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best dark roast coffee beans in Berkeley / Oakland area

Either Peet's quality has dropped a bit in recent years or my palate has changed. Combined with their ever-higher prices I don't feel like I'm getting the value I used to, so I'm searching for something better than Peet's, or as good but cheaper.

I thought Cole Coffee's New Guinea espresso roast was on a par with Peet's but more expensive.

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Cole Coffee
3179 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94705

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  1. I like coffee beans from the Country cheese store (next to Monterey market). It is an unpretentious little store with an amazing collection of coffe beans, tea, spices, and most of all chocolates. They have the best prices for most items too. Don't know about what kind of roast they have for coffee beans though.

    1. Have you tried the Yirgacheffe beans from Kefa Coffee in Oakland? I don't think it's a dark roast per se, but it is an earthy, full-bodied coffee that might appeal to a dark roast drinker. That's been my favorite for take-home French press use. Price is probably on par with Peet's.

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      Kefa Coffee
      422 29th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601

      1. I've actually been going the other direction myself- went to single-cup preparation and have moved from French roast towards the thirdwave city roast style, paying $12-15 for those 12 oz bags they all favor. However, I was wondering if you've tried the Allegro brand that Whole Foods sells as their house bulk stock- the Oakland branch always has several variations, including 2-3 very dark roasts. I tried some in the summer and it seemed pretty decent for a dark roast. Mostly $10-13 for the full pound, and because it's bulk you could buy small amounts to try.

        1. I noticed that the (Oregon St.) Berkeley Bowl had two bins of Jeremiah's Pick Fogbuster, which I figure means they go through a lot of it, so I'm trying it. I like it about as well as Peet's, and it's only $9 a pound.

          http://www.jeremiahspick.com/our-peop...

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          Berkeley Bowl
          2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

          6 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            One more random difference between old and new Bowls: the latter has only house-brand coffee in the bins, and its limited selection of pre-bagged Jeremiah's did not include Fogbuster.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I'm curious to hear what you think of the BB jeremiah's Pick Fogbuster. Or what your latest choice of coffee is.

              1. re: escargot3

                That's what I've been drinking. I like it fine.

                They don't carry it at the West Bowl, so I got a pound of their dark roast full bodied house coffee, it's similar if not the same.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Does Monterey Market carry the Fogbuster?

                  1. re: lmnopm

                    I've heard they carry Jeremiah's Pick. MM's not convenient for me so I haven't looked.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Bag-your-own beans at both Bowls are now $10. The West Bowl is convenient to my new job so I bought a pound of the darkest house roast. I prefer the Jeremiah's Pick Fogbuster (original Bowl only).

                I'm not thrilled with it but haven't found anything that tastes like what I used to get from Peet's. I tried a couple of kinds of Peet's recently, my old 101-Sulawesi blend and Major Dickason's, and didn't like them as well. The only coffee I've had recently that really tasted like coffee to me was some decaf Major Dickason's, but it's pretty different from the regular. Weird.

              3. I've found Philz is a great alternative. They always seem to have some special for $10/lb and they specialize in blends for Melitta/drip. I haven't priced Mr. Espresso recently but I think they're cheaper than Peet's and very nice as well (at BBowl in vacuum sealed bags)?

                1. I'm currently trying Weaver's Legacy Blend. Best coffee I've had in a while. Ought to be good, at $20 a pound. I'll try some of their other blends.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/830425

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Wish i tried some of the coffees you've mentioned so i know how to compare. Here's what I've tried of Weaver's to date

                    Aged Mocha Java as mentioned in the tread. It is a dark roast but personally not something i'd buy again. It is just me. People coming into the shop that day were salivating because this was being served.

                    My favorite is the organic French roast which is a little smoother than the regular French roast.

                    I'm not sure if the bag i have labeled as house blend is the same as the Legacy. i liked the House blend a lot.

                    Peru - eh. The Peruvian at Catahoula was so excellent that this didn't compare favorably.

                    Guatemala - it would appeal to Guatemalans ... bland and tasteless. However, i like dark roasts and this isn't it ... and i'm just sick of Guatmala in general so that might be coloring things. .

