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Coffee talk: Blue Bottle x2, Stella’s, Bicycle, Jane, Grand Prix, Ma*velous, Creamery, Sightglass plus beans

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Once again, big thanks to all the Hounds who provided feedback on my pretrip post here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/775679 All suggestions logged and ready for use on upcoming trips if we didn’t make it this time . I’m going to break up my report posts by theme this time and try to keep them fully focused on food as they are already too long. A leisurely start at the Blue Bottle coffee shop at Mint Plaza on Thursday morning. We tucked into one of their Bennie-esque brekkies (Acme toast, Prather Ranch ham and a fontina fonduta). Sharing one of these is the way to go if you are meeting for Sichuan at 12:15 and it is already 10:30! A fine cappuccino and my heretofore fave iced drink, the New Orleans style, rounded out our snack.

We stopped at Stella’s for a cappuccino and sweet after Z&Y and Danilo’s on Thursday. The barista was a bit amateurish (inadequate tamping of the coffee was observed) and the end result showed it. Biscotto and ovale were both top notch, however.

The SO tried a French press and a pourover from Bicycle at the Grand Lake Farmers Market on Saturday and enjoyed them both, though he didn’t taste much difference between them.

On Sunday morning we targeted a newish coffee shop. Jane is a hip but inviting café serving excellent Four Barrel coffee. As I mentioned elsewhere, the barista sniffed the SO’s cappuccino before serving it as quality control. We both got a kick out of that, and her obvious passion for the product, which was the SO’s top coffee beverage of the trip. I had a savoury scone which was flavourful but rather dry.

On Monday morning, we trotted down the hill to the Grand Prix Café in search of their specialty Macau iced coffee which was excellent and has replaced the New Orleans one in my Blue Bottle book. The cappuccino was not particularly noteworthy and the indoor area is obviously a lounge at night (the two baristas cranking the tunes didn’t help), so we just hung around long enough to polish off a very creditable havarti and prosciutto croissant. The outdoor seating would be nice on a warmer day as it is off Grant

We next wended our way toward North Beach with Delise in our sights. My bad for not checking that they were closed Monday, but we noticed a Trader Joe’s nearby and picked up a stash of their excellent chocolate covered pomegranate seeds so all was not lost

Also had a cappuccino and a Gibraltar at the Blue Bottle Coffee Linden kiosk on Monday afternoon since there was no line, but found it disappointing this time, a little grainy with a stony taste.

On Tuesday morning, we stopped off at another newish café Ma*velous and the SO sampled their cappuccino, made with Portland’s Stumptown, along with a very creditable scone. You could while away many minutes undisturbed as it is not very busy on a weekday. They also have a very cool looking Espresso Parts machine with foot pedals and a see-through carapace that the barista waxed rhapsodic about. Maybe not the most salutary stretch of Market but this place provides a bit of an oasis, and you can get a stronger beverage after the sun hits the yardarm.

The objective for our final afternoon was to acquire a few samples of locally roasted coffee beans to take home, as the SO is learning about his new Bario Varatzo grinder and Rancilio espresso machine and wanted to test drive some other coffees. We stopped at the Creamery as they were advertising Ritual. They sold him a pound of a seasonal espresso called Spring Break and offered a free espresso to go with it. Sipping it on a sunny patio and watching the world go by was the SO’s idea of a perfect Monday afternoon. Well, that and the fact that the barista, a recent transplant from Portland, gave us all kinds of Pdx coffee intel and pointed us to a Whole Foods not far away to fulfill his coffee bean jones. The fellow at WF seemed quite knowledgeable and pointed us to a Four Barrel blend (Brass Tacks) and relative newcomer De La Paz (another seasonal espresso, Perfume V). He also reminded us that we weren’t that far from Sightglass, so off we trekked in search of a final coffee for the collection. Those blocks are pretty long so we felt we’d earned another cappuccino and a mocha made with Hooker’s chocolate. The SO found his capp quite intense, and I thoroughly enjoyed my mocha, which reminded me how good they can be when made with quality ingredients. The roastery/café hadn’t come as far as I would have thought since our last visit in November – contractor and permit issues, we gathered, but it is finally starting to come together.

