A few things have changed since our last trip report from the Crissy Field Warming Hut. Some of the changes are related to an electric car that mysteriously burst into flames here exactly two years ago; the water damage from putting out the fire shut The Hut down for repairs for most of 2007. But more to the point of this post, The Hut changed their espresso set up — and surprisingly for the better.
The Warming Hut is an old army shed converted some time ago into a café and bookstore. When you’re standing there in the billowing fog and blasting winds from the nearby Golden Gate, you immediately understand how it got its name. Inside locals and tourists alike warm up to soup, sandwiches, baked goods, juices, and espresso among a few indoor tables. For the courageous, there’s also plenty of picnic tables outdoors.
The greening of the Warming Hut
As part of the evolving Presidio, and the repairs from water damage, today The Hut clubs you over the head with its sustainability and green themes. In secular San Francisco, social and environmental causes have become our surrogate religions, and public spaces such as Crissy Field and the newly reopened California Academy of Sciences have become our temples.
It’s all a matter of personal taste, but for us, just as with The Organic Coffee Co., there’s a fine line between supporting a cause and opening what almost feels like a religious theme park. And because American marketing is about as subtle as Whitney Houston passing a kidney stone, and since it relies on frequently changing campaigns to retain top-of-mind attention, we get the feeling that some of these over-earnest “green branding” efforts will seem painfully dated within a decade.
So although The Hut previously made quite respectable espresso from a three-group Mr. Espresso Rancilio and a custom blend of Mr. Espresso beans, the sustainability wonks here must have decided that Mr. Espresso just didn’t measure up to the public image they wanted for their new temple. So they upgraded to a nicer two-group La Marzocco GB/5 machine, and they switched to a more prominent “cause” coffee in Equator Estate Coffee.
From their La Marzocco, arguably employing less skilled baristas to operate their equipment than in prior years, they serve a correctly-sized espresso in a short paper cup. It has a decent layer of light-to-medium-brown crema and a rather potent aroma. The flavor here has more depth and pungency than before — suggesting richer spices and tobacco suspended in a decent body. This place originally overextracted their shots a bit, but that (and their espresso) has since improved with shorter pours in recent years.
Equator co-owner and roaster, Brooke McDonnell, posted here prior about the very subjective nature of coffee tastes and preferences. And she was entirely correct. Since we were largely underwhelmed after sampling Equator Estate coffees at dozens of restaurants and cafés, we questioned whether there was just something about Equator’s coffee that just didn’t suit our fancy (Thomas Keller be damned).
We also questioned whether Equator Estate was a victim of their resellers: coffee is often only as good as the people preparing it for retail. But after buying whole beans of Equator Estate for home use on multiple occasions, the underwhelming results pointed a finger back to Equator’s coffee and our own taste buds.
After five years and over fifty shots of espresso made with Equator Estate beans, we were finally impressed last week at The Warming Hut. This now paints a slightly different picture of our opinions: the majority of our disappointments with Equator Estate coffees likely stems from a personal preference for only some of their roasts and/or the post-roasting handling in their retail distribution chain.
Whatever the case, unlike most examples of Equator in the area, this is a major exception. Equator finally has a retailer who can showcase their coffee somewhat (regrettable paper cups aside) — something the French Laundry couldn’t even achieve. Whether if this is by freak accident or through deliberate intent remains to be seen. But for now, appreciate this oddity of a café as one of the better examples of good espresso in the city.
Fort Point’s slow and steady Renaissance
As SF locals, we’d also like to make a shout out for all the positive changes going on at nearby Fort Point, a brief walk up Marine Drive from The Warming Hut — just beneath the San Francisco end of the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve been visiting this site on and off for nearly two decades, but things have really accelerated in the past couple of years.
On the negative side, the post-9/11 threat of terrorism has made the “No Trespassing” chain link fence encroach from just under the bridge to now encompassing most of the fort itself. But inside the fort, they’ve invested in building out historical exhibits, and they opened up access to the roof of the fort for some pretty amazing views. It’s always good to see investment in the preservation of SF landmarks (something we’re bound to see less of given the current economy), and surprisingly access is still free.
1 Comment »