This has long been considered something of a San Luis Obispo County establishment. In the early 1990s, a couple friends of the owner, Randy Coates, operated the original Uptown Espresso in Seattle. Mr. Coates later paid $1 for the rights to slap that name on his own SLO café. He has since renamed his chain Black Horse and kept the Uptown name for this location.

The old Uptown Espresso awning on Black Horse at Uptown Menu inside Black Horse at Uptown

Black Horse at Uptown's old logo - familiar to those who know its Seattle namesakeThe location is a former automotive repair shop, and the front patio offers a bit of seating at a few large tables. ‘Large’ is the operative word here, as inside and out they regularly seem to pull in tables of 10 people or more. (Welcome to a college town.) Inside there’s a fireplace and some window counter seating as well — plus a “Wall of Fame” consisting of photos of celebrities (from Peter Fonda to members of Hanson) and tourists around the world sporting paper cups with the café’s logo. Even if we feel that branding yourself as a quality product with paper cups seems more than a bit backwards.

Also inside is a shiny red three-group La Marzocco FB/70, so you think they’d take their coffee seriously here. They serve and sell a branded blend from Santa Barbara’s Caribbean Coffee.

Ordering a single shot, they give you the second half in the double basket for free. But bizarrely, they serve it in a large, black coffee mug. They even call it a “mug”. Espresso in mugs? Talk about unclear on the concept.

The La Marzocco FB/70 at Black Horse at Uptown - and the Wall of Fame behind it The Black Horse at Uptown espresso

The resulting shot looks it: it’s of a large volume, with a medium brown, relatively even crema. It tastes of mellow pepper and a little malt even, but you could make the case that it tastes more like good filter coffee than a true espresso. Since our visit, we came across a review by the 2 Espressos blog that pretty much came to the same conclusion.

Despite winning numerous Best-of awards from the San Luis Obispo New Times, we found it to be good — but honestly no better than the Peet’s Coffee & Tea tucked in a pedestrian mall a block to the west. A statement like that won’t float well with locals who would like to discredit chain store interlopers, but it is a fair statement.

Read the review of Black Horse at Uptown in San Luis Obispo, CA.