Links to other reports for this trip: Double shot of pie: Pizzeria Delfina (Filmore) and Bao Necci/Danilo’s http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784423

Leary love: Canteen and House of Shields http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784428

Oakland adventure: Grand Lake FM, BC Deli, St. George’s/Hangar One http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784432

Burger (and beer) bonanza: Bix, Marlowe, Rosamunde/Toronado; random final day bites (post 5 of 6) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784437

Things Asian, a cocktail, and OTG: Z&Y, Shanghai House, Shanghai Dumpling King, BC Deli, Olive, Lers Ros, Sankaku http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784434

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  1. First of all: Bravo. This is really fantastic, greyelf, and a useful resource for topics on this discussion.

    The Grand Prix space is weird, almost always empty and shadowy. Their other two locations are more fun if you're after the Macau--Special Xtra on weekdays (big banker crowd there) and Vega on the weekends.

    I love Sightglass not just for its coffee, but for the baked goods provided by Tell Tale. Really exceptional stuff.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pane

      Thanks pane. I had Cento and Vega as the other cafes affiliated with GP so good to know about Special Xtra, which seems to be the first one. We still have at least 20 coffee places to try out and that's just in SF proper.

      We tried the chorizo and cheese cornbread last time from Tell Tale and it rocked. I'm especially chuffed to find a bakery that does the savoury stuff I crave so well. All the goodies were sold out by the time we got there at 3ish this trip.

      Special Xtra
      46 Minna St, San Francisco, CA 94105

    2. I stopped by Blue Bottle on my way to work this morning. They hadn't opened after 7am which, for a coffee place was interesting to me. But, they opened shortly after. Employees aren't too friendly, but no matter. With all the hype, I was hoping the coffee lived up to it all, and I was not disappointed.

      I must note that I can't drink coffee every day. I can get severe migraines; caffeine can be a trigger, so I have to be careful about drinking it, but, I've been really good about my salt intake, and other food triggers. i got the small $3.00 (!!!!!!!!!) cup, again I was hoping it lived up to the build up of how good it was....and I have very happy to say it did! WOW!!! This was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had. Truly epic. For health and monetary reasons, I can't drink this every day. But, once in a while, it's a nice splurge.

      Thanks for the recommendation. It was a nice Friday treat. And I'm still buzzing from the caffeine. That stuff is rocket fuel!!!!

      Blue Bottle Cafe
      66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      1. Sightglass is reported to be opening part of it's drink bar this week.

        Happy to hear you stumbled on the WF selection. As part of their stocking local goods, they have started carrying a good variety (Four barrel, Ritual, De La Paz). The prices are a little higher than normal, but it's one stop shopping. Because it's WF, it's easy to forget it's there.

        Rainbow Grocery has the largest selection of beans, carrying Four Barrel, Ritual, Verve, Sightglass, De La Paz, Ecco, Taylor Farms, Equator, and more.

        Rainbow Grocery
        1745 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        34 Replies
        1. re: sugartoof

          Sightglass appears to be complete. Lovely space. I went in because I was walking by and out of beans at home. Asked for their darkest roast, guy recommended their Salvadorean. I was a bit shocked that a 12-oz. bag was $18.50 ($24.67 a pound).

          To quote their Web site, "Both the dry fragrance and wet aroma show orange and grapefruit citrus. The sweeter flavors of green apple, grapefruit and lemon emerge in the cup balanced by cocoa and its substantial body." As Jonathan Gold said, " Do we applaud fair-trade, sustainable farmed, shade-grown joe? Sure. Why not? But when we sit down to a cup of coffee in the morning, we are not particularly interested in the blueberry, caramel, or tomato soup nuances a dedicated roaster can coax out of a bean ... We want coffee that tastes like coffee, and we want it now."

          So not a place for people who like dark-roast coffee a la Peet's.

          Sightglass Coffee
          270 7th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Pricing sounds steep for a 12oz. bag, and you almost might be better off buying an espresso roast, or another blend in that case.

            Peets roasts out these flavors, and sticks to more generic beans, otherwise, their single source would have all the same profiles if they wanted to accentuate that in the roasting process.

            Have you tried La Colombe and their line of Italian Roasts?

            1. re: sugartoof

              I've been buying Jeremiah's Pick Fogbuster at Berkeley Bowl.

              Berkeley Bowl
              2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              Most of their most direct competitors are in the $12-17 per 12 oz. price range, so yes that is a bit higher. However, on my most recent visits to Intelligentsia, in both Chicago and LA, about 1/3 of their offerings were in the high $20's per 12 oz, say $24-27. I really wonder who's buying this stuff, since it's making even me wince.

