April 2006

Monthly Archive

Trip Report: Caffe Sport Deli

Posted by on 12 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This is a sister deli to the Caffe Sport restaurant in North Beach. It is inconveniently located across the massive U.S. Post Office (the Embarcadero Postal Center) in a strange part of town where Beale Street dead ends at the Bay Bridge. Harrison Street actually runs some 30 feet above this corner of town — there’s a relatively non-descript stairwell that leads down from it. Sitting practically beneath the Harrison Street overpass, you’ll find this Italian deli tucked away in the side of the BridgeView building.

In addition to their deli counter, they sell pasta and other limited Italian grocery items. They also sell Mr. Espresso and Lavazza coffee beans. But at their espresso machine, they are big believers in serving Mr. Espresso.

Looking down at the Beale St. dead end, and Bay Bridge, from the Harrison St. overpass Entrance to Caffe Sport Deli

Anthony (or Antonio), the barista and 22-year-old proprietor, is one of the friendliest baristas you will ever meet. He uses a three-group Faema E91 Ambassador to pull an espresso shot with a thick and rather rich layer of medium brown crema; it persists for a long time on an espresso filled tall in their Mr. Espresso-logo Nuova Point cups. Flavorwise, it doesn’t quite live up to the bold statement made by the crema and the cup’s other technical merits: it’s smooth, but the flavor of pepper and cedar is somewhat muted (perhaps due in part to the grind of coffee being too coarse). Still a very good espresso.

Just a word of caution when Anthony isn’t at the helm: some of the other staff aren’t as skilled, often extensively pre-grinding their beans.

Read the review.

Anothony's calling the shots at his E91 Ambassador The Caffe Sport Deli Mr. Espresso espresso

Coffee artists grind toward national title

Posted by on 11 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Add Milk, Barista

And the winner is…

The Charlotte Observer posted an article today covering the final rounds of the 2006 U.S. Barista Championship, held yesterday on the final day of the annual SCAA conference: Charlotte Observer | 04/11/2006 | Coffee artists grind toward national title.

For all those who scratched their head thinking, “A quality coffee conference … in North Carolina?!,” it should come as little surprise that no Carolinas baristas made it to the finals round on Monday. However, three of the seven finalists came from one of my favorites in the U.S.: Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Chicago. Bay Area coffee drinkers may recognize Intelligentsia Coffee as the bean supplier to Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery. However, the difference in espresso preparation and equipment between Specialty’s and Intelligentsia is like night and day.

Matthew Riddle, a graphic designer and barista at Intelligentsia, was ultimately selected as the 2006 U.S. Barista champion at Monday’s finals. Matthew’s fabulous cash and prizes included a $1,000 check and a trip to the World Barista Championship in Berne, Switzerland.

Also included in the article is a photo of local coffee luminary, Andrew Barnett, owner/roaster of Santa Rosa’s Ecco Caffé and judge at the 2006 USBC. (Andrew also served as a judge at the recent Western Regional Barista Competition.) You can check out more photos of the competition at the Charlotte Observer photo gallery.

Trip Report: Caffè Bianco

Posted by on 10 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Fair Trade, Local Brew

This is a bright, Old World-styled café with modern art, tall windows, and classic background jazz music. Inside it is clean and sophisticated with an older, distinguished downtown clientele. San Francisco just doesn’t have enough cafés like this anymore.

In addition to espresso, they also serve sandwiches and hot dishes at several café tables, and there are two outdoor tables shared with the eatery next door.

Sutter St. entrance to Caffè Bianco The Caffè Bianco espresso station

Caffè Bianco proudly displays their support for Fair Trade coffee, however, and they’ve done so long before it became de rigeur for SF’s granola set. And if you order a meal here, their barista wisely asks if you prefer your espresso afterwords (ding!: good answer).

While the espresso here has never been poor, it’s never been that notable either. It has, however, improved a bit in the past year or so — they are now making some of the best espresso they ever produced. (The nearby Starbucks that moved in a couple years ago perhaps made them step things up a notch.) But consistency remains a trouble spot.

Using a two-group Pasquini, they serve espresso warm and of a modest size with a medium brown, even crema. (Formerly, the cup could run more hot or cold, of a large pour at times, and occasionally with only a wide ring of crema). It has a slightly nutty, malty flavor with an peppery edge that borders on a drip coffee, but it’s clearly an espresso. For cups, they vary from French Arcopal to U.S. Buffalo.

