Fair Trade, organic coffee drinkers unite!

This former Holey Bagel shop has earned an extremely loyal (dare I even suggest “partially blind”?) following in the central Haight district. On their front door, they boast themselves as the #1 coffee shop in San Francisco on the basis of their reviews on Yelp.com. So they must be fantastic, right?

Well, the Upper Haight has a number of weak coffee shops. And when you’re in the Haight, there’s a certain socio-political expectation the locals have of neighborhood businesses. And as for Yelp, you can read my lone Yelp review for how CoffeeRatings.com was, in part, motivated by my frustrations with review sites like Yelp.

Former Holey Bagel turned Coffee to the People Vast space in Coffee to the People

Coffee to the People is a huge space, a little on the mandatory drab & dingy side, with tables covered in socially conscious stickers and artwork: they know how to play to their customers. There is also a reading library with couches and free WiFi. So of course, there are the usual Haightsters sleeping at tables.

They roast their own coffee beans in San Rafael — all Fair Trade and organic, of course, as many of their clientele seem to be single-issue coffee drinkers. (Despite Fair Trade certification’s many flaws, many customers here seem to bestow it with a monopoly on ethical behavior. Of course, finding Fair Trade and organic coffee in SF is about as difficult as finding a good burrito…but nevermind.)

Using a three-group La Marzocco Linea, they serve espresso with a medium brown crema of decent thickness. It has a mild flavor of cloves and cumin, but it’s not terribly distinct from quality drip coffee — for example, there’s no uniqueness to its flavor profile nor special notes like sweetness. Served in cups from Espresso Supply, Inc.

The reading, and sleeping, library - complete with bumper sticker collection Espresso shots from their three-group La Marzocco Linea

It’s a good cup of espresso, and the baristas aren’t half bad. But this café is currently ranked tied for 78th on CoffeeRatings.com, far from #1, with better competitors even in the neighborhood. For a lot of socially conscious locals, it’s apparently pretty easy to let your mind short-circuit your taste buds. What else explains phenomena such as TVP?

Read the review.

We’re in training…come back soon

All that talk about what phenomenal coffee I expected of Coffee to the People made me homesick for Café Organica, across the (Golden Gate Park) Panhandle. So after visiting this past Saturday, I headed over to Organica, wanting to congratulate owner, Eton Tsuno, on placing third in last weekend’s Western Regional Barista Competition — and wanting to check out his new Mirage.

I was thwarted again, as it was closed with signs saying “We are training hard for the U.S. Barista Competition — wish us luck!” Almost as strange was seeing CoffeeRatings.com posted in every window on print-outs of this month’s San Francisco magazine article.

The decent, but not great, Coffee to the People espresso Eton Tsuno and crew at Café Organica out for USBC training