              I think a lot of it is what the market will bear. I got a full pound of a single-estate roast from Pura Java in Houston... it was not as good as, say, most Ritual or Four Barrel roasts I try, but much cheaper.

              1. re: twocents

                Worth noting that Sightglass beans may be cheaper elsewhere. Their Blueboon Blend was considerably less expensive loose by the pound at the Outer Avenues coop than at Sightglass last I looked. (They may have been mismarked, charging for a pound what Sightglass charges for a 12 oz bag.)

                1. re: Windy

                  Almost all the coffees sold at Outer Avenues are cheaper, including De La Paz, and Ritual, with their retail bags. I originally thought it was a price mistake too.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    "Outer Avenues" = "Other Avenues"?

                    Other Avenues Food Store
                    3930 Judah St, San Francisco, CA

                    1. re: eethan

                      Yes, thanks. Lots of good stuff, including umbrellas and chocolate bars.

                      1. re: Windy

                        Thanks. Never been there before; not just trying to be pedantic.

                2. re: twocents

                  Just wanted to add, like I intended to, that the full pound of Pura Java was $13!

                  1. re: twocents

                    Lola's Blend from Catahoula is $12 a pound, and you don't even have to go to Texas. I think all of Timber's blends are around that. Even the Ethiopian is only $15. The organic from Sumatra is also delicious.


                    I tend to drink Blue Bottle at the cafe and kiosk, but I've had bad luck taking home beans. The last ones were severely underroasted for $8 or 9 a half pound.

                    1. re: Windy

                      I only buy espresso beans and i havent had that problem

                      1. re: chuckl

                        I buy single origin from BB 1/2 pound per week and have never had that problem

                      2. re: Windy

                        I'd return them at Blue Bottle, since they usually roast aggressively.

                        I find when I'm having trouble home brewing something that resembles coffee, playing with the grind helps. Tossing in an extra scoop also helps to replicate what you're used to at the shop.

                        Blue Bottle Cafe
                        66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Thanks, but it wasn't my grinder. The beans either weren't roasted enough or didn't have much flavor to start. (Ethiopian Limu)

                          I should have returned them, or finished the roast myself, but I kept hoping they'd improve.

                          1. re: Windy

                            That happened to me at Blue Bottle too -- I bought a bag of beans where the first cup from them (the day or so after I bought the beans) was fine, and then after that it was really terrible, there was clearly something wrong with the beans.

                            Blue Bottle Cafe
                            66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              "and then after that it was really terrible, there was clearly something wrong with the beans"

                              If the beans were good the first day, it is unlikely, no, impossible, they went bad the next. More probable, your grind was off, or the amount of beans you used or the time of brewing was different.

                              1. re: poser

                                No, it was definitely the beans. I do the exact same thing every time I make coffee. And I tried those beans a few more times after that, they made undrinkable coffee.

                                1. re: poser

                                  Impossible? I don't think so.

                                  A bag of beans can come from more than one batch if they didn't roast the exact amounts. Hand-roasted beans can be burned, or underroasted.

                                  It is certainly true that if you get a few bad beans in your grinder, that can affect subsequent batches until they're cleaned out..

                            2. re: sugartoof

                              I've never seen Blue Bottle beans roasted anywhere near as dark as I like. Same goes for all the "third-wave" coffee roasters.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Likely because you're looking for Peets/Starbucks, or Graffeo dark, where the bean is burnt, and that's what you associate as a rich coffee taste.

                                I can't imagine anyone wanting darker than La Colombe, if that counts as 3rd wave.

                                Blue Bottle, Coffee Bar/Mr. Espresso, La Colombe, all do have perfectly dark roasts.
                                Four Barrel specializes in syrupy bourbon roasts.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  I make coffee at home using a burr grinder, paper cone drip, and scalded vacuum carafe. I tried Blue Bottle's darkest roast at one point and hated it, though I love the espresso they make in their shop.

                                  Yes, as I said, I do like dark-roast coffee a la Peet's. I bought Graffeo dark for years when I lived in SF. The coffee I bought when I lived in Italy was similar. These third-wave coffee hipsters think they know better than the Italians? Porca miseria.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Isn't 'third wave' sort of informed by Scandinavian roasting styles? Why should Italians 'know better' than Scandinavians?