Read the updated review.

The Caffè Bianco espresso Caffè Bianco clientele are rarely in a caffeine-induced rush

Charlotte, NC: Coffee convention buzzes uptown

Posted by on 09 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Barista, Quality Issues

Local Charlotte, NC news TV station, News 14 Carolina, ran a story today about the ongoing annual SCAA convention being hosted in town: News 14 Carolina | 24 Hour Local News | TOP STORIES | Coffee convention buzzes uptown. (Includes TV news video clip.)

Conference attendance includes over 8,000 people from around the globe. The article makes mention of the 2006 U.S. Barista Championship, which will crown a winner tomorrow. Hopefully, none of the winners have to go home with a Krups machine (the event’s main sponsor).

Trip Report: Jou Jou Cafe

Posted by on 07 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This cafeteria-like spot opened along Trinity Place in late 2005. Heavy Illy branding, some Italian staff, and italianate sandwiches. This is the first location this small chain brought west of NYC.

It has a massive amount of metal outdoor seating along Trinity Place and a long indoor space with window counter and booths. Why there is a projection TV above the salad bar is another story. But they use a two-group UNIC ZR (which are popping up at many of these heavily Illy branded places) to pull a lukewarm, relatively large-sized shot. It has that expected Illy warming flavor of some mild spice and woodiness (more cedar than pine), but it also has a subtle caramel element I haven’t tasted in your typical Illy spot.

Entrance to Jou Jou Cafe What can Jou Jou do for you today?

The crema is pale to medium brown and rather thin, and it isn’t helped by their choice of wide-mouthed cappuccino cups. While they are designer Illy IPA cups, they also have smaller espresso demitasse equivalents they aren’t using for some reason.

As a relatively new place in the neighborhood, I expect their relatively late weeknight hours to cut back from 7pm rather quickly to make ends meet.

Read the review.

Jou Jou Cafe espresso - in sunlight giving it that artistic look

UPDATE: June 5, 2007
Why we didn’t mention it sooner, I don’t know. But just as expected in our original review, this place did not last long before having to cut back its hours and then eventually closing for good sometime last year.

Trip Report: The Organic Coffee Co.

Posted by on 06 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Fair Trade, Local Brew

Opening just this month, this café was started by The Rogers Family Company (perhaps best known for their ‘inorganic’ and dirt cheap San Francisco Bay Coffee Co. beans, available at Costco) and other investors. It’s heavy on the Fair Trade organic coffees, and that’s just where its social causes begin.

They heavily brand their devotion to community, economic, and social development — and they appear to live up to their word in where they buy their beans, how they support farmers, how they contribute to the local community, and even in hiring ‘challenged’ staff. Even in SF, the list of causes and do-gooderness is so in-your-face, it’s honestly a bit too much here — giving the place a cult-like feel. I applaud them for their well-intended causes, but I like to have a good espresso without feeling like I’m marinating in them.

Entrance to The Organic Coffee Co. The Organic Coffee Company's 'green' coffee and edibles menu

Inside there are five wooden tables, and in addition to espresso they also serve salads and sandwiches. They offer about ten bean blends: Hurricane Espresso being their choice for espresso, and three decaf blends. They serve espresso as double shots only, filling a large shotglass if you ask for it — otherwise it’s a small paper cup (they do offer brown Nuova Point cups for larger drinks, such as cappuccinos). They pull shots from a two-group Futurmat F3 with a good amount of even, medium brown crema.

The espresso itself has substance, but it unfortunately runs a bit too bitter and ashy for its otherwise deeper tobacco flavor (oh, the irony in that). They get a lot down here save for the final flavor in the cup — they are almost too busy saving the world to make a great-tasting espresso (it’s the one cause they neglect a little). However, the place offers plenty for SF’s espresso drinkers with a cause.

Read the review.

Organic Coffee Co. staff working their new Futurmat F3 The sizeable Organic Coffee Company double espresso, complete with cause literature

Regional finalists in barista contest head to national championships for $1,000 prize

Posted by on 06 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Barista, Local Brew

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle gives some pre-USBC competition pep rally props to local baristas Ryan Brown and Gabe Boscana of Ritual Roasters: SAN FRANCISCO / Pouring in the rain, they are the hot shop / Regional finalists in barista contest head to national championships for $1,000 prize

The pair are heading out to Charlotte, NC today to compete for the national barista championship title after qualifying in the recent Western Regional Barista Championships. Best of luck to our hometown heroes, who also include Eton Tsuno of Café Organica.