                    I have no clue how much it sells for in markets and you did ask for Berrekely/Oakland. However, I paid

                    29 dollars for two and a half pounds at the San Rafael shop with the bulk discount and included a cappuchino I ordered.

                    1. re: rworange

                      House Blend is something else. I'll probably try it next as it's the cheapest.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Thinking about this, it might be worth a one time trip over the bridge to the shop. First of all, the assistant barista there is really knowagable. Not that i know everything about Central American coffee, but he was just so on target about what I did know. So he'd be good to talk to about what you are looking for. Also John Weaver is there.

                        Also, they have those bulk bins which give you a chance to sample so you are not committed to a pound.

                        Lastly, everthing is available in the back, so they probably would sell you any you were interested in bulk.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I was walking by Cole's the other day and decided to give it a try again. The last time I tried their coffee was several years ago, and I'm pretty sure it's under new management now. On my earlier visit the only "flavor profile" I could detect was char from some serious over roasting. This time I noted that the beans were quite dark but didn't have a hint of oil, which I took as a good sign.

                          Anyway, I have been forced to switch to decaf for health reasons and ordered a decaf macchiato. While the roast was too dark to leave any of the more subtle tastes one gets with a lighter roast, there wasn't a hint of char, and I found it quite an enjoyable coffee, if somewhat one dimensional due to the roast profile. But what really surprised me was that it didn't taste like decaf. It tasted like real coffee. I'm going to go back and buy some to experiment with using my espresso setup.

                          It's not local, but another excellent source of dark roast coffee is Caffe d'Arte in Seattle. They offer a range of espresso blends, but even their "light" Firenze blend is quite dark. Their darkest, Taromina, as I remember it, is similar to the Cole's I had the other day--dark but smooth and no char. Looks like they're charging $11.95/lb. these days.

                    2. Turns out of all the local dark-roast beans I've tried in the past year I'm least disappointed by Trader Joe's Bay Blend, which judging from the label is meant to be a Peet's / Starbucks style. Currently a bit under $9.50 a pound.

                      Still have to get around to trying Philz. I'd happily pay more for coffee as tasty as what I used to buy from Peet's.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I forgot to ask if you've tried McLaughlin's Max's Blend (available at Cole). This was my standard French roast I bought consistently for 10 years or so prior to my conversion to third wave city+/full city. I had discovered it as Bette's Blend at Bette's Oceanview. It's been a while, but it was one of the cheaper blends, about $12/lb last I tried. Could be a little uneven, I felt about 1 in 20 batches were over-roasted.

                        For myself, I've been drinking a lot of De La Paz single origin. The roast quality they achieve in these lighter beans makes me think the darker roasts (their espresso blend) might be very nice indeed. But they will be more expensive, $14-16 per 12 oz.

                        1. re: twocents

                          "For myself, I've been drinking a lot of De La Paz single origin. The roast quality they achieve in these lighter beans makes me think the darker roasts (their espresso blend) "

                          The regular single sourced dark roasts won't do it, but yes, if you drink the espresso blends as a coffee they'd work. Just maybe more uniqueness and not the Peets Coffee taste the OP wants. Bicycle Coffees dark roast would also work.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I tried a bag Costco's San Francisco Bay French Roast. Not bad but a step down in quality from TJ's, though also cheaper, a bit under $7 a pound.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Should try Philz. Yes the blends have mysterious contents, but they have plenty of medium and dark roast blends to pick from. One caveat, is the ordering process is chaotic, and as they expand, I find the barrista quality has become uneven

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              I'll put Philz on my shopping list. I keep forgetting when I'm over there. I was just across the street yesterday.

                          2. Espresso and other "Italian roasts" are not "dark", they are by defintion "medium".

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: Brandon Nelson

                              No, Italian roast although lighter than French roast is still considered dark, and for the most part unsuitable for espresso. As for espresso being a roast level, that is also incorrect. Espresso is a brewing method not a roast level. You can brew espresso with any bean, but, you are correct most beans and blends that are used for espresso are roasted to a medium level.