                                    (Granted--I feel a bit silly arguing about indiv. preferences at all.)

                                    1. re: eethan

                                      Jonathan Gold defined the first wave as the popularization of coffee in the US in the 19th century, the second wave as Peet's > Starbucks making espresso and lattes ubiquitous, and the third as what I'd call the Alice Waters-ization of the whole chain of production and distribution.


                                      I'd been buying beans and drinking espresso in North Beach for years before Peet's pulled its first espresso, so it all seems a bit tangential to me.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I'm not sure I'd call the Blue Bottle guy a "hipster", and many of these 3rd wave establishments are owned by people who have been in the business for 20 years or more. Some of these hip coffee makers do know better than your typical Italian coffee roaster. They're investing energy in a persona which goes far beyond importer-roaster-barista.

                                        It's great there's diversity in the products we can get now. As national chains goes, Peets is good stuff, but you really can't say burning beans which are seconds into uniformity is superior to someone attempting to stay faithful to it's varietal, . Not only that, Italians have no problem brewing Illy, Lavazza, or Nespresso, and they'll go out of their way to seek that out in the States too.

                                        Blue Bottle Cafe
                                        66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          To me, coffee I enjoy is superior to coffee I don't and a wide selection of coffees counts for nothing if I don't like any of them. Vendors who won't roast coffee the way I like it won't get my business.

                                          To my palate, the flavor of Peet's beens went downhill while their prices went up. I switched to Jeremiah's Pick.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            It isn't entirely the roaster though. Beans do have natural flavor differences as they're essentially a dried fruit. They always did. If you care to, you can now seek out such subtleties.

                                            If you just want an Arabica blend, or the classic Folgers coffee flavor of old, then of course there are cheaper, easier, and maybe more personally fulfilling options. Same discussion could be had to write off Adante cheese, or Frog Hollow fruit.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              Andante and Frog Hollow are both working in classic traditions that have not changed in generations.

                                              Roasting coffee to bring out flavors of (to quote Sightglass) "green apple, grapefruit and lemon" is trendy and, to my taste, weird and unpleasant.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                They're cooking the bean less, and respecting regional tastes rather than blending them, and so the classic natural taste is actually closer to what you dislike.

                                                Again, I'm not challenging your personal preferences, but that's all we're really discussing. I've certainly had coffee that didn't taste like coffee, especially cold brew iced coffees. I get what you're saying. I have had my share of unpleasant coffees (one Indonesian that tasted literally like mud comes to mind), and wine like descriptions are silly, but that's merely marketing.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Here's a short and non-thorough discussion of Scandinavian roasting traditions vis-a-vis 'third wave' roast objectives:


                                                  Basically: although emphasising subtle fruit flavours in coffee via the roast might be a new technique for US consumers, I'm not sure it's fair to dismiss it as being unmoored from any tradition and lacking in substance.

                                                  Also: I like coffee that way (as you have surely inferred). :P

                                                  1. re: eethan

                                                    Here's the article that blog post is talking about:


                                                    It's not clear to me that they've been at any longer than third-wave roasters in the US. Intelligentsia opened in 1995.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Is Gevalia in this discussion of Scandinavian coffees? I didn't like the coffees, loved the machine.

                                                      1. re: wolfe

                                                        Gevalia is the Folger's of Scandinavia.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          What does that mean? The ones I ordered were not to my taste but they seem to have a greater variety than I associate with Folgers.

                    2. nice post, thanks for writing that all up. I use Blue Bottle espresso in my Rancilio Silvia all the time, with a Rocky Grinder. I set the grind pretty fine, at about 5-6 over the real zero, where the plates touch. I don't have a PID so I temperature surf. I flush Silvia until the boiler light goes on, then attach the filled portafilter. the boiler light goes off after about a minute. I begin my shot after another minute (so about 2 minutes after I attach the portafilter) and run it for about 32 seconds. I think I'm getting the temp to about 200, which Blue Bottle recommends. This method seems to work pretty predictably and consistently for me. Good luck

                      Blue Bottle Cafe
                      66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: chuckl

                        Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for the feedback on BB in your Silvia, which is the same one we have. I will send your post to the SO as it kinda sounds like Greek to me :-). He is the keeper of the espresso at home and will appreciate your thoughts.