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Feb 19, 2010 09:32 AM

"Serious" coffee, 2010

Despite being a heavy coffee drinker, I have not too much been into the serious coffee scene. However, I've recent found that it has served nicely as an excuse for exploring some of the local area at leisure. I was hoping that we could create a thread that consolidates some of the places and opinions of people on the topic.

Recently, I have been to Blue Bottle, Ritual and Four Barrel Coffee. So yes, when I say "serious" coffee, I mean mostly institutions that also roast their own. However, I am prepared to be flexible on this point.

I'll start by noting that I have been to:

Blue Bottle Oakland
A small coffee/espresso cafe attached to what is now their main roasting/distribution facility (I think). Low key, I think I have had the best examples of their standard single-cup drip and espresso, in my limited experience.

Blue Bottle Mint Plaza
On Mint Plaza, off of 5th street near the Westfield Center (Nordstroms/Bloomingdales), this is the location where they have the famous Japanese cold brewing system and the halogen-driven vacuum pots. I had only standard drip and espresso here.

Blue Bottle Ferry Plaza
If I am not mistaken, they now have two outside stands on Saturdays, as well as the newer inside cafe.

Ritual on Valencia
Here I have had a standard cappucino and one of the single-cup drips.

Four Barrel
Here I have had a standard cup served out of an urn (which they brew in large french presses) and a standard cappucino.

I invite people to tell me what else I should try, both at these purveyors and at other places that I don't know about.

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    1. Blue Bottle Oakland

      Blue Bottle at SFMOMA?

      Blue Bottle Ferry Building

      Four Barrel
      at caffeinated comics

      Clover machines?
      Does Ritual still have any?

      The best espresso in San Francisco [?
      ]Sightglass? Serving Verve from Santa Cruz

      12 Replies
      1. re: twocents

        No bites on a coffee discussion today. Hmmm.

        For me the distinction is brewed coffee or espresso.

        For brewed coffee, I think Philz does a nice job, though I prefer to add my own cream and sugar thank you.

        For Espresso, my pick was Ritual (Stumptown Era)
        Now it would probably be Four barrel or Blue bottle. I think Blue Bottle has done a good job of making sure their numerous affiliates pull a good shot with their coffee.

        I will probably get slammed for offering a line away from chowhound, but is a guy that has investigated the espresso scene in the cite pretty thoroughly.

        1. re: roster

          I don't see why you would get slammed. It is a good site.

          I'm not sure what you mean by serous. From your list it looks like the trendy-in coffee vendors who take themselves too serously, IMO, with a product that doesn't match the self-hype.

          I'm more into the old-style roasters who have been honing their craft over the decades.

          The Butler and the Chef in South Park serves Graffeo which remains my favoirte coffee to date. So, if you want to try a good version of that, go there.

          I did come across a roaster who could possibly surpass Graffeo in my estimation, but they are located in the North Bay. I'm assuming you only want SF suggestions.

          Cafe Roma has good beans. They are best for a straight cup of coffee rather than an espresso-type drink.

          Except for a few beans, I'm not a big fan of Blue Bottle. However, the bean they make for Bittersweet is one I like if it is matched with a chocolate dessert.

          Kara's Cupakes has Flying Goat coffee though the place who handles these beans best is Local 123 in Berkeley.

          When I was in Europe, Italy had the best coffee. I was never disappointed. Danilo's Bakery BaoNecci Caffè in Nprth Beach uses an Italian brand. While it might not be the ultimate cup, it is very pleasant.

          Going with the Italian theme, I have no clue what the bean is, but of all places, Alioto's in Fisherman's Wharf does a very good cappucino. Sit at the bar upstairs, have a cup and gaze out on the bay.

          The relatively new Tony's PIzza in North Beach has good coffee, but I'm not sure what bean they use. The cappuccino is one of the best in the city with a just right shot – not too strong or weak. It is topped with a similar just-right foam that provided frothy spoonfuls to enjoy at the end. It came with an excellent mini biscotti and an irregular cube of brown sugar.

          1. re: rworange

            rworange, I would be happy to hear about your North Bay suggestion. It's true I don't get around as much as others, but you never know. Part of what has been motivating me to try the different coffees and cafes is just to have a reason, however slight, to stop here and there about the area and enjoy myself a little.

            I put "serious" in quotes because, yes, I am interested in these newer roasters for what the represent as newcomers and a certain point of view. Maybe it was a mistake, as I definitely wanted to solicit a range of opinions on what people consider worthy coffee experiences, and didn't want to bias things too much.

