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best coffee in SD

who serves the best cup of coffee in SD? A good - non-Starbucks - atmosphere would be a bonus.

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  1. If it's just coffe you're after and not specialty drinks or a good European style espresso, you'll have choices. For local flavor and comfort Twigg's is (Park & Madison) hard to beat. They, unfortunately, do not brew a decent cup of coffee in spite of using Caffe Calabria coffee. They do, however, have a nice selection of baked goods which they make themselves. I'm particularly fond of the molasses and sugar cookies. It is a good place to linger, read the paper or a book, work on your computer or simply hang out and watch the neighborhood go by. It has a great lived in feel to it. Caffe Calabbria (30th St., 1/2 block north of University), BTW, does a nice job with coffee.

    Jungle Java in Ocean Beach does decent coffee and even decent frou-frou specialty drinks. So do the drive through coffee shacks at Zion and Mission Gorge Rds. and Jackson Dr. and Navajo Rd.

    This topic comes up with pretty good regularity on this board. You can try searching coffee and San Diego and you should get plenty of hits. The general consensus is that while there are some good roasters in town doing good work, there seems to be a lack of well trained baristas. If your coffee preference doesn't require a barista to produce, you're in luck....

    1. Here's a thread about espresso in SD... while you may not be looking for espresso, some of the recs should have good coffee.


      1. this avoids the question of atmosphere since there is none, but the best coffee in town can be found at the coffee cart across Dickenson St. from UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

        1. Ryan Bro's in the spot formerly occupied by Chueys

          1 Reply
          1. re: ibstatguy

            Rebecca's in South Park, off 30th. Great atmosphere, great coffee, fantastic scones, and most of the time Rebecca herself is there, a great woman.

          2. claire de lune, on 30th and university. best coffee i've had in sd, great atmosphere, really yummy food.

            3 Replies
            1. re: alliequack

              I like a plain old basic coffee at Brockton Villa in LJ, great full body flavor. They do have Bread & Cie stuff there, but I would stay away from eating breakfast there.

              1. re: treb

                The Coast Toast is excellent - usually - but it's the only thing to order. The pastries from B&C are pretty good too.

                1. re: Alice Q

                  It is excellent but very pricey. That's the downer, hese places have to ditch their tourist trap prices, there used to be lines to get in BV on the week-ends, no more. Hope they wake-up.

            2. Cafe Forte at University and Herman in North Park has great coffee. Their sandwiches aren't bad either

              2 Replies
              1. re: fflax

                I just drove by there the other night and it looked like the place had been vacated (Caffe Forte). I know the original owners sold it and it supposedly went downhill. I never tried it, but some Italians I know loved it until it was sold.

                1. re: fflax

                  Some time ago I explored the area around Caffe Calabria in order to try out the cafes in the area. Including Calabria and Forte, I tried out a total of 4 cafes.. At each I ordered an espresso, and I would have to say that they were all horrible, but by far the worst was Caffe Forte. It was bad enough to actually illicit a gag reflex. Terribly over-extracted and burnt, caused by setting the boiler temperature inappropriately high for the beans being used, and served way too large.

                  Though the cafe by looks didn't look very promising, Claire de Lune served what was the most passable of the lot. Though it was by no means what an espresso should be, (it had a very weak and thin crema), the brewed part of the coffee below the crema was reasonably extracted.

                2. Caffe Calabria is slowly remodeling (they plan to serve italian-style pizza, eventually, on top of the current panini), so the atmosphere could be better, but their espresso is the best I've had in town. Cgfan has had a couple of bad shots there, and I have had one or two that weren't great, but in my experience the espresso is often exceptionally good. Most of the baristas make it with a good crema, rich and full-flavored, but without the bitterness and burnt aftertaste you get at Starbucks or any number of imitators.

                  The coffee cart at Kaiser's hospital and office building serves Calabria's roasts, and the barista I met also pulled a great shot.

                  The one other place I can recommend, though off of only one taste, is Elixir, along the trolley line downtown. It's hidden in an office building a block from the 5th street trolley stop. It took me three tries to find it, but going off of a recommendation from someone at Calabria, I sought it out. The espresso was good, and the toasted bagel was also one of the best I've had around San Diego - crisp outside and solid inside, unlike the bready ones oftern served in California.

                  I've tried dozens of other coffee shops while studying. Several are good for hanging out, people watching or cramming before an exam, and even Starbucks will get you a bathroom and air conditioning when you are desperate. But I haven't had good espresso anywhere besides the three places I've listed.

                  Worth mentioning:
                  Goldfish Point has just about the best view of any place in La Jolla. It looks out over La Jolla Shores
                  Lestat's in Normal Heights has free wireless and stays open 24 hours (the only place I know of in town). But the coffee isn't good.
                  Cream in University Heights has free wireless and stays open late.

                  27 Replies
                  1. re: Joseph

                    Joseph, do you really like Cream. I've tried and tried to warm up to it but I find the atmosphere to be so sterile. Their coffee is really pretty decent and their pastries are good, but man, it's like a morgue in there sometimes, even when every table and chair is occupied!!

