Opening in the Spring of 2008, this remote Ritual location is little more than a counter inside Napa’s relatively new Oxbow Public Market. At first we questioned why the Wine Country needed a Ritual outlet — rather than an expansion of Sonoma-County-based Flying Goat Coffee. But then as we’ve monitored the quality over at The Goat lately, a little competition could do the region some good.
Inside the shared market space, just beyond Ritual’s front counter, there is an assortment of wooden tables and chairs. There is even the occasional Wi-Fi laptop user — just to give you the authentic feel that a Ritual Roasters is nearby. Around the rest of Oxbow you’ll find small purveyors of meats, tea, cheese, seafood, oil, spice, chocolate — and a few dressed up, fast-Slow-Food eateries. There’s even a small weekend farmers’ market.
In addition to a four-group La Marzocco GB/5 they use to pull shots, this Ritual location also has two Clover brewers. They also have as many as four Mazzer grinders in service, with at least one dedicated to espresso and one to a decaf blend. Upon this visit, they had labeled one grinder with “Lifesaver Spro” — the latter term invoking our gag reflex. But fortunately a good espresso here helped smooth things over.
This counter is commonly staffed by former baristas from their SF Valencia St. flagship café (some complete with prerequisite tatts). But unlike the other Ritual locations, however, they offer true single espresso shots on the menu ($2.25) rather than just the usual doubles ($2.75). (Of course, we probably haven’t re-scanned the Ritual menus at their SF locations in a while.) Purists will rightfully balk at the virtues of a single shot from a portafilter, but CoffeeRatings.com has long standardized on the closest we could get to a place’s smallest ristretto.
They pull shots with a darker brown, even crema over a very modest, short pour. While it isn’t exactly syrupy, the shot has a thick body and some honey-like sweetness over tobacco flavors. It doesn’t quite live up to the espresso standards at its sister cafés in SF, however; the flavor is a little less potent and the brightness didn’t shine through as much. But it’s clearly some of the best stuff you’ll find in Napa County. Served in black ACF and classic brown Nuova Point cups.
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