This unusual café is situated in the 19th century Octagon — the last surviving remnant of the historic Cooper House complex, which was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Looking at the aging masonry of the outside façade, you can see a little as to why the rest didn’t make it.
Manthri Srinath, owner of the various Lulu’s in Santa Cruz plus Scotts Valley’s Coffee Cat, opened this Lulu’s in 2008 with a decidedly modern approach inside: opting for a Clover brewer and a La Marzocco Mistral — each are which rumored to be the first installations of their kind in all California.
In an e-mail exchange not long ago, Mr. Srinath noted how local regulations play a big role with rare coffee equipment. Like many other communities, Santa Cruz requires commercial espresso machines to be certified ANSI/NSF 4. Given La Marzocco’s limited distribution of the Mistral, they didn’t bother to certify it, and Clover’s NSF 4 certification followed only after Lulu’s installed it.
Unlike the other Lulu’s (namely the nearby flagship store, Lulu Carpenter’s), the focus here is primarily on espresso, including options for single origin shots. The modern interior is as attractive as the exterior, with a central skylight. But it has the same Lulu’s touch of black & white international photographs on the walls and a lot of richer wood. There’s also a display in back dedicated to coffee merchandising.
Whether it is the result of UCSC student reactions or not, the price posted for an espresso here — at least when we visited — is almost ridiculously low at 95¢ for a double shot. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Zander Nosler, of Clover fame, supposedly noted this location for some of the highest volume business for a Clover brewer before his company was acquired by Starbucks — likely reflecting the modest price margins here.
The barista takes his/her deliberate time here to pull natural double shots. It has a congealed dark and medium brown crema, but the crema is not very thick and its consistency is a little spotty. There are also larger oil droplets suspended in the crema, indicating high extraction pressures while brewing.
The resulting shot of the house blend has no ashiness, a modest body (no syrupy shots here), and a flavor of a lot of dark roasted wood and pepper. There’s a bittersweet dark chocolate to the flavor as well, but more bitter than sweet (think 90% cocoa level). It is neither too forward nor too strong. Served in classic brown ACF cups. Overall, it’s one of the finest shots in the Santa Cruz area, regardless of the price.
Read the review of Lulu’s at the Octagon in Santa Cruz.
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