This café isn’t easy to stumble upon, even if its signature is a rather large Art Nouveau café sign in lights. You have to enter the One Jackson Place center to reach this café, adorned with a miniature zinc bar and zinc-plating decorating its small kiosk.
Located in a quiet courtyard surrounded by multiple stories of lawyer and architect offices, old brick walls, and gas lanterns, it’s a quiet place. It’s a great, semi-private retreat from the city. The only seating here is outdoors: several outdoor, faded wood café tables and metal chairs — with seating additionally along the breezeway to Sansome St.
In addition to coffee, the café here also offer bagels, panini, pizza, and salads. The friendly Italian owners engage the locals to test their Italian, even if its incongruous with the café’s signature Parisian and Art Nouveau style. (Italy, France — what’s the difference, right?) When ordering an espresso, the barista might ask if you want it “straight or macchiato” — as if she (or he, depending who is on duty) expects that you made a mistake in not asking for milk. (?!?)
The espresso shots, made from very un-Italian Blue Bottle Coffee beans (which they promote heavily), are rather big doppios — filled to the rim of their classic brown Nuova Point cups. They pull shots from a two-group Astoria machine, which is also a bit incongruous. The resulting shot has a medium brown crema with a decent texture and thickness despite its serving size. It has a flavor of mild pepper and some herbal notes, but no real sweetness. For Blue Bottle beans, it has a bit of a (not altogether unpleasant) ashy edge. Although the body is thinner due to the large size of the pour.
This is a prime example for why a choice of beans isn’t sufficient to make a good espresso; the choice of machine, shot size, barista skill, freshness of the beans (they seem a little off), etc., all contribute to something that’s less than the expectations set by one single factor. But it’s a solid cup for a part of town that once only had the choice of a ubiquitous nearby Starbucks and a dodgy Harpo’s Cafe Society cart service up the street at 717 Battery St.
However, James Freeman of Blue Bottle is just starting to show the signs of spreading his brand too far to keep the quality control standards in check. (Not to mention how it’s making Blue Bottle beans “commonplace”.) But as long as there are Bay Area fans who swear by Blue Bottle to their own detriment of not being able to look beyond them, it’s a formula we expect to see repeated for some time before a degree of variety or even novelty becomes more important in quality SF espresso.
Read the review of Jackson Place Cafe.
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