                              1. re: poser

                                As far as the roasting trade goes "Italian" is a "medium" roast. "Dark" roasts all have a certain of carbonization, if you will. It is that situation that defines them as "dark" they are more shelf stable than medium roasts, but have sacrificed some complexity in the process. True "espresso" roast is in fact an "italian" roast.

                                i have done barista training with David Schomer (Vivace) and cupping with Rich Marianni (Wolfe). These guys have forgotten more about coffee than most of the world will ever know. Both these fellows have said the same thing about roasting profiles as I have above.

                                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                  "Italian roast" means different things to different people. I've seen from 440F (maybe in Milan) to 510F (!).

                                  http://www.sweetmarias.com/roasted.pi...

                                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                    If you have done barista training, you should know there is no such thing as an espresso roast.

                                    1. re: poser

                                      Hence the quotes. Sorry if I was unclear. "Espresso" roast was used in the OP, it was repeated for the sake of clarity.

                                      Dickenson, Vita, Foglifter, and Coles new guinea espresso roast are not trade terms. Their definitions are limited to the producer or retailer that gave them that nickname.

                                      Roasting degrees do have some trade parameters. That will surely vary from region to region, as the language and do as well.

                                      1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                        I can't believe Schomer, Peet's and French Roast (ie carbonized defect coffee beans) are mentioned in the same thread.

                                        Next I suggest we compare a 2 dozen course tasting menu at The French Laundry with McDonald's "pommes frites."

                                        1. re: 12172003

                                          To my palate, light-roasted coffee tastes like the canned Folger's or whatever my parents drank when I was a kid.

                                          I accidentally fully carbonized some beans the other day and there's quite a difference between that and French Roast, even if third-wave coffee snobs find them equally hateful.

                                          https://www.sweetmarias.com/library/c...

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            my 'sediments' exactly on the light roasted coffee bean trend.

                                2. re: Brandon Nelson

                                  In my experience, at most places that have an Italian roast, it's the darkest they sell. Old-school espresso is roasted dark, most third-wave coffee roasters never go that far.

                                  https://www.sweetmarias.com/library/c...

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "French" and" Italian" roasts are an American term, and in my experience French roast is generally darker than Italian. In Italy, it depends on where you are. In the south, the roasts tend to be fairly dark, and most bars pull ristrettos--very short shots with a lot of body and a lot of crema.

                                    As you move to the north, the roasts become lighter and the shots longer. In Trieste, they serve lungos--long shots that tend to be more acidic than in the south (when you roast beans darker, you eliminate some of the acid, along with the lighter floral and spicy notes favored by Third Wave roasters here). The shots served in the north are more like what one generally gets here: not nearly so much body as in the south, less crema, and at least twice as much in the cup.

                                    (The first proper espresso I ever tasted was in Naples, and I still prefer a medium to dark roast ristretto.)

                                    1. re: TopoTail

                                      As they say in Rome, north of Viterbo, it's all Germans, and the coffee's disgusting.

                                3. Finally remembered to buy some beans at Philz. The Ether, despite being billed as one of their "strongest tasting blends," seemed very smooth and mellow. Better than what I've been drinking. I also got some Julie's and some Jacob's to try.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Julie's, don't like as much as the Ether. Bland, slightly unpleasant, reminds me of Folger's.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      For the record, I liked the Jacob's the best of the three.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Glad you tried it out! Jacob's is our home's go to blend from Philz - we are very happy with how the drip coffee comes out.

                                  2. The winner is Peet's Major Dickason at $8.75 a pound from Costco. I don't think it's as good as it was a few years ago, but I like it better than any of the others I tried.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      How would the Major Dickason's be to use in the fill-it-yourself Keurig pods? And what grind would be best to use? My parents bought one of those machines and realized how bad the coffee is that comes with it. So they've acquired a filter and I'm not sure what to tell them as far as grind. They're big Costco shoppers.

                                      1. re: luciemom

                                        Probably the best coffee they'll find at Costco.

                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        We've been buying San Francisco Bay French Roast in 3 lb. packages from COSTCO. It's under 20 bucks for 3 lbs and we like it a lot.