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      I only like it for studying. The lighting isn't the best, but it is just about the only place open at 10 pm with free wifi and available tables. Lestat's doesn't always work. My wife likes the "Mexican Mocha" there, but the straight espresso really isn't that great. Oh, and we also like that they have Fair Trade coffee, even for the espresso drinks.

                      But I can see why it wouldn't work for most people.

                    2. re: Joseph

                      Joseph: Great report! We could use more espresso-hound reports in S.D.!

                      I'm glad you got to try Yvonne's espresso. (She has the cart in front of the Kaiser building at I-805 and Clairemont Mesa Blvd.) She is very passionate about her espresso, and I commend her for pulling such consistent shots with Calabria's roast. (I find Calabrias's roasts to be very finicky when I pull shots with it at home... I suspect that the shot parameters on this roast are very narrow, as I cannot seem to dial it in to my satisfaction like I can with most other roasts, including my own...) You'll find that she also has a laser sharp memory for customer's and their last drink order. One of the few barista's in S.D. who will readily dump a shot and reload based on the looks during the early part of the pour.

                      Re. Calabria, I have had good shots there; unfortunately just not often enough. I really think that their baristas should be dumping more shots, as most, not all, of what I've gotten have been really sub-par. I really respect them for what they are doing for the S.D. espresso scene, and I really like the passion that drives their business, which we are also about to see in their pizza operation.

                      I've talked to Arnie about how their coffee often gets misrepresented by poorly-trained baristas at other shops, somethings that's of issue with any roaster. I believe that barista training at Calabria is a fundamental part of any food service outlet that serves their beans. But I'll take Yvonne's pour on any random day using their own beans over one done at Calabria.

                      BTW I have not gotten to know any of the baristas at Calabria by name, which easily could be part of my problem with their pours. (Ultimately it's not about the shop, but the barista.) Joseph, are there any in particular that you can recommend, particularly those that work the weekends?

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Sadly, I don't know the barista's by name. I've had the opposite experience; almost every shot has been good to great. And we don't make it down there often enough.

                      2. re: Joseph

                        I'm floored to hear that the coffee cart at the Clairemont Mesa Kaiser has great espresso. So many times I've had to sit around for prescriptions and great espresso was literally 30 feet away. Thanks for the rec... I'll have to try it next time I have an appointment.

                        1. re: geekyfoodie

                          geekyfoodie: ..and if it'll be your first time there make sure you say something that'll indicate you're an espresso-head. (Perhaps ask for a ristretto, or ask about her equipment, etc...) Yvonne's every-bit the espresso-head as well and can really talk the espresso talk, so be prepared! She may also surprise you with her self-deprecating humor - don't worry, she can really pull good shots.

                          This'll all help you get the best cup that she can produce, whereas she may not pull out all of the stops (though she may, I just don't know...) for just a random customer...

                          1. re: cgfan

                            cgfan: I am but a humble amateur in the world of espresso and am still learning quite a bit about the finer points. Coffee, espresso, and tea are very near and dear to my chemist's heart because it's all about the extraction, so I'm fascinated by the details of the perfect shot. I fear looking like a deer in headlights if I bring out the inner espresso-head in Yvonne.

                            Now, the question I have for you is: have you ever found a proper ristretto in San Diego? I was reading that it's difficult (and the method is debated) to do with a machine, but unless there's a cafe with a hand press, then it seems like the result is often a smaller serving with little difference in flavor.

                            1. re: geekyfoodie

                              geekyfoodie: you raise a keen point regarding ristretto, which I find can be broadened to most espresso drinks, in that there is quite a lot of debate what the different drink names mean. I personally find drink definitions to be in a rather messy state, perhaps even more so given the wide variation in how the various drinks are executed. Even in the arena of SCAA Barista Competitions where one may think that consensus might reign supreme, I've heard baristas complain that the definition for a Latte ironically leaves them prone to technical point losses when they wish to pursue a better milk to espresso ratio in order to pick up taste points.

                              Personally, though this is probably not satisfactory for many due to its inherent ambiguities, I'd rather think of the various espresso drinks in purely qualitative terms. In fact one of the best descriptions of espresso can be attributed to David Schomer of Espresso Vivace in Seattle; paraphrazing Schomer, he describes espresso as a drink that tastes as pleasant as freshly roasted coffee smells. That would immediately eliminate most of what is served as espresso in almost all but the very best of cafes!

                              (He keenly notes that even self-proclaimed coffee haters often enjoy the smell of roasted coffee; it's just that brewed coffee leaves too much unextracted taste behind in the grounds rather than delivering it into the cup, belying the promise of the bean's wonderful aroma. He believes, as do I, that more people would enjoy and understand espresso as a drink if only they had access to taste a properly executed one.)

                              I like to think of ristretto as a cafe's or a barista's version of an espresso that pulls out all of the stops to make the best tasting cup possible. I often find cafes talk about single or double ristrettos, which to me makes little sense (unless, of course, a double means to add-in a new pour from a fresh dose of grounds into a reloaded portafilter). A cafe or barista should settle upon one way of making their ristretto; if there is more than one way, then how can it be their best?

