At CoffeeRatings.com, we believe that what the end consumer experiences is what matters most, regardless of who is behind the results. But often the story about coffee becomes more of a story about people. Rodger’s Coffee & Tea is a good example of this — where knowing a little of the back story helps provide a reference point describing some of what goes on in the cup.
Coffee Magic and the Birth of Philz Coffee
The story of Rodger’s Coffee & Tea centers around its owner and founder, Rodger Bories. Mr. Bories started a wholesale coffee business in the Bay Area going back to 1982, which later evolved to become Coffee Magic. In that time, Mr. Bories recognized how coffee freshness is a big determinant for whether brewed coffee tastes any good — or not.
While Mr. Bories remained a background figure, in 2002 he partnered with Phil Jaber of Gateway Liquor at 24th & Folsom Sts. And here is where the versions of events can start to vary, depending on whom you ask. According to Mr. Bories, he was invited in to fix some rather awful coffee operations at Gateway Liquor. The fruits of their partnership inspired a successful coffee quality turnaround at Gateway Liquor, which in turn inspired Phil Jaber to strike out on his own to launch Philz Coffee.
Mr. Jaber, being the ultimate showman that he is, took the path of becoming the P.T. Barnum of SF’s specialty coffee world. Meanwhile, Mr. Bories focused on the back-office details of producing quality roasts, ensuring freshness, and using the right equipment. However, as is now blatantly clear, that partnership ultimately ran a bit sour. Mr. Bories has since opened his first retail café at this location in January of this year, bringing with him the “One Cup At A Time” filter coffee concept he helped develop for Philz Coffee.
A mix of the old and new coffee schools
There’s a lot to believe in Mr. Bories’ telling of events. His café exhibits a much greater knowledge and care of bean origins, roasting styles, preparation methods, and techniques than you will find at a Philz Coffee. It also explains why we’ve long felt Mr. Jaber loved the celebrity but couldn’t be bothered with the mundane back-office details of the coffee business.
However, Mr. Bories, with 27 years in the business, is hardly a “Third Waver” — and that turns out to be a good thing. While his roasts show an attention to quality bean sources and freshness (despite the open bins of stored beans in the shop), he’s also not afraid of roasting into the second-crack for darker roasts. Neither is he afraid of blends (just without some of Philz Coffee’s fairytale names for them).
This results in beans that have a combination of freshness and roasting style that are difficult to come by in the Bay Area. We purchased a pound of their limited edition Brazil Poco Fundo for home espresso use ($13/lb). And while it is a single origin coffee, it produced some attributes in body and flavor roundness that you can’t easily find in the coffees of so-called Third Wave roasters. Most importantly, the quality of the espresso it produced, while not necessarily superior, compared well with the same roasters.
As for the café…
The café is located in the ground floor corner of what looks like some Mission district condo gentrification. They have limited sidewalk seating out front on benches and plastic chairs. Inside there’s a bench and some limited window counter stool seating, but the main attraction is standing up at the coffee bar for service “Italian style”.
Standing at the bar, you can identify dozens of coffee varietals in plastic bins: some blends, but many with geographic designations. You can choose any kind you like for espresso — more than you would practically want, actually. This despite the main attraction of individually-made filter drip coffee. Their hot chocolate preparation is also quite a bit of Benihana-style visual entertainment. The staff is friendly and generally sarcastic, and we like that. Coffee industry rags cover the inside counters.
For our espresso shot, we chose the limited edition Brazil Poco Fundo, in place of the usual Brazil Fazenda. They are careful to grind to order and are conscientious about their beverage preparation. Using a two-group Synesso machine (another example that would never dawn on Philz Coffee), they unfortunately pull overly full espresso shots in a cup without a saucer.
Our primary complaint here is the large pour volume, as our home results with the same beans and shorter pulls proved much better. Still, the shot has a healthy layer of a medium- and light-brown crema, with a body that is somewhat thinner given the size of the pour. It has a simple herbal flavor with some spice and smoke, but you can tell it’s fresh.
Decent beans hindered by faulty pull sizes result in a cup that’s not all that much better than average. They should be capable of something better here — closer to what we produced at home. Perhaps given their young stage, improvements are coming. Cash only.
Read the review of Rodger’s Coffee & Tea.
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