                                        Anybody else tried it?

                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          It is perfectly decent coffee for the everyday pot.

                                          1. re: oakjoan

                                            I posted about it above. OK but I'll pay the buck or two a pound extra for the Dickason.

                                        2. I had some Verve Buena Vista dark roast at Hopsccotch yesterday. That might be the best cup of drip coffee I've ever tasted. They're in Santa Cruz, beans are $19.80 a pound from their web site.

                                          http://www.vervecoffeeroasters.com/co...

                                          19 Replies
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Duende's bodega sells several varieties of Verve beans including the Buena Vista blend. I'm not as impressed with the cup I made this morning as I was with Hopscotch's. Maybe I need to replace my coffeemaker.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Darker blends will be more forgiving a lot of these coffees aren't roasted with the intention of being used in a coffeemaker, even if their website says it's good for all brewing methods.

                                              Try it as a pour over drip or use a press instead. Both are cheaper options you'll see in retail stores making Verve.

                                              Your grind and water temp could also make a huge difference.

                                              Then finally, it can also be a matter of the roast date, if the beans are old. More likely, the beans are too fresh and it will taste better after some time.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                These beans just came in yesterday.

                                                I prefer coffee made in my filter-cone maker with thermal carafe to manual pour-over or French press. A fancier maker with temperature control might help.

                                                In my personal tests I don't find that the flavor of dark-roasted beans changes significantly within a week of roasting. Might be different for light roasts, people I know who prefer those all seem to think that's true.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  No matter your preference, these beans are being roasted with other brewing methods in mind, and those are the methods used in the retail settings where the coffee is tasting good.

                                                  All coffees have a sweet spot period. When you get into the $18 lb. coffees you do start to notice changes in characteristics. I've had coffees I thought were dull start to win me over after a week.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I went back to Hopscotch to check and they use a Chemex, which uses a thicker filter. One more variable to experiment with.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Chemex is just a pour over method. They make their own branded filters, which are like 20% thicker, but it's the style of layered filter, not the thickness that matters.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    Whatever. From all reports they affect the flavor of the coffee.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      What does?

                                                      Chemex branded filters? Sure. They're known to do a better job keeping the sediment out. They can also alter the flavor with a paper taste you need to avoid, so they're best when you brew larger amounts (multiple cups) in one go.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        A thicker filter will slow the flow and cause more time of the water, on bean.

                                                        A more interesting method of controlling "steep time" is using the Clever, which is my current favorite method. Available several places including Red Rock in MV, and Sweet Maria's in the east bay.

                                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                                          Sure, but Chemex branded filters, and the others that fit, aren't that much thicker - the amount of water, temp, and grind will play more of a role than the type of paper you use. I'd pay more attention to the pouring speed.

                                                          So you're happy with your Clever? Something in between a press pot with a pour-over's drain. I've thought about buying one, but people complain about the durability.

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            Yes, I'm happy with the Clever. Don't expect it to last forever, but I usually break things and it's been a few years, and going strong.

                                                            I actually found measuring the grams of beans (instead of scoops) to be a surprisingly great improvement in coffee quality. After measuring the temp every time, and being specific about the amount of water, and timing with the Clever, the exact amount of beans was the measurement that's allowed me to lock in the brew I like.

                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                              I think weighing the beans is key. I have been doing that for the last month or so, and my coffee has improved immensely. Granted I seem to have to fool with each type of bean to get the right weight (I need to stick to just one, but my go-to place, Bica, usually switches up the Verve available so I need to fool around with it).

                                                              1. re: The Dive

                                                                Wait, so you're saying you think each bean has an ideal weight per cup too? Roast time can effect the mass weight of a bean, with some roasters turning out weightier or lighter beans, but I thought the idea of weighing is to compensate and get more accuracy than spooning.

                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                  IMHO, yes, each different bean has an ideal weight per cup *for a particular grind and water temp and steep time*.