                              Another conundrum is that to properly tune a process for true ristrettos, one must optimize the grind level, tamping pressure, shot volume, match the water temp to the bean, both grind level and tamping pressure based upon daily or even hourly environmental changes that affect the bean, and right down to even cup selection and means of service (can the customer be delivered and comfortably drink the ristretto immediately after it is puled while standing at the counter?), that it almost doesn't make any sense to be able to pour both espressos and ristrettos from the same setup. The best of shops have solved this conundrum by not distinguishing between espressos and ristrettos. Sometimes they will have a sign explicitly stating it, at other times its left unsaid, that all of their espressos are pulled ristretto. In other words ordering either gets you the same drink.

                              So have I found such a drink in San Diego? Seldom. I have experienced it at Caffe Italia on a few occasions when their bar is operated by a barista whose name I never bothered to record. Also on occasion I find that happens at Zumbar Cafe in Sorrento Valley. It also used to happen at the Carriage Stop Cafe that used to operate in front of Horton Plaza.

                              But for the most part when ordering in San Diego I don't expect what I would call a ristretto even if that's what I had specifically ordered. (I realized that was delusional quite a long time ago!) For that one needs to go to the real espresso gems, such as Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, or Ritual Coffee Roasters or Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, or Intelligenstia in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. And without having even been there, for sure you should expect the same at Coffee Klatch in San Dimas.

                              Regarding requiring a "hand press" (manual piston, I assume you mean) machine to deliver a ristretto, although that's not true, and in fact one can get a much more consistent ristretto out of any high-end semi-automatic machine than in any manual-piston machine, there is a sliver of truth to what you say. I have found that the very best ristrettos (so-called "god shots") that I have ever tasted has only come out of two manual piston machines that I personally own. However manual-piston machines are extremely finicky, and generally produces an average shot that is of decidedly lower quality than a high-end semi-automatic, though the best of the shots out of a manual piston machine, at the meagre rate of perhaps 2-3 shots per year, cannot be matched by any other machine. I believe this is due to the tremendous pressures that can be delivered by a manual-piston machine, which far outstrips what can be produced by any pump machine, commercial machines included.

                              By the way Cafe Gelato Vero on India Street used to have a manual-piston setup a long time ago, but I believe it was spring activated and therefore did not really allow the operator to control the extraction pressure. Ryan Brothers Coffee in Barrio Logan still operates a spring-loaded manual piston machine as well, and again due to its spring-loaded nature does not really allow the operator to control the extraction pressure.

                              I now happily use at home a high-end semi-automatic machine, and although I've never looked back at my manual piston machines since making the switch, I do somewhat miss the rare "god shots" that I've found only those machines are capable of producing.

                              1. re: cgfan

                                that's inspirational.... I now want a manual.

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  Bravo(a?), cgfan... as always, you're a wealth of information. Like I said, I am truly a humble amateur. I have never ordered a ristretto and your comment led me to do a little research and learned about the whole manual vs. machine bit. Yes, I meant a manual piston when I referred to a "hand press," and lately, I've been preoccupied with pressure and how its generated when making espresso. Piston is better than steam, etc. etc., but what I'm really curious about is why there seems to be little control over it, even in the high end machines. Even number on a display would be helpful. I guess I'm a little puzzled on how (if we were to go with the literal definition of the drinks) I'd be able to use more pressure to pull a ristretto. That's where a manual piston makes sense, but as you pointed out, it would only be as consistent as its operator. Yet, I haven't seen a high-end machine where I can say "I'd like 12 psi for this shot and 9 for the next". If it were up to me, the perfect espresso machine would run like one of the instruments at work. Powerful pistons that can be monitored and controlled with software on a PC. For those instruments, pressure is a big indicator of whether or not the machine is functioning properly. The same idea can be applied to an espresso machine.

                                  The caveat is that I am not very familiar with high-end or commercial machines and these controls could exist, but I haven't shopped for a high-end machine... yet. My birthday gift to myself (6 months from now) will be a brand-new machine. I currently have a mid-level one that does the job all right and was the perfect gift for a poor student who dearly loved espresso drinks. But... it is aging and perhaps my tastes are maturing, as I find myself frowning over the lack of pressure and temperature control. Nowadays, I'll usually end up with a slightly sour shot with poor crema, as the machine seems to run a little cooler and with less pressure than it used to. It seems you like your machine... may I ask what brand you have?

                                  Before I veer further off-topic, I should also ask... have you ordered a ristretto at the Kaiser coffee cart? Or does Yvonne default to a ristretto for all espresso orders?

                                  I'm looking forward to Blue Bottle Coffee, as I will be in the Bay Area for the holidays. Then, I'll be in LA, so I'll have to go to Intelligentsia, which is closest to my folks. Whenever I'm LA, I'm so busy eating all the good Chinese food I can find that espresso doesn't even enter into my consciousness.

