La Colombe Torrefaction, a Philadelphia-based roaster that’s been something of an East Coast analog to Blue Bottle Coffee Company, has regularly received national recognition for the quality of their roasted coffee. But on the West Coast, La Colombe may as well be based out of Belgium; they’re largely unknown around these parts.

In an attempt to help remedy that, last year La Colombe set up a simple West Coast distribution office — just two-blocks from the Piccino Cafe in Dogpatch. From here they receive fresh shipments from their Philadelphia roaster about every two weeks and ship it out (via UPS) to various local restaurants and cafés in town and up and down the West Coast — from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and beyond.

Recently I was invited by Damien Pileggi of La Colombe to pay a visit to their humble SF office — to share stories and to taste some really good espresso. Damien previously worked in one of La Colombe’s Philadelphia cafés, and seven months ago he came out West to run their operations out of Dogpatch. (It’s pretty much a one-person operation.)

Pick up! The entrance to La Colombe Torrefaction's humble SF offices Inventory inside La Colombe's SF office

The Illinois St. office is a modest space consisting of a couple weeks of inventory of their various coffee lines — e.g., Nizza, for espresso, Corsica, for drip, and pod supplies for the restaurants and other retailers that insist upon it. Freshness, and hence inventory rotation, is of critical importance. And like all the other premier roasters in the area, they struggle with finding a place to showcase their coffee by preparing it to their own standards. This is perhaps the biggest piece missing from their West Coast presence.

With so many elite-yet-coffee-clueless restaurants in the area serving poor, copy-cat renditions of Equator Estate Coffee, I’m surprised that so few have caught on to the unique, distinctive coffee service proposition offered by the likes of La Colombe and Ecco Caffè (for example).

Of course, you can’t count on restaurants making good espresso. But competition for great espresso is a good thing. Hopefully someone will soon pick up La Colombe in the area and prepare it to its full potential.

Aqua's former Francis Francis getting some love and attention beneath stacks of the Corsica blend Damien Pileggi prepares to pull a shot from a single-group La San Marco with a custom car paint job

UPDATE: Oct. 1, 2007
It’s been well over a week since I brought home some of La Colombe’s Nizza blend, and it’s held up amazingly well. There is a lot of coffee where freshness gets you most of the way there. Rarer are the roasts and blends that hold up well with time because they offer a richer flavor profile. In practice at least, the Nizza has produced a very generous crema with a creamy, well-rounded flavor and full mouthfeel. This is a coffee that shines if handled properly.