California’s Santa Barbara County is a lot like the rest of America when it comes to coffee: it should face a tribunal for atrocities committed against the human taste bud. What makes these many crimes particularly heinous are the various local media outlets in these communities that celebrate certain local coffeehouses as some of the region’s “best” — and yet these examples turn out to be foul enough to give any self-respecting Italian or Australasian coffee fan the dry heaves. Baseline standards are completely lacking, and the local populace is kept deaf, dumb, blind, and tasteless from realizing things could be any better for them.

Not to devalue the many efforts of great coffeeshops to make their brews with exquisite care and precision. But in this day and age of quality coffee awareness, information, and access, there simply is no excuse for any community within a civilized First World nation to have local coffee standards so pathetic as to hold up a cup of mass-produced, push-button Starbucks as the gold standard. Sometimes we honestly don’t understand why entire counties simply do not rise up and riot in the streets over the horrible coffee to which they are routinely subjected.

With Starbucks listed as a runner-up finalist on’s 2011 “Best of” list, Santa Barbara barely salvaged some of its culinary dignity with its recognition of The French Press. Because The French Press makes some great coffee that’s otherwise unheard of in this part of the country. And because naming Taco Bell as the finalist for Santa Barbara’s “Best Mexican” would be no less ridiculous.

Crowds in front of The French Press in Santa Barbara's Upper State neighborhood Just inside the entrance to The French Press in Santa Barbara

Opening in 2009, this Upper State coffeehouse puts most others in Santa Barbara County to shame. A sort of hang-out for the biking set, you can recognize this café by the gathering of young people on the sidewalk in front. They offer a few outdoor café tables and chairs under the entryway, but much of the seating is inside — zinc-topped café tables located along and past a long hallway of artwork that runs along the service area. The service area itself is decorated with painted art skateboards.

Using a shiny two-group La Marzocco GB/5 and Mazzer grinders, they pull shots of Verve (Sermon and other blends) into black ACF cups with red saucers. It comes with a lightly mottled medium brown crema with lighter heat spots.

Patrons sttudying along the long hallway inside The French PressThe espresso here has the tease of a brightness bomb, but without the full-swing delivery. This results in an acidic cup with some balance coming from the chocolate and pungent spice end. They’re also notable at milk-frothing: it’s deliberate and not overly abundant. Their caffè macchiato has a great chocolate flavor with substantial milk density. And of course, they also serve their namesake French press coffee.

All towns should aspire to have at least one coffee place this good. It’s criminal that this is still the exception rather than the rule in this country.

Read the review of The French Press in Santa Barbara, CA.

The French Press and their La Marzocco GB/5 The French Press macchiato and espresso