                                  Where is Zumbar Cafe in Sorrento Valley? I work close enough, so they're worth a visit.

                                  1. re: geekyfoodie

                                    Well in the non-commercial setting where one can afford to tweak between cups and perhaps throw a cup or two away in between adjusts, one can switch between an espresso and a ristretto by going to a finer grind and adjusting their tamping pressure, followed by pulling a shorter volume. The idea behind the grind/tamping pressure adjustment would be to drop the flow rate, as the total extraction time (theoretically) should be kept relatively consistent. In practically all machines pump pressure is purposely a set it and forget it control tucked away behind the skins of the machine. So the barista for the most part adjusts grind/tamping pressure against the pressure delivered by the pump to slow down the flow rate.

                                    In the commercial environment, unless there is a grinder dedicated to ristrettos as a drink apart from an espresso (implying three grinders to cover brewed coffee as well + potentially three more for decaf - unlikely setup, really), how a barista would typically handle a ristretto order would be to adjust (increase) tamping pressure alone then pour a shorter shot. The home "barista" has an advantage here in that he can do things which would be unreasonable for a commercial environment.

                                    Now regarding pressure from pumps used in espresso machines, home espresso machines typically uses a vibratory pump, which has a flow rate that varies as a function of the back pressure that the pump is subjected to, up to a maximum or an over-pressure valve, whichever comes first. At high flow rates the pressure is low, and at low flow rates the pressure increases. With high-end commercial machines, rotary pumps are the norm, which delivers a more constant pressure characteristic. To my knowledge no machine out there actually "servos" the pressure itself in a closed loop. That is, however, with the exception of some work being done by someone who appears under various monikers but always seems to include "jepy" in their username. On YouTube he's jepyraco ( http://youtube.com/profile?user=jepyraco ), on Flickr he's jepycoffee ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/82921813... ). He's doing some really interesting work not only closing the loop on pump pressures, but also profiling pump pressures over time during the shot itself.

                                    The part that I mentioned about the manual-piston and its ability to generate extreme pressures, that's all true, but it's on the "fringe" of technique. These incredible ristrettos that I have pulled (really only under a blue moon) used a slightly finer than conventional grind for ristrettos, but with a much, much higher tamping pressure, to extract a shot under extreme pressures for shot volumes of around 0.3 oz. That's a very tiny cup, but in taste is a "bigger" drink than any conventional ristretto. But trying for these extreme brewing pressures, and hence limiting it practically to only manual-piston machines, subjects you to the typically poor thermal design of the manual-piston machines themselves.

                                    Even in the high-end (home) manual-piston machines such as the rare Olympia Creminas (I've had occasion to take apart and use two of them), they are controlled very simply by a mechanical pressure-stat with its inherently wide hysteresis (dead band). I have also found that most of these machines tends to accumulate too much heat in their group head such that only the first or second shot, but not both!, has the best chance of producing a good shot.

                                    They have an inherent compromise in that they are typically single boiler machines that delivers the brew water directly from the steam boiler. So the steam pressure, and therefore boiler temperature, needs to be high enough to deliver the water to the compressed puck of coffee, and therefore during the delivery heat must be lost to the group head in order for the water temperature to reach anywhere near an appropriate brewing temperature without "burning" the draw. This process accumulates heat in the grouphead until at equilibrium the brewhead gets almost as hot as the boiler tiself, which will be too hot to draw a proper cup. (Users of these machines typically run "cool down", "flushing", and "temperature-surfing" "rituals" before each cup in order to control their poor thermal behavior... I used to take a wet towel and place it on the grouphead to absorb the damaging heat. It would literally steam like a sauna and take quite a bit of water to cool the grouphead down!


                                    Re. Zumbar, they are located in the mini-mall just at the I-805 Southbound on-ramp from the Sorrento Valley area. Re. the Kaiser cart and ristrettos, when I ask for a ristretto I only say so as a "coded word" that's used to express that I want a good espresso, poured short if possible. Again it's inherently difficult to really serve ristrettos as a drink apart from a regular espresso in the commercial environment, particularly in a small space where one cannot have another dedicated grinder to serve it up. Regardless of whether it is a true ristretto or not, you will be getting a good espresso for sure! (...again with the caveat that you "announce" your seriousness about the drink before hand...)


                                    1. re: geekyfoodie

                                      Sorry I forgot to answer your question on the machine that I currently use. I use an Expobar Brewtus, distributed by WholeLatteLove.com. It can be described as a 120V dual-boiler reservoir machine with a vibe pump and a "bang-bang" temperature controlled non-heat exchanging E-61 machine. Phew!

                                      Dual-boiler - dedicated brew and steam boilers, a good thing

                                      Reservoir - not plumbed-in; uses a non-pressurized pour-over reservoir instead to hold brew water

                                      Vibe pump - vibratory pump used in non-commercial machines; some users perform upgrades a the more expensive rotary pumps; rotary pumps, though, require a pressurized input, which normally is solved by plumbing them into your water lines...

