Recently, we’ve had the chance to give more formal reviews to a few places in Oakland’s Rockridge district. We begin with Cole Coffee — a combination café and roasting retail store that has been something of an East Bay coffee institution since it was named “Royal Coffee Café”.

Cole Coffee still gets their coffee supplies from Royal Coffee (full disclosure: we’re good friends with one of the longtime coffee buyers there). However, the café and roaster detangled in recent years, with Michael Murphy — who managed the café and rear roasting retail shop for the previous 15 years — taking on ownership and renaming it “Cole Coffee”. Little else has changed, however.

Inside Cole Coffee looking towards the Safeway across the street The Cole Coffee menu

East Bay locals frequently swear by Cole. As a one-time resident of South Berkeley, oddly my own most vivid memory of the place was during the Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991 — when the hills above burned red, the Safeway parking lot across the street filled with fleeing residents carrying photo albums and other belongings in their vehicles, and we all realized that the disaster was going to be a lot worse than anyone had imagined.

Inside, quarters are very tight — with only a handfull of tiny indoor café tables lined up against one wall across a path from the service counter. The space has a lot of large windows and an odd light fixture/sculpture of old coffee pots in the back. There’s a lot more seating on the sidewalk tables along 63rd St. and in front along College Ave. The clientele here tend to be a mix of students studying alone and graying university town academics meeting up to discuss politics and world affairs.

Cole Coffee Melitta bar and La Marzocco Linea The Cole Coffee espresso

The service counter includes “the Melitta bar”: three cone filters for made-to-order filter coffee from a selection of 25 different varietals in back. While a few other coffee retailers have offered such a setup for more than a decade in other parts of the greater Bay Area, it’s still pretty unique for the Easy Bay. They also have a three-group La Marzocco Linea, and the retail beanery in back has its own retail coffee sales with another three-group Linea.

They pull generally oversized shots with a mixed medium brown crema and lots of bubbles. While it doesn’t carry much of an aroma, the crema is very frothy and quite extensive. And when it comes to the flavor, the cup is surprisingly timid and meek: it has some vanilla and some mild spices, but it otherwise lacks the necessary breadth and forte of a true espresso. Given the crema and everything else, you know you’re dealing with a place that deals with daily fresh roasts. But there’s no reason this location couldn’t expect to produce a notably better espresso.

Read the review of Cole Coffee.

Entrance to Cole Coffee's roasting retailer in back