When exploring the East Bay for espresso, it’s strangely easy to overlook Emeryville. The first city from San Francisco as you cross the Bay Bridge, home to America’s largest specialty coffee seaport, Emeryville boasts numerous coffee businesses, from distributors to roasters. But oddly Emeryville doesn’t boast many retail coffee shops that aren’t part of some monster chain. This location is a notable exception.
In nicer weather, they set out metal sidewalk tables under parasols. Otherwise, there’s a low wooden ceiling over several metal indoor café tables, old black & white science fiction TV/movie photographs on the walls, and all beneath two TV screens airing sports. They serve pastries (for which they have many fans), coffee, and brunch — and, soon we hear, dinner. The place has a quiet, low-key feel with very friendly staff.
If you seem halfway knowledgeable about your coffee, the barista will ask if you want your shot long or short. They preheat their Front of the House cups with hot water (and Vertex cups for larger, milk-based drinks) and use Sausalito roaster, Palio — and also private label the retail sales of their own beans.
Using a four-group Brasilia Portofino — which the owner claims to have won at auction from the closure of the original Torrefazione Italia chain (a machine from their old Union St. location) — they pull shots with a potent but slightly ashy aroma. It has a thin medium-brown crema that just barely coats the surface. Their espresso exhibits a light body, but it carries a robust toasted/roast flavor: with hints of wood and smokiness and some harsher spices.
My, have we become a jaded lot when it comes to barista competitions. After a few years of monitoring them quite closely, we find ourselves quite fatigued by their highly repetitive, narrowly focused preparation routines and judging operations; their insular crowds; and their disconnectedness from the actual experience of enjoying an espresso in a café (specialty drinks, anyone?).
But don’t take our word for it. Check out the USBC for yourself this weekend via their live video feed on the Internet (complete with inline chat). All due respect to the competitors and the industry — and the fun of meeting people at the event and enjoying shots from the 4th Machine. But if you ever wondered why cable TV has not picked up this event yet, just watch it for a few hours. No further explanation necessary; it can make grown men weep for the return of “Yes, Dear.”
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