                                      "bang-bang" temperature controlled - a simple solid-state controller which can only control boiler temperatures by turning them on or off much like a switch; this also employs the most basic control system (vs. a PID or equivalent) which simplty turns on when the temperature goes below the setup point (less programmable hysteresis), and vice-versa

                                      non-heat exchanging - a heat-exchanging (HX) machine gets its brew water up to temperature by running it in a pipe that travels through the steam boiler; this often makes for overheated brew water when the machine is left idle, and ultimately brew temperature is not very well-controlled due to the dynamic nature of the equivalent thermal circuit. (The Brewtus actually uses a heat-exchanger too, but only to pre-heat the cold reservoir water prior to entering into the brew boiler, which indeed is a very good thing to do...) Believe it or not many commercial machines in existence also relies on a heat exchanger as the sole means to heat the brew water.

                                      E-61 - a very popular (and heavy) grouphead design typically reserved for commercial machines. It achieves temperature stability by both its huge thermal mass as well as by running a passive "thermo-siphon" of brew water through a networks of water channels built into the grouphead. E-61 groupheads are seen in both HX and non-HX machines

                                      So that's the Brewtus. It's by no-means a fully commercial machine, but it delivers the best "bang for the buck" in terms of obtaining a nearly commercial quality result. David Schomer of Espresso Vivace, a stickler in the industry for temperature stability, has even given it his personal recommendation as the best home machine available on the market.

                                      ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam... )

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        I appreciate your responses, cgfan! Thank you! It's certainly fantastic to have a tutorial on the finer points of espresso and the machines. I often forget that particle size and tamping pressure are very important aspects to making a good espresso, especially since it "gets around" the preset pressure generated by the machine.

                                        I went to your Flickr account and that is an incredible machine. When I'm shopping for a new one, I'll probably re-read your posts to make sure I maximize bang-for-buck. I'm not sure if I can afford the Brewtus (my BF: you want to spend what for an espresso machine?!), but I'll definitely examine my candidates with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they're the best I can buy.

                                        As for the OP, I'll add a blurb on Zumbar Cafe when I go, which at this point, will be first thing in the new year.

                                    2. re: cgfan

                                      I now do a bit of work in the area, and rediscovered that great espresso I had a few years back but realized this time around was the Zumbar that I'd read about on this thread.

                                      To express how I feel about this place, I resort to a tale of my typical espresso beverage order- and the difficulty I typically encounter when ordering it:

                                      I like two shots poured over cool whole milk in a short cup, in that order. That's it. Simple right? Nothing more than a cold milk latte- I find the taste of a great shot of espresso can be destroyed by hot milk and find a standard latte repulsive. When I order this absurdly simple combination, I am usually met with a bovine stare, or even the "how do I cool the milk after I've steamed it?" kinda response.

                                      The guy at Zumbar didn't even flinch for a second, and even offered me a shorter than usual "short" cup, which he felt would offer the most appropriate coffee/milk molarity. Then he made it perfectly.

                                      It is worth a trip- the place is really an example of artisan craft that is worth our money. There is only a sign that says "Coffee House" out front.


                                    3. re: geekyfoodie

                                      geekyfoodie: Just wanted to report that I just had my first "proper" ristretto from a shop in San Diego! That is a shot that is shorter than a standard espresso and where everything is tweaked to pull out the best out of the bean, regardless of the tiny volume that that may entail.

                                      Where and how? I just dropped into the espresso cart in front of the Kearny Mesa Kaiser Hospital (operated by Yvonne, and is in my regular rotation), and she has one of her former trainee's in here from Arizona until the 2nd. I think his name was Steve, but I'm not 100% sure.

                                      Anyway he was manning the station while Yvonne was on lunch break, and he poured me the only ristretto I ever had anywhere, including S.F., L.A., NYC, O.C. or S.D., that was as short as I pull my ristrettos at home. I'm talking about a shot volume of roughly 0.4-0.6 oz. of the smoothest coffee that I've ever tasted from Calabria's beans.

                                      Apparently he made it to the Nationals in the SCAA Barista Competition in Long Beach as a first time competitor last year, so he definitely has something going.

                                      Espresso Cart Non Pareil
                                      7060 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA

                                      1. re: cgfan

                                        Yay! Thanks for the report, cgfan! I'm going to have to tweak my Rx pickups and head to that Kaiser facility soon. Now was definitely not the time to switch to the Zion and Vandever facilities.

                                        1. re: geekyfoodie

                                          If you ask to just have an annual physical, they will send you to that facility to get testing done and then send results back to your Physician.

                                          Don't ask.

                                          Just know I make excuses to be in that area a lot lately, and sometimes park at the Arby's and walk over for coffee...

                                          1. re: geekyfoodie

                                            Wow, it wasn't a dream after all...

                                            I made a return visit to Yvonne's espresso cart at noon today and Steve, her visiting barista from Arizona who pulled the amazing ristretto last Friday, apparently had the cart all day today. He pulled me another ristretto like I had last Friday and again he nailed the pour, pulling amazing smoothness out of the tricky Calabria beans.

