I’ve always said that Eton Tsuno of Café Organica is an espresso visionary. Now his, along with Santa Clara’s Barefoot Coffee Roasters, aren’t the only Bay Area cafés to be famous for offering a choice of coffee bean blends for your espresso.

As reported in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (Cetrella owner to bring chowder house to Half Moon Bay), there’s a new arrival in town: Caffé del Doge. Located at 419 University Ave. (near Waverly) in Palo Alto, this Venice, Italy-based coffee roaster and café supposedly offers ten or more different bean stock choices for your made-to-order espresso (a very New World take, that’s for sure). Taking the “Have It Your Way” mantra a step even further, this 50-seat café apparently handles a variety of orders of how you would like it prepared — including a series of coffee “cocktails”.

I’m more than familiar with Caffé del Doge. A little over a year ago, when I was last in Venice, I encountered their beans in a variety of restaurants and bars. However, the one thing I could not find all around town was a single branded Caffé del Doge café. Ironic that you can find one in Palo Alto and not Venice, isn’t it?

In fact, by most Italian standards, I found the espresso in Venice to be generally inferior — particularly when compared to most of what you can find in Roma or Napoli. Venetian baristas are often younger, transitional employees rather than the careerist professionals you might find elsewhere in Italy’s best cafés. And while Venice was once a very important coffee trading port with the East, a far better bet than their coffee is their grappa and amarone. (And I’m not even including the overpriced dreck they serve the tourists in the Piazza San Marco.)

As for Caffé del Doge, their coffee beans are pretty good. But I was not overly impressed. Perhaps the best coffee I found from my last travels there, and also popular with the few locals, came from a local roaster called Torrefazione India Caffé. You can find one of their bean & leaf stores (a true torrefazione that doesn’t serve retail beverages) in the Dorsoduro district on Campo Santa Margherita.

Thus Caffé del Doge isn’t necessarily the best coffee from an Italian region that, despite its history, is no longer regarded for its coffee. Then lose freshness by transporting the roasted beans half-way around the world… then serve them at a Caffé del Doge café here in Palo Alto (when they are no where to be found in their native Venice)…

When you put it in context, there doesn’t seem to be much of a real brand attraction other than the romantic notion that they come from Venice. So will I go over and check them out? You bet! I love pretending I’m in Venice as much as anyone, and I have the tazzina in my collection to prove it.

The author's Venetian import: a Caffé del Doge cup