I hate writing about espresso bars in regression when there’s every reason for us to expect progression. There’s a rising tide of coffee quality that should theoretically lift all boats: McDonald’s is offering premium roast from Gaviña, 7-Eleven is offering single origin Kenya AA and Hawaiian Kona … and late last year Café de la Presse made a big upgrade from America’s Best Coffee with a far better blend in Philadelphia’s La Colombe Torrefaction — one of the most esteemed specialty roasters in the country.
What’s this I hear? A très français café with espresso Greg not only tolerates, but he likes?! Yes, it’s true — at least at Café de la Presse. But it wasn’t always this way.
This spot is a classic French café/bistro at the southern Grant St. gates of Chinatown, strategically located near the Alliance Française de San Francisco. It has authentic bistro tables inside and out (the sidewalk café seating is very popular when the weather encourages it) — with a bent towards foreign tourist accents that also flock to the international newsstand. The service is Euro-slow and generally only good if you want to linger over an issue of Paris Match like many other patrons.
This café underwent a major facelift in 2005 — and for much the better. It now has a traditional zinc bar, the magazine rack moved to the back, and most importantly the espresso improved significantly. They replaced their cheap twin Astoria machines with a less cheap three-group La Spaziale. But their change in coffee beans and renewed attention to barista skills were the most significant improvements.
They now serve espresso with a relatively generous, and very un-French-like, medium-dark brown crema — poured in a tall brown ceramic cup (from Germany’s Caffé Ti Amo) with an odd spoon. Flavorwise, it has a woodsy, herbal flavor and a mildly warm serving temperature. This is a vast improvement over this café’s previous M.O. — it was once known for faint rings of crema and a slightly bitter tobacco flavor due to their inferior equipment, bean choices, and laissez-faire attitude towards espresso preparation. Last year I noted them as one of the most improved SF cafés of 2005. You can now actually drink something besides a café au lait with the cat-sized milk bowl here.
And as often happens, paradoxically, when places improve their espresso: the price per shot dropped 50¢.
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