            This weekend I went to Local 123, largely on your recommendation in other posts. I was very favorably impressed with the two roasts I tried. One in particular I thought was almost perfect, but I've already forgotten the name. Fortunately, this is not too far out of my way, and I'll be back soon. The cafe itself is a pleasant and friendly seeming place. I enjoyed sitting in the back with my cup, in the "Laptop Free Zone." So, Flying Goat and Local 123 get a big thumbs up from me.

            Alerted by Pastryqueen below, I had a cup of Clover-brewed Ritual at Remedy. I've heard of these machines before, of course, but hadn't sampled from one yet. I very much enjoyed my cup. As of this weekend, the cafe is still in the final stages of build-out, and he's still serving from a cart at the front of the store, nevertheless already building a following. I'll definitely return. I think I heard him say he was hoping to be fully open in a week.

            I didn't really say if I liked the coffees that I've tried in my initial post, but I will start to do so once I feel up to it.

            Have you been to Catahoula lately? Maybe this also fits into this topic?

            1. re: twocents

              As I was reading, I was thinking Catahoula. Yes, he's maybe the most interesting to me. He's been honing his roasting and the Mocha Java is something he's finally happy with.

              I am so glad he seems to be making it. It is not in a location where the coffee culture is a big thing. Besides being ok, customer-wise, he has a few local places selling his coffee such as Four Corners and The Baltic. He also sells to that dog park at Point Isabel. If you are up that way that is a good place to stop. He was saying they got serious coffee equipment.

              He's a great guy to talk to and I like his approach ... he's really into roasting but he doesn't take himself as seriously as others.Also he usually has some interesting little bean or another. He's also really into supporthing local everything from the Mexican restaurant across the street and other businesses to giving people who need a job ... a job.

              If you are in the East Bay you might try Moka. They use the same coffee that French Laundry uses and get interestings roasts.

              Near Bakesale Betty's there's a drive-thru coffee place which you would think means crap. For some unknow reason they are really good. They use Mr. Espresso which I personally consider awful, and it is the only place I liked.

              I'm moving in eight days (yikes) and so I'm just giving sketchy info that you can find through the restaurant database.

              Cafe Aquarious uses a bean no one else does and I like it quite a lot. It is in Emeryville. On that same street (65th) Bailey's (sp) serves Roasters Coffee or something like that. It is the same roaster that Chop Bar in the Jack London Square area offers. I'm not so into it as it reminds me of Ritual ... though in their earlier days. Chop Bar is open more than Baily's. So if you want to try that.

              There's Cole coffee but I don't think it is much and neither does my coffee loving friend. We might not have tried the right bean and the attitude of the joint puts me off.

              If you want some north bay recs I'll give you those. San Rafael has some interesting roasters ... Including a graffeo cafe where they serve it by the cup. Sebastopol for some unknown reason is a great coffee town.

              Glad to know what you are looking for. I try the new roasters along with every new one that opens. It just annoys me that some coffee people dismiss the long-time roasters and think the new guys have something far superior

              In a few weeks I'll be drinking Guatemalen beans at the source

          2. re: roster

            Thanks for the link. I don't think linking out is generally frowned upon here, just when people seem to be promoting a site without really contributing or being helpful.

            Does anyone still serve Stumptown around here?

            I agree an important distinction is brewed or espresso; as I mention to rworange below I didn't want to bias things too much. I'll definitely try the original Philz. Black.

            There's a cafe next to Humphrey Slocombe advertising organic, fair trade coffee. Unfortunately, I've already forgotten what it's called. Does anybody know anything about it?

            1. re: twocents

              Yeah, I don't have the name either. From what I've read here and on yelp ... not so much. Doesn't hurt to stop by though.

              1. re: twocents

                "Does anyone still serve Stumptown around here?"

                Since 4 Barrel is owned or partnered by Stumptown, and Jeremy was trained at Stumptown, you could say that 4 Barrel is Stumptown.

                1. re: chipman

                  Except that it's not. I like coffee made with Stumptown's beans much better.

                  Investors ≠ roaster.

                2. re: twocents

                  I had Philz for the first time today. They asked how I like my coffee "dark, medium or light." I immediate response was "whatever is appropriate for that particular bean." Anyway, ended up getting Yirgacheffe. It was way overroasted destroying the classic characteristics of the coffee. While not completely charred like *$'s or Peets, it was far from enjoyable. Out of curiosity I was looking at their bags of beans. No roast date. That's a bad sign. In fact, a really bad sign. I asked how old the beans were they woman said "they are fresh." Well $*'s claims their coffee lasts 6, 8 or 10 (or more) months. An espresso with anything more than 2 weeks after roast is waste. In short, I won't go back.

                  In the South Bay area:
                  Sweet Shop for Verve roasted on Wednesdays and delivered on Thursdays
                  Red Rocks for 4 Barrel delivered on IIRC Monday and Friday.
                  Bellamo for usually excellent Seattle roasters. Not sure when they get their deliveries.