                                            And like any well-crafted ristretto it had a lingering after taste that still registered on the palate a full hour after having had my drink. In the espresso world, small, (as in a ristretto), is indeed beautiful!

                                            If any hounds want to make a go of it while Steve's still in town, this week's all you have left - at least as late as Thursday, but by either Friday or Saturday, don't recall which, he'll be gone.

                                            Espresso Cart Non Pareil
                                            7060 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA

                                            1. re: cgfan

                                              Steve also makes very tasty foofoo drinks. If you like lattes and do not know what you really want, he can work with your favorite flavors. I highly recommend the Napoleon. I'm also jealous, as I work and will be unable to get anymore of his coffee before his last day, which is tomorrow (friday, february 1st). I hope you all enjoy it for me!!

                                              1. re: cgfan

                                                Well, I had to stop by, since I was in the neighborhood. That was one AMAZINGLY good ristretto! I struck up a conversation with him and asked if they'd been any busier this week. I explained he'd been getting some good press on certain food forums. We chatted a bit, and he's been a barista for many years. When he handed me my cup, he had pulled one for himself, as well. We toasted, and I thanked him. Then I'm sure I was making yummy noises, and he had a big grin on his face. Thanks for the heads up, cgfan!

                                                1. re: phee

                                                  Phee: I'm glad that you had a chance to try their ristretto, and doubly glad that you shared your taste impressions here! I also dropped in today and enjoyed two perfectly constructed double ristrettos. The consistency between the shots was simply incredible, with each serving unlocking all the latent potential of the amazing coffee bean.

                                                  For those reading this thread puzzled at the praise given towards an espresso, no, I don't think we have a bizarre taste for excessively bitter, burnt, scalding hot and pitch black drinks served in ridiculously tiny cups. No, though that's certainly what's served as "espresso" in just about every cafe. Those are not true espressos, but rather impostors hiding behind the name of coffee's most profound drink.

                                                  If I had to have one of those terrible drinks I too would be reaching for every carton of dairy, every packet of sweetener, and yes, maybe even every bottle of chocolate syrup and tub of whipped cream in sight. These are cafes where the Emperor's not wearing any clothes! (and hence shouldn't even think of being near a machine spewing hot steam and water all day! :-) )

                                                  Rather to drink a properly made espresso, and in particular a ristretto, is to enjoy a drink that:

                                                  ...has the longest aftertaste of any of the coffee drinks but served in the tiniest of volumes
                                                  ...magically collects without loss the best of the coffee bean's volatile oils and aromas into a wonderful emulsion before it's final delivery to your palate
                                                  ...is the only coffee drink that truly tastes creamy without the use of any dairy (imagine that!)
                                                  ...has the power to deliver the true promise of roasted coffee's magical aroma

                                                  So for the espresso fans out there here's an obvious chance. And for those coffee drinkers who have avoided the tiny one, it's now your turn as well. And yes, even to those who drop a daily Lincoln into the tills of their local Charbuck's.

                                                  But perhaps the best opportunity of all is presented to those of curious palate that have never understood the allure of coffee; this ristretto may have the power to change your mind!

                                                  ...and in case I'm wrong here there's still plenty of cream and sugar close at hand, at the very end of the bar that Yvonne affectionately calls her West Wing!

                                                  1. re: cgfan

                                                    The plan today... I have to leave work early, so I'm stopping by and hopefully I'll have a chance to meet Steve and sample this long-awaited ristretto! Phee, you're so lucky to be in the neighborhood. I'm rarely in that particular area of Clairemont and when I'm commuting, there's no way I'm going to stop by with 805 traffic being what it is.

                                                    Cgfan: I'm so excited because I pulled one of the best shots I've pulled in a long time at home. The perfect balance of flavors plus the pleasant lingering aftertaste really started the morning on a great note. What really helped was that picture of your Brewtus... I have a digital timer at home, so I stuck it on the machine so I can time my shots. It's also a new espresso machine, per our discussion above, but I'll save the specifics for another time or another thread.

                                                    As for good ol 'Buck's... alas, I have completely stopped going. As I start moving past "espresso newbie," even convenience won't take me there anymore.

                                                    1. re: geekyfoodie

                                                      Looks like I missed out on Steve. I arrived at the Kaiser facility at 4:30pm only to find that they had closed for the day. It's a shame I missed him.

                                                      I do have a contribution, though, for anyone who wants to try Yvonne's coffee in the future. The cart's hours are 7:30-4:30 M-Th and 7:30-3:30 on Fridays.

                                                    2. re: cgfan

                                                      When you have a chance go to Italy, those 'little cups' have very smooth tasting coffee, not the black stuff you see here, and the top of the brew is finished by the 'coffee' creating a 'crema' layer (tan color) not cream, just wonderful. I will taste a ristretto, sounds good.

                                                      1. re: cstr

                                                        cstr: Might a proper espresso (ristretto style) perhaps look a bit like this shot I pulled at home? http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                                        Yes, I am quite familiar with espresso...


