      The dreadlocked woman I've seen there before and she's not lame. This other, dark
      brown shoulder-length hair, I've never seen before and is beyond hopeless.

      If this wasn't today, then maybe there's something bad happening. It's not usually,
      previously, anything like this.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

        Yeah it was today. Don't remember anyone with dreadlocks only the woman who didn't speak a lot of English ... and she was the good one.

        If it is an off day, I might give them a another try ... if I just happen to be on that block ... and it is late in the day so I already am caffiened up.

        1. re: rworange

          It's not an off day. They have the worst staff I've ever seen, consistently over years of working nearby. Lulu Rae isn't open before work, so I end up there once per week for a meeting. Inconsistency is their standard. Once in a while they get someone who can make a cappuccino, but attitude is always on display. With a few very notable exceptions over the years. I have to assume the owners don't care.Why should they? The place is always packed!
          The eggs are either over or undercooked, the wait can be excruciating. I wish there was an alternative.

          1. re: Armoise

            There are plenty of nearby alternatives. Spasso and Peaberry in one direction, Cuppa Tea and Roma in the other.

            The two guys working this (wednesday) morning were terrific.

            Yeah, it's probably not a place that's living off first impressions. But after
            you've been going there for a while you get a sense of whether or not it's
            a good day for eggs. And always get a drip or press; if you're heading off
            into "Venti Latte" land that's just asking for trouble.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. Why dont you send them a letter of complaint.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jason carey

            I only send letters of complaint to places I plan to return to.

            Even if I had an intention to go back, it doesn't sound like a place that would care to do anything about it. A good many reviews on yelp mention service issues.

            However, if there is anything other than a rave about the coffee, lattes, cappuccinos and egg ... especially the egg ... on yelp I don't recall it.

            So I really expected to deal with attitude and waits. I did expect the beverages and food to be top notch. So this is just a different opinion. Like Chuckles said, skip the espresso drinks. And as Armoise said, the egg can be inconsistant. My thought is stick with the straight coffee, La Farine baked goods and peoples vegan donuts if going to Coles.

            Like I said, if I was 15 I would think this is a cool place to hang out. I probably wouldn't know there were better places elsewhere. By time I hit my 20's I was a little more sophisticated in my tastes. And at my current age ... I'm just too old to put up with this nonsence unless the quality is much better and consistant.

            1. re: rworange

              If I had an experience like that, I wouldn't return either.

              On the other hand, I go to Cole all the time, and I've never had service problems like you describe. Once or twice in the past two years, I've had a few coffee grounds that made it to the cup, and I've either gotten a fresh cup in response or they strained it for me. Occasionally the eggs are a little overcooked, but I've always been served promptly and the staff has always been polite and friendly to me, my mother, and anyone else I've taken there. (I promise I'm not 'cool' enough to pass any attitude test.) That said, I would never get an espresso drink there -- I either get a drip cup or a cafe au lait. There are lots of places around that specialize in espresso, so why order it at the one place that specializes in straight coffee?

              (And I like the cranberry morning buns, too.)

              1. re: kds

                KDS, that has also been my experience. I am a regular and usually go early in the morning. They don't chat me up a lot and that's fine, I just want my coffee. I don't perceive an 'attitude', the apparently endemic curled lip that others have complained of.

                As for feeling scorned for not being an expert and needing to read the list, I have also not seen that. Generally they have tried to answer questions and make suggestions. But it's also a balancing act. While they are describing to a new customer the difference between Mexican Organic and Sumatra, the line is backing up with people who are going to complain about the long wait. How to make everyone happy? I don't know. I wish I did, but I also wish I had a winning superlotto ticket. I'm sorry for those who had a bad experience because I think that this is some truly excellent coffee.

                1. re: Louise

                  Frankly that's what I was anticipating ... not chatty, just efficient and professional. I figured the attitude business was just, well, yelping. Maybe an off day, but there's lots of good coffee around. Shouldn't have trusted the yelp reviews about the great latte and caps at Coles.

          2. I posted in the other thread that I've been getting beans and coffee here for over ten years. Aloof service aqequately describes my experiences, but I have never witnessed outright rudeness. That said, I only go to the shop on 63rd, and have only gone into the cafe two or three times, and I have never gotten coffee drinks at either place, so I don't doubt that your experience was as you said.

            I will continue to go in order to purchase their roasted coffee.