San Luis Obispo County is not known for a whole lot, even among Californians. There’s Hearst Castle, Cal Poly in SLO proper, and the burgeoning Paso Robles wine growing region — or what the locals simply call “Paso”.

But as is happening in many lesser-known regions around the country, SLO County’s appreciation for better food and drink is quickly rising from an earlier background of fast food chain stores and local pizza joints. Nicer, or at least more deliberately thoughtful, restaurants have opened up alongside upgraded old stand-bys. There are still small backroads wineries that retain the wine country feel of 1970s Napa, not unlike the movie Bottle Shock. But now grand new tasting rooms, funded by the wine ambitions of construction tycoons, spring out from the hills baring spared-no-expense modern architecture.

The Turley Winery in Templeton, CA Black Horse in SLO: home of the velvet foam, or so they say

This is the sort of general progression that is happening most everywhere in the country, albeit expressed in regional ways. Some insular, forest-for-the-trees types in the coffee industry would certainly call it “Third Wave“, but yes, this progression also extends to the local coffee scene in the SLO County area.

San Luis Obispo County now boasts a few of their own local roasters and more cafés sporting La Marzocco machines. Last year the local free press, the New Times, followed baristas from SLO’s Linnaea’s and their participation at the 2008 Western Regional Barista Competition: Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.

This has marked a real improvement for the area. Who would have expected that you could step into a café in Templeton, CA (population 4,962) — or even the tiny seaside town of Avila Beach (population 797) — and be offered a choice of beans for use in your espresso shot? Joe Mamma’s Coffee in Avila Beach even serves the ever-elusive “traditional cappuccino“. Although the coffee here hasn’t yet reached the quality heights that put them on the map as a coffee destination, the locals do have a little something to be proud of.

Farmstand 46 in Templeton, CA The espresso bar under construction at Farmstand 46

Four Barrel Coffee for sale at Farmstand 46Despite a growing interest and emphasis on locally grown, organic, and sustainable food in the SLO County region, we also discovered that it’s not exclusively local. Last Sunday we visited a quintessential example in Templeton — a deli/produce/coffee shop called Farmstand 46. They were marking up a blackboard menu for their drinks at their new espresso bar, even though their espresso machine hasn’t even arrived yet. The coffee they sold on their shelves? Roasts from SF’s own Four Barrel Coffee.

Joe Mamma’s Coffee in the aforementioned Avila Beach (which unfortunately we didn’t get to this time), is known to serve beans from both Intelligentsia and SF’s Ritual Coffee Roasters.

Name Address City Espresso [info] Cafe [info] Overall [info]
Black Horse at Uptown 1065 Higuera St., Unit 101 San Luis Obispo 6.80 7.20 7.000
Linnaea’s 1110 Garden St. San Luis Obispo 7.00 7.50 7.250
Joebella Coffee Roasters 1121 Rossi Road, Suite C Templeton 7.40 7.80 7.600