                                                        1. re: cgfan

                                                          cqfan: PERFECT!, that's what I'm talking about, I could almost smell that cup. Looks and flavor what a combo!, most don't understand that. I do understand your comment about that 'goop' that is mostly served in the US those 'little cups' is aweful and give it a bad rep. Thanks for the pic.

                                      2. re: Joseph

                                        Not about espresso, but I am currently in cappuchino mood and had some luck with the ones at Claire de Lune. The ones at Rebecca (normally my favorite coffeehouse for Friday and Saturday late nights in SD based on their Scottish scone, atmosphere and the cat) has sometimes excellent cappuchino but also some of the worst in SD depending on the barista.

                                      3. Has anyone tried the new Lions Coffee Shop in Mission Valley (off Mission Center Road and Rio San Diego Road, around the corner from Pat and Oscar's)? I know they've only been open about a month and wondered if anyone had any feedback about the place.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: LisaSD

                                          I had a two-for-one coupon for Lion's, and, since I work up the street, I stopped by last week. Their regular coffee tasted of the Kona variety to me, which makes sense since they originated in Hawaii. I didn't try the espresso, and will give it a try next time. While not the best coffee I've ever had, it's pretty good. Still hard for me not to drive up the hill and out of the valley to Caffe Calabria, though.

                                        2. Zumbar. I haven't had a coffee in San Diego that came even close to being as good as theirs.

                                          1. Lestat's. And they have the best cookies.

                                            13 Replies
                                            1. re: Dagney

                                              I know that everybody has a different taste but Lestat is for me the perfect example how you can ruin a very good coffee bean (Caffe Calabria) because of completely unexperienced barristas.

                                              1. re: honkman

                                                Easy there, amigo. I'll take a good cookie rec where I can get it.

                                                1. re: honkman

                                                  Funny comment - Lestat's is frequently a place I'll go to work late at night since they're open 24 hours, and it's such a bummer that their coffee is so poorly done.

                                                    1. re: Dagney

                                                      Will you all just go to Zumbar? I think it would simplify the discussion on this board...


                                                      1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                                        I still visit Yvonne at the Kaiser coffee cart in Clairemont, but her favourite is Zumbar, as well. I, however, have yet to make it up there.

                                                        1. re: phee

                                                          Lately I haven't taken many lunch breaks in the KM area so when I recently had my car serviced at the dealer the other day I dropped-in to Yvonne's cart and she poured me a fantastic Latte.

                                                          Yeah she likes to hit up Zumbar on Saturdays; I'll often drop-in Saturday A.M. as well on my way down to the Little Italy Farmer's Market. There's a pretty regular contingent on Saturdays, just like there is during the middle of the week.

                                                          Did you know that Zumbar's open then? It probably provides the best opportunity to try them for all of those who do not work in the Sorrento Valley area.

                                                        2. re: SaltyRaisins

                                                          Second that, SR... it's one of Sorrento Valley's greatest (only?) gems.

                                                          1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                                            Yep, I think every person that is not listing Zumbar, hasn't been. It's really one of the only world-class foodie places in the city. I've only been to a couple places in the world that had better coffee.

                                                            1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                              Wow, although I'm on record many times on these boards for saying that they have the best espresso in San Diego, it was always with many reservations. Perhaps more recently I may have less reservations given the steady improvements that I've seen in their cup, but they still have a ways to go.

                                                              Yes we all have different tastes, but I'm still left puzzled how one can find their product to be world class. That this is the best in S.D. is more a sign of the relative youth of our regional coffee scene.

                                                              1. re: cgfan

                                                                Perhaps I should clarify. Most good food items in the SD area get classified in the "good for San Diego". Places that are good enough, but not good enough to survive or flourish in a city with a real food scene. Zumbar is an exception. They would survive and flourish in many more challenging markets than San Diego's. I'm not saying they're the "best coffee in the world". I'm saying that they are capable of being excellent, even when compared to places that are very serious about coffee. I can't think of any other places in the city that I would say that about (coffee or foodwise).

                                                                1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                                  I think what you say may be true for the majority of coffee drinkers who have had little exposure to a properly-made espresso, but amongst those who focus almost solely on the espresso drink I feel that it is premature to say Zumbar has reached that status. In that sense the quality of their program probably already exceeds any practical business objective.

                                                                  I don't want to detract from what they've already accomplished - they've dramatically improved their program over the years and during most of that time I could confidently say that they were serving the best espressos in S.D. And lately I've had a couple of espressos there that were truly excellent. Yet I see room for improvement and key practices not incorporated to be able to say that they've truly reached the levels attained in the best cafes of other coffee-centric cities.

                                                          2. re: Dagney

                                                            I like Caffe Calabria (but it closes already at 3pm). I often finish the week (and start the weekend) with my wife after some restaurant visits on Friday night by going to Rebeccas or Claire de Lune. On Friday night at Rebeccas the barrista (an oder guy - if a anybody else is around I oder something else) makes pretty decent cappucchinos (it's not on the same level as Intelligentsia or Luxxe) but pretty good. Claire de Lune is mostly similar in quality but has less consistency.