                  Save your $5 for a cup from *$'s, buy good beans, great grinder (Baratza Vario or used Mazzer Super Jolly with new burrs), a chemex and a little technique will blow away 99.99% of the coffee places around here and save you money over the long haul once you get over the sticker shock of the grinder.

                  Red Rock Cafe
                  1010 Lincoln Ave, Napa, CA 94558

                  1. re: 12172003

                    I was also surprised at Philz when they asked me how sweet I wanted my coffee. In my world, good coffee extracted well is sweet. They add sugar for you, I'm guessing because Healthy People don't add sugar to coffee. I said no. I got a basic Philz blend, whatever they call it, adulterated with cacao. It wasn't the kind of pure coffee experience I get at home or at Red Rock, I found the cup very enjoyable - given that at every other place I have to add two shots to standard coffee just to have it taste like coffee. I think, simply, my expectations were lower, and I was swayed by the very pleasant surroundings.

                    Red Rock Cafe
                    1010 Lincoln Ave, Napa, CA 94558

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      They add sugar because that's their style--like a New Orleans coffee at Blue Bottle, or a Vietnamese iced coffee.

                      It's not my style of coffee either. But I agree with Sugartoof's comment below; if you drink coffee with milk and sugar, tasting it black won't help you find a roast or cafe that suits you.

                3. re: roster

                  I think the Ritual at Flora Grubb Nursery still has the Clover machince.. I hope so. I always love getting the coffee there.

              2. Sightglass, Remedy on Telegraph (which brews ritual and has a Clover machine), Philz - some don't think of it as "serious" coffee because he only does the individual drip but I think the coffee is delicious, Blue Bottle (really depends on the blend - I have had quite a few that I did not like), and a little cart outside of Farmer Joe's on Fruitvale where the owner roasts his own beans and makes his own blends. . Obama Blend is amazing. . he uses an Aero press which makes a very fine cup of coffee.

                5 Replies
                1. re: pastryqueen

                  The Farmer Joe's tip intrigues me. Thanks, and I will try to check it out. Thanks also for the Remedy tip.

                  Sightglass sounds interesting, and I'm going to hit that one too.

                  1. re: pastryqueen


                    I've been to Remedy a few more times since my last post. The cafe is much closer to being done now. Last weekend he was advertising prepaid cards in large denominations (250-1000 dollars) representing a discount to redeemable value. It is seems explicitly to be for help in generating funds to finish the build out.

                    I am a fan of the Clover coffee. The resulting cup has a noticeably lighter body than an equivalent French press or single-cup filter drip, but doesn't seem to lack any of the flavor. Still serving Ritual only; I wonder if he plans to vary once he opens, or if he may roast some himself.

                    1. re: twocents

                      Remedy is much closer to being done now. He's serving from behind his counter, and there's tables and chairs and a front sitting area now. Very pleasant on this warm day.

                      1. re: twocents

                        I was there today as well. Nice open space, and I loved the turntable and tube amp pumping out the Talking Heads. Definitely a "serious" coffee destination.

                    2. re: pastryqueen


                      Sightglass has a $14,000 Slayer espresso machine, built in the USA. It's cool looking and my companion enjoyed her espresso. I had an east african coffee brewed in a Chemex, not strictly single-cup drip, but they seem geared to brew a fixed volume (>2 cups) at time, even if you just order one. The guy told me the proportions, but I've forgotten. They use a scale an everything, both for the beans and the water.

                      Sightglass is also still building out, at least as of a few weeks ago, but it's going to be a big space when they're done. In the meantime they're serving out of their front porch. Will return when I get chance, hopefully to take a look at their roaster etc.

                    3. Two others to mention:

                      De La Paz (no cafe at their roastery, but available at Stable Cafe and a few other places, phenomenal).

                      One that I've also gotten into recently is Rodger's Coffee and Tea, right on 20th between Mission and Valencia

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: vulber

                        Thanks for the tips. I'll follow up if I make it there.

                      2. The original comment has been removed
                        1. I may have missed it, but I don't believe anyone here has mentioned Modern Coffee in the old Tribune building in Oakland. It was started by a couple of Peet's alums a few months ago and is offering customers the chance to sample different coffees each week. When I was there a few weeks ago they were serving Ecco Caffe espresso (Santa Rosa) and Intelligentsia's Black Cat (Chicago) espresso. Brewed coffee was The Sermon from Verve (Santa Cruz). Anyway, anyone interested in sampling a variety of espressos might want to make a habit of visiting Modern Coffee.

                          Ecco Caffe
                          90 Timothy Rd, Santa Rosa, CA

                          1. re: TopoTail

                            Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out.