                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                    I agree. I tend to vary it a bit by a few grams based on the bean. I used less for some Sumatra Simalungun Harapan Tani beans from Blue Bottle recently compared to my usual Verve picks.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Supposedly most electric drip coffee makers end up spraying the water out too cold. The coffee I make at home on a Technivorm electric brewer or pour over at 205F tastes better than the pour over I make at work with the hot water out of the Bunn (195F).

                                                    The Technivorm is supposedly one that is hot enough. If that is all true, it's probably to do with the location and/or insulation of the "boil out" tube leading to the spray head. The Technivorm's is air insulated while most of the cheaper brewers I've had route through the water tank which must affect temperature.

                                                    The Chemex filters are heavier are have a reputation for brewing slightly differently than other paper. I would assume due to longer residence but I don't use one myself, though I have often drunk coffee from Chemex.

                                                    I've always liked Verve's 1950 blend.

                                                    1. re: twocents

                                                      I'm finishing up a bag of Verve's 1950 right now and I don't like it as much as Blue Bottle's Bella Donovan (made in an Aeropress).

                                                      1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                                                        Well, it's much darker than any Blue Bottle roast. I don't drink much dark roast any more, but that (the 1950) was one of my favorite darks toward the end.

                                                        I visit Blue Bottle from time to time but I never like anything I get there as much as I do most Four Barrel and Ritual beans.

                                                        I've also been roasting my own at home. Fun and comparatively inexpensive.

                                                        1. re: twocents

                                                          I also roast my own at home (in part due to a near-total lack of good choices where I live) but I don't have roasting equipment (or, for that matter, an espresso machine) when in SF. I, too, miss classic Peet's Major Dickason's, but I am trying to get used to Third Wave coffee.

                                              3. I know Coles gets mixed marks in this thread.

                                                But I'm a fan of their Max's Blend (in both caf and de-caf).

                                                We stopped getting it for a while and bought Costco's Peet's Major Dickinson's. The price is definitely right; and it's good. Just not as good as Cole's Max's Blend. And there's no Costco Major D's de-caf.

                                                1. Agree, but then it was always burnt coffee. Italian friends made great fun of Peet's house coffees.

                                                  I had a wonderful rich Bicycle coffee but can't remember from which beans. Cup it at the Hawaiian restaurant on lower Clement, SF "Grindz". Don't forget to order fresh-from-the-fryer Malasadas -seems to be the only SF venue to serve them. Different than Leonard's Bakery, Wai Ki Ki but very good, non-greasy.

                                                  1. I grew up drinking Peets...Then switched to (Royal) Now Cole's for the last 15 years.

                                                    Then once I tried a order from Rogers Coffee company right outside of Sacramento...I never looked back.

                                                    Family ran for decades and probably more socially and environmentally conscious than Peets and others.

                                                    https://www.gourmet-coffee.com/french...

                                                    Great freshly roasted French at $6.99/pound

                                                    Here is a discount coupon code for 10% off.

                                                    NC10PER

                                                    Their Italian roast is great if you want even darker roast.

                                                    Yes, they are the same company that supply's the local Costco's with SF Bay brand Coffee.

                                                    Lots of different options available on their website.

                                                    Try it...you'll like it!

                                                    Free fast shipping if you buy $50 worth.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Mission

                                                      How different is the Rogers French Roast from the stuff they make for Costco?

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        It's very similar,but probably fresher roasting.

                                                        I think its great if you want a fresh dark oily roast.

                                                        If you want it ground...I suggest ground "fine"

                                                        Great company to deal with and they also give you points for future price bargains.

                                                        I actually bought a pound of Verve Buena Vista Dark Roast via mail order last week.

                                                        Shipping was free,fast and very nice packaging.

                                                        But it was still roasted very light. Just like all the new trendy lighter roasted places that I dislike.

                                                        I give it a big thumbs down...especially since it is very expensive.

                                                        I hate to say it but all the lighter roast coffee tastes like Folgers and Yuban at my Grandmothers in the early 70's.

                                                        Don't let the low prices of Rogers Coffee influence you on their quality.

                                                        1. re: Mission

                                                          I've been roasting my own. Green beans are $5-6 a pound.