                                                      2. At the risk of getting stoned (not in the good way), I have to admit I prefer Starbuck's to a few local coffee shops such as Rebecca's and Clare de Lune. Admittedly, it's been a while since I've ventured in to Calabria--the lack of parking is annoying--and have yet to try Zumbar. I get that many people consider Starbuck's coffee to taste burnt, I just don't have that same reaction. I'm wondering how much the perception of said corporate coffee shop is tainted by the en vogue disdain for anything that is not independently-owned.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: globocity

                                                          Of course there's no reason that we should all have to enjoy and favorite the same cafe, but I'd post the following challenge on anyone's favorite espresso-based beverage at their favorite shop: dare to drink it without the milk, sugar, whipped cream, caramel, chocolate etc. and simply order their espresso.

                                                          I'd guarantee that for most who have not done this before at their favorite cafe you would have been left spitting out your drink or at the very least wondering why it tastes so bad. (And remind yourself that this dreck is at the very base of every espresso-based bevererage that your favorite cafe serves...)

                                                          Then do the same at Zumbar.

                                                          <insert epiphany moment here...>

                                                          1. re: cgfan

                                                            I don't order any drink at Starbuck's with ". . .milk, sugar, whipped cream, caramel, chocolate, etc." And yet, I still enjoy their coffee and espresso. Funny thing is, I also find myself also drawn to espresso at certain restaurants. Costa Brava comes to mind. I'm not sure what beans they use, but I've found their espresso delectable.

                                                            1. re: globocity

                                                              globocity: Wow, I truly am puzzled... I purposely left out coffee as it's a much easier drink to serve, but you truly like their espresso? And straight? Can you describe what comes to mind when you think of their espressos? What taste descriptions come to mind?

                                                              The only way I can make sense of it is that perhaps could it be true that you think of an espresso as a very, very strong coffee. Might that hit the mark?

                                                              If so espresso, when properly made, has nothing to do with being a strong version of coffee. In fact when well made it shouldn't even be watery at all. Rather it should be a small and very creamy, emulsified drink that coats the sides of the cup and preserves all of the aromas and nuanced volatiles of the roasted coffee bean and delivers it to your palate to taste. This is particularly true when served ristretto, which is the default practice of serving an espresso at the best cafes.

                                                              It truly is an artisan drink and honestly cannot be properly served without rigorous training and individual commitment by the barista to perfect all aspects of its production.

                                                              I do hope you get a chance to try Zumbar as most shop's espressos are not the artisan drink it should be, but rather just a strong, overly bitter version of coffee that's better suited for the sink (or to those who really do like very, very strong and bitter coffee!).

                                                              BTW if looks alone can give you an idea what a Ristretto is like, here's a video of the typical Ristretto I pull at home: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                                                        2. I'll add my vote to the chorus. Zumbar is the best coffee in San Diego. I've said it other posts, but it bears repeating.

                                                          I totally agree with what "Indirect Heat" said that their coffee is not just good, for San Diego criteria, but is good, period.

                                                          I've lived in places with a surfeit of coffee shops pulling shots of a similar quality as Zumbar's, and the fact is that Zumbar is equal to all of them.

                                                          Since moving to San Diego, I still pine for my favorite coffee shop in the world (EVP in Madison, Wisconsin), but since I've found Zumbar, I no longer have to suffer such long dry spells between good cups of coffee.

                                                          1. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in Bird Rock. They roast their own beans, and this year they managed to get some of the Panama La Esmeralda Geisha - which is the best coffee I have ever had. They also are big on fair trade, organic, and direct trade coffee. They do sell coffee by the cup, as well as beans

                                                            The only problem is the place is tiny, and I have heard the atmosphere on weekend mornings is terrible - literally a dog and pony show (a reviewer on another website said someone brought a miniature horse to the coffee shop one morning). In my experience is has just been crowded, but I never go in the morning.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: ekomega

                                                              ekomega: Very true. Bird Rock is probably our best local cafe where one could sample from a very wide range of single-origin beans. Most cafes, when they have a single-origin program, typically features a particular single-origin per day, rather than offering the customer a choice amongst many.

                                                              (However Bird Rock often fails, like Caffe Calabria, in regards to execution at the bar. I still look towards Zumbar for near rock-solid execution from drink-to-drink.)

                                                              Yeah, the Geisha is a "must-try" drink for any coffee fan, though a much more reasonable alternative that's not as extreme (in taste characteristics and price) is any dry-processed Idido Misty Valley Yrgacheffe.

                                                              BTW it's believed that the La Esmeralda Geisha is actually the equivalent of a coffee variety that is found in Ethiopia near the Sidamo town of Gesha. The tree has a very similar habit, and bears coffee cherries that result in a very similar cup. This again underscores the fact that all coffees can trace their roots to Ethiopia.

                                                              A note to all local home coffee roasters, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters sells most any of their beans green at half the roasted rate, a very square deal for a walk-in store. (Of course most walk-in cafe/roasters don't sell their beans green...)