As a former resident of Palo Alto for several years, a trip down Santa Clara’s Stevens Creek Boulevard conjures up images of discount mattress stores, Denny’s, and strip malls as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, that’s commercial real estate in the Silicon Valley — regardless of the hidden gems tucked away in Northern California’s answer to The O.C.

One of those gems is Barefoot Coffee Roasters — three-time winner for best coffee in the local free weekly, Metro (and one of those rare occasions where a popularity contest gets it right). Despite all my peripheral encounters with Barefoot and its well-deserved accolades, I finally paid my first visit this week.

Livin' la vida Silicon Valley: Barefoot is sandwiched between strip mall bagels and burritos Barefoot's inviting counterspace, with Paul behind the register

Barefoot starts with Andy Newbom (owner and CEO, or “Chief Espresso Officer”), and I couldn’t think of a better person for the role. I first met him as emcee at the last Western Regional Barista Competition (WRBC). There are many great inside stories of how he’s offered his time, energy, and even his spare bedroom to support the training and development of budding, high-quality cafés throughout the West. But most of all, he exudes an infectious enthusiasm for good espresso. Andy visibly loves good espresso the way Homer Simpson loves donuts.

Outside this small café there are several sidewalk tables and chairs for scoping out the nearby freeway traffic. Inside, there’s a handful of artful tables and sofas — and a long corridor leading past their famous Probat roaster to their less-famous bathroom with its brooding, Central American-themed mural walls.

Eugenia Chien, Barefoot master roaster; would you believe this was a candid shot in front of the Probat? No trip to Barefoot is complete without a viewing of the bathroom wall art

Barefoot is religious about the need for, and its support of, professional barista training, and it shows. They have mounted numerous framed training certifications on the back wall behind their three-group La Marzocco GB/5 station. The barista will demonstrate a detailed level of quality control — rejecting shots that didn’t come out to their professional standards.

For espresso, I first sampled their Bare Espresso — a double shot made with a standard blend ($2). They served it with a medium brown crema without distinctive markings or froth, and it was a little lighter in color and thickness than I expected (or experienced at the WRBC’s The 4th Machine). The cup had a sweet, herbal earthiness with a lot of bright, acidic notes, but the body was surprisingly lighter.

Andy Newbom, WRBC emcee and Barefoot Chief Espresso Officer Quality control at Barefoot required multiple attempts to get it just right

I moved on to their Single Estate Espresso ($3.50) — a variant to their usual blend, typically made with a rotation of estate coffees (as modelled in very few other cafés, such as Palo Alto’s Caffé del Doge). As a single origin espresso, as in the case with single malt scotch, it often has a very distinctive, unique, and intense flavor profile. The day’s offering was a Panama Finca Hartmann, which they recommended with spouts (as opposed to a naked portafilter).

One of the things I really like about Barefoot is that they don’t succumb to the latest popularized specialty coffee trends. For example, some baristas have recently glommed on to the (not-so-new) Cup of Excellence phenomenon — as if Cup of Excellence-competing coffees have a monopoly on unique, distinctive, high-quality flavor profiles. But Barefoot knows there is plenty more out there to choose from, like Finca Hartmann. (We’ve arguably witnessed a similar phenomenon in the past year with socio/eco-conscious types discovering Fair Trade coffees en masse and attributing it with a monopoly on ethical and sustainable growing practices — putting a blind eye to Fair Trade’s many shortcomings and problems.)

The Finca Hartmann espresso hit paydirt. Not that the Bare Espresso was a slouch, but here the cup came with dark red and brown flecks in its thinner crema (expectedly thinner, given its single-bean profile). It had a more robust aroma, a round and robust body, and an intense sweetness with a sharp but pleasant bite at the back of the throat to complement its herbal pungency. Outstanding.

Read the review of Barefoot Coffee Roasters (Single Estate Espresso).

Barefoot's 'Bare Espresso' - not as much to write home about as you'd think Barefoot's single estate espresso: this time it's Panama Finca Hartmann