A little Frog Hollow Farm espresso history…

Frog Hollow Farm first appeared in San Francisco at the opening of the Embarcadero’s revitalized Ferry Building in October of 2003. While their core business is seasonal fruits, they took an aggressive leap forward towards producing some of the most serious espresso in the city at the time.

The first thing they did right was hook up with James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee. At the time, James wasn’t the food magazine posterboy that he’s become today. But James was locally famous for his coffee at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. He roasted small batches out of Oakland and put a freshness date on the bags he sold, sticking to his policy of never selling roasts more than 48 hours old.

James ultimately opened a Blue Bottle Coffee cart service on weekends at the Ferry Building farmer’s market that developed long lines and a loyal following. But he also consulted for the espresso at Frog Hollow Farm. He trained the Frog Hollow Farm staff with precise barista skills; they pre-heated their cups, timed their shots, and maintained a great standard of excellence. He convinced Frog Hollow Farms to invest in a bright red La Marzocco FB70 — an almost de-facto standard at North America’s best espresso bars. He supplied them with his Blue Bottle Coffee beans — and even allowed Frog Hollow Farms to sell his beans directly to the public.

The results were excellent. CoffeeRatings.com rated Frog Hollow Farm as the #1 espresso in San Francisco throughout most of 2004 — ranked even higher than James’ own weekend cart service next door. But it was perhaps too successful, as James seemed to have designs of his own for a regular presence in SF. Blue Bottle Coffee opened a rough storefront in a Hayes Valley alleyway in the spring of 2005. Meanwhile, Frog Hollow Farm lost their supply of Blue Bottle Coffee beans and turned instead to the McLaughlin Coffee Company.

Since the coffee bean switch in the summer of 2005, the espresso at Frog Hollow Farm has suffered. Their baristas have lost their edge and today seem much less skilled. The espresso has lost a richness and color in its crema and a boldness to its flavor. I’ve returned almost every other month in the hopes of their espresso returning to its former greatness, but each time I’ve found it to be worse off than before. My most recent visit there last weekend was the final confirmation I needed that they were on a permanent downward trend, resulting in their current ranking: tied for 79th place.

Frog Hollow Farm today

While a drop from 1st to 79th is a real fall from grace, the fact remains that the espresso here is better than most in San Francisco. However, while it was once a no brainer to get your espresso here instead of the nearby Peet’s Coffee, today it is something of a toss up.

Frog Hollow Farm is essentially a counter way in the back of the Ferry Building. They offer good galettes, killer Scharffenberger brownies, and other decent bakery items from their pastry chef to complement your espresso. But there isn’t much of a place to sit: there are just a few tables placed just outside in the back of the Ferry Building (or sometimes in the hallway).

But it’s not all “to go”: they do serve espresso as a doppio in a thick-walled, traditional Italian brown Nuova Point cup (which they unfortunately sometimes forgo for paper cups on busy weekends). It has a decent, medium brown crema that’s tended to run a bit on the yellowish/pale side lately. Surprisingly, the change in crema hasn’t coincided with a sourness to its flavor. It has more of a typical tobacco-like flavor that’s sometimes a touch watery, and it’s served at a reasonably lukewarm (not hot) temperature.

For milk-based espresso drinks, they don’t produce terribly good microfoam — the bubbles tend to be larger and erratic. They also lack real cups for large-format espresso drinks.

Read the updated review.

Counter at Frog Hollow Farm Frog Hollow Farm espresso with an unusually yellowish crema