A year ago or so, owner Phil Jabar started serving coffee as “Philz Coffee” at the former Gateway Market at Folsom & 24th Sts. This newer location opened more recently (January 2006), and it has as loyal a local following as the original shop. Business here started slow, though, and has picked up more recently as word-of-mouth spread. With slogans such as “one cup at a time” and (confusingly) “That’s Italian!”, I’ve decided that Philz represents more of a success at guerilla marketing than great coffee. And I really wanted to like Philz.
Walking up to this place, locals told me on the street, “You must try their coffee!” Inside there is dingy, used furniture: sofas, school desks, mistmatched chairs. And piles of roasted coffee. At $11.95/lb, I inquired about what beans were in their Heavenly Blend, which looked interesting on sight. Phil’s son, behind the counter, told me, “I don’t know what beans — it’s a mixture of light and dark roasts.” Big trouble right there.
And this is a place the SF Weekly recently called “best local coffee blend”? They host Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday coffee tastings from 2-5pm, but what’s the point of a wine tasting if all you learn you’re drinking is “red” or “white”?
If you can get past the fact that they don’t know what beans are in what blend, and that they tend to describe their blends with only adjectives rather than any nouns (?!), Philz serves good drip coffee. But is that enough to create a loyal following?
Philz brews it in single-serving drip filters — but moderately good places like Plumes Coffee House in Monterey (among a number of others) have been doing that for years now. And while their roasts are pretty good (I took a pound of their Heavenly Blend home anyway), they didn’t strike me as any fresher or better than you could get at The Beanery or, say, his Sunset roasting counterparts: legendary, friendly neighborhood “loners” such as Alvin Azadkhanian of Alvin’s and Henry Kalebjian of House of Coffee. So what’s the secret?
I believe it comes down to Phil Jabar himself. The man is a better showman than his Sunset counterparts, and his business benefits from clientele who think they need a visa to travel to the Sunset District. Phil puts on the Reno charm and plays the role of alchemist rather than barista.
But whereas Philz is particularly strong at beverages such as Turkish and Arabic coffee, run — do not walk — away from this place if you want anything resembling a drinkable espresso. Using a two-group La Spaziale with the portafilter handles left out cooling on the drip tray (ugh!!), they pull shots with absolutely no crema. They serve their espresso jet black and in a regular coffee cup. Not surprisingly, it tastes ashy and tarry with some bitterness.
Did I mention that I really wanted to like Philz? Well, it might be surprising that Philz Coffee ended up rated in the bottom 10% of all SF espressos. But the pictures here don’t lie. Make no mistake: when it comes to espresso, Philz suckz.
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