It’s been a rather sad week for coffee news. An embarrassment, really — with headlines dominated by the ridiculous. There’s Racheal Ray’s TV commercial promoting both Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee and her Death-to-Israel Hamas credentials (though who hasn’t wanted to go jihad on her?). There are vocal members of Christian groups that we now need to worry about accidentally stumbling in on in a moment of self-pleasure in Starbucks‘ bathrooms — with paper cups of skinny mochas in their hands and lust in their hearts over the retro Starbucks logo. Sure, this all has nothing to do with quality coffee, let alone coffee. But it’s the kind of stuff that makes us want to drink more tea.
When good coffee goes… not quite as good
Speaking of news that makes us want to drink more tea, few things disappoint us more than the backslide — the coffeehouse fall from grace. (What the Italians might call a sdrucciolo.) It’s one thing when Starbucks first purchased the vastly superior Torrefazione Italia, mocked and spit on it for several months, and methodically humiliated it into oblivion. Or when James Freeman decided to part ways with Frog Hollow Farm, gradually sinking what was once CoffeeRatings.com‘s top SF espresso to something now dwarfed by the neighboring Peet’s. In these cases, outside forces contributed to their demise.
Which is a whole different story from what’s happening at Flying Goat Coffee, aka The Goat, in downtown Healdsburg. A year ago we wrote how The Goat was losing a little of its quality edge, but we dismissed that as part of the random fluctuations in quality we sometimes come across. However, after a revisit this past weekend, we noted that their espresso score dropped a full half point from their last set of slightly disappointing scores.
This raises the alarm that something is fundamentally changing for the worse over at The Goat, and it’s an inside job. And given The Goat’s status in Sonoma County, it needs a Trip Report Redux.
This small, Sonoma-based chain café and roastery claims this location as their flagship coffeehouse. Compared to when they first moved into the space a few years ago, it’s much brighter (and less modern in design) with a lot of uncluttered, empty space. Its high counter seating, originally under spot lighting, has softer, more general light. There are also several indoor tables and some benches on the front sidewalk.
The baristas here are young professionals with a little attitude, but the coffee generally backed it up. The Goat has been a regular, major sponsor of the Western Regional Barista Competition, and they frequently sent competitors. But over the years, the staff here seem to have lost both their attitude and their edge — just as beans from The Goat have appeared in more and more notable area restaurants and other food establishments.
By 2008, this location replaced their cherry red, three-group La Marzocco FB/70 with a three-group, silver GB/5. From it, they now serve espresso with a slimmer and lighter crema — in contrast to the generally darker brown crema of average thickness they used to serve. The pour itself has grown more watery, less rich, and with a larger volume than their past pulls of richer, darker, and smooth shots. They’ve inexcusably let their quality controls slip over time. It seems that their modest growth has come with a sloppier attention to detail.
Their shots are served more appropriately lukewarm, rather than scalding hot (a good thing). Flavorwise, it is generally mellow and smooth — mixing some herbal and buttery tastes with a slightly sweet finish. But with the larger pour volume of late, this is becoming masked more with watered-down overtones. They replaced their Homer Laughlin cups with those from Espresso Supply, and most recently they’ve opted for black ACF ceramics.
When Napa’s Oxbow Public Market first announced that they were going to open a Ritual Roasters inside, we questioned why. After all, The Goat should reign supreme in its own backyard. But given what we’ve observed over the past year or two at the flagship Goat coffeehouse, a little friendly competition will hopefully do them some good.
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