Coffee Cupping

Posted by on 05 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Foreign Brew, Quality Issues

An article in today’s The News-Gazette from Champaign, IL reported on some of the nuances of coffee cupping, or the process by which coffee professionals taste and evaluate coffee for purchase, blending, etc.: AP Wire | 04/05/2006 | ILLINOIS STYLE: Champaign coffee roaster rates Dominican coffee. A local roaster visited the Dominican Republic, where the locals treat it as a national product, and compared notes with judges as far and wide as Norway and Japan.

While coffee cupping is often considered analogous to wine tasting, it has none of its associated sophistication and class. Coffee cupping is a process that’s devoid of any pretense and reduced down to its pure sensory essence: inhale, slurp with a spoon, and spit. This is not the process I followed in all the cafés I’ve reviewed here — and I’m sure much to the thanks of the owners, staff, and patrons at these establishments.

While I lifted nearly all of my espresso tasting criteria from the SCAA cupping forms (SCAA Excel cupping forms from the legendary Jim Schulman; PDF example for the SCAA Cup of Excellence®), I am always open to new perspectives on the topic. My latest interest? I recently ordered a book, titled Espresso Italiano Tasting, that’s available from the Istituto Internazionale Assaggiatori Caffè, or the International Institute of Coffee Tasters. I’ll be sure to report on it here when it arrives — probably in another three months after someone can swim it over here.

In the meantime, for some recommended reading on the basics of cupping from CoffeeGeek.com’s legendary Mark Prince:
http://www.coffeegeek.com/guides/beginnercupping.
But be warned: many coffee promoters are recently trying to turn cupping into the social equivalent of wine tasting, which has very different purposes and goals.

Trip Report: Moto Java

Posted by on 04 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

This motorcycle-themed café is an extension of the adjacent bike shop. It’s a small space decorated with plastic motorcycle toys hanging from strings on the ceiling, there are photos and posters of motorcycles, motorcycle wear and helmets displayed about, and they even use a Snap-On red tool box for offering coffee condiments.

They have three small indoor tables and one on the sidewalk outside. They proudly brand the place with their choice of Caffe Trieste beans. The owners and staff/gearheads are a friendly bunch (when I was there, one of the owners was playing the part by hobbling about in an ankle cast) with good eclectic taste in music.

You don't have to leave Highway 101 for long without an espresso I get the feeling they like motorcycles around here...

Using a red two-group La San Marco, the barista takes an appropriate amount of time to carefully pull espresso shots with a thin medium brown ring of crema. The resulting cup is flavorful, but it tends to have a non-ashy smoky/tobacco flavor. Also decent at decent milk frothing.

Maybe the coffee isn’t worth writing home about, but you have to give them points on decór.

Read the review.

Toolbox for your coffee condiments? At least it's not an oil change

Peet’s Celebrates 40th Anniversary throughout April

Posted by on 03 Apr 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Café Society, Local Brew, Roasting

Not to be outdone by Caffé Trieste in the anniversary department, today Peet’s Coffee & Tea kicked off a month-long celebration in honor of its 40th anniversary.

The celebration includes complementary coffee today from 1pm-3pm at all participating Bay Area Peet’s, complimentary cups of coffee with purchases of beans from 1pm-3pm Monday through Thursday, and free 1/4 pounds of beans after 1pm on Fridays. You can read more about their anniversary event calendar online (PDF file).

I’m not one to give a business a shameless advertising plug, but Holland-born Alfred Peet is something of a legend in the American specialty coffee business. His influence not only gave rise to Peet’s Coffee & Tea (initially envisioned as a bean and leaf store only), but also to Starbucks Coffee and many of the specialty coffee buyers and roasters in the Bay Area.

Today Peet’s Coffee & Tea downplays the role and importance of founder Alfred Peet; he sold his interests in the company in 2001. But Peet’s Coffee still helps set the standard for good espresso chains in the U.S.

Peet's Coffee at 2nd & Mission Sts. invites customers to post Polaroids of themselves for their anniversary A 2nd & Mission Sts. Peet's double espresso: love the crema

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