If it weren’t for its own BART station, even fewer SF residents would know where Glen Park is. But a local neighborhood coffee shop, Cafe Bello, has quietly been making its mark as one of the premiere coffee destinations in the city. It’s just that few locals know it — let alone do they know where to find it.
A short walk north of the Glen Park BART station, Cafe Bello opened in 2004 as a replacement for the former “Cafe ?” — which closed due to rising neighborhood rents. Whereas Cafe ? bought fully into the Illy caffè system, Josh, the owner of Cafe Bello, swears by Mr. Espresso beans as producing the best crema.
This quiet café has several indoor tables, window counter seating among several stools, and an outdoor sidewalk bench. They sell pastries, teas, gelato, and bulk coffee beans, but the emphasis is on their coffee beverages. Using their two-group, Mr. Espresso Rancilio Epoca, they often produce a solid crema: a dark brown emulsion that hangs on top and clings to the sides of the Mr. Espresso logo IPA or Nuova Point cups. They fill the cup close to the rim, but it’s more of a true doppio rather than an overextracted single.
The flavor can vary depending on the barista and other quality control factors. At its worst, it’s merely good — sometimes missing a little something in flavor depth and brightness when compared to it’s encouraging crema. At its best it can be very good — richer, more pungent, and with a flavor edge of cloves. Consistently there is a mellow background mixture of additional flavors: slightly sweet of vanilla, a hint of cardamom, and even some turpeny sensations.
Speaking of consistency, it’s one of the kinks they haven’t quite worked out yet with the rotation of baristas. Some pull shots with a sketchier crema with larger bubbles suspended in it. Other baristas, like the most recent one reviewed here from last week, have been personally trained by Josh and are among SF’s finest. Because of this variance, this is the Vegas of quality espresso. But on its worst days it’s still quite good. And when it comes to milk-based drinks, Josh isn’t half bad at latte art either.
Cafe Bello is one of the rare Bay Area coffee shops that serves vaccum-brewed coffee — arguably the best way to brew coffee this side of espresso. Better than French press, and certainly better than filter. For $3.50, you can get a show and a monster mug of vacuum-brewed coffee (and if you want the home version, you can buy your own vacuum pot here for $120).
For those who haven’t witnessed vac pot brewing before, it looks a lot like a science experiment. But the spectacle and the clean, robust flavor are well worth the wait. Cafe Bello tends to serve vacuum-brewed coffee only in the afternoons due to the additional process required, which the morning crush makes difficult. But sometimes Josh is in a generous mood of morning showmanship.
For the continual fight against coffee bean oxidation, Josh is also currently in the process of setting up coffee roasting on the Cafe Bello premises. He recently bought a 1-lb batch airflow roaster from Monster Coffee near Seattle. It may not earn him bragging rights with the likes of Blue Bottle Coffee and Ritual Roasters, who lately seem to thumb their noses at anything less than an antique PROBAT roaster, but an in-house supply of fresh roasted coffee stands to improve Cafe Bello’s espresso even more.
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