Today the SF Chronicle posted an impressively long article on the state of quality coffee roasting in the Bay Area: ROAST WITH THE MOST / A new generation of Bay Area coffee roasters pushes the perfect cup to the next level. It’s a remarkable piece, given its breadth. It lightly touches on everything from the roasting process, roasting trends, more meticulous coffee sourcing, and restaurants taking notice in better quality coffee. It also includes interviews with a good number of quality coffee luminaries in the area — and not just the usual, overexposed suspects.
On the topic of overexposure, it’s also good to see focus on advancements in the quality of the coffee — and not just an emphasis on machinery (and their escalating price tags), which has been something of a media trend of late. Equipment advances such as the Clover brewer would be amount to little more than a curiously expensive robotics grad student project if not for the improvements in coffee sourcing, roasting, and freshness.
Today’s geography lesson: Rome is not a U.S. city
As much as Coffeeratings.com was born five years ago out of frustration with the lack of quality standards and their awareness in the Bay Area specialty coffee scene, we actually take a bit of exception with some of the suggestions in the article — for example, “While the Bay Area is considered the birthplace of premium coffee, many say the quality of its coffee has lagged behind that of other U.S. cities in the past 10 or 15 years.”
In the past few years the Bay Area has arguably established itself as a national coffee leader, second only to perhaps Portland and Seattle. (And even at that, Seattle and Portland — like SF — are equally rife with median-quality coffeehouses that make poor espresso.) But go back a decade ago, and the coffee quality in the great majority of other U.S. cities was hurting far worse than SF.
Only hipster dufuses who use the word “‘spro” need apply
The article also unfortunately feeds this terrible misconception going around that better coffee can only come from a “new generation” of coffee professionals — an attitude that if you haven’t been making coffee for less than three years, you are irrelevant to good quality coffee today. Call it specialty coffee’s take on Jerry Rubin‘s “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” (It’s also one of many reasons why we ridicule the term “Third Wave.” Although the phrase’s originators coined it more to describe coffee consumption rather than coffee purveyors, today it is most commonly used to describe the latter.)
But the media will always focus on the new. And what’s old often becomes new again. (See: siphon coffee.) We read stories that suggest single origin coffees will bring about the (greatly exaggerated) death of the blend, or that lighter roasts will universally trump all those “horrible, traditional darker roasts.” But we see each of these as consumer fads that are merely highlighting the less explored dimensions of the overall coffee enjoyment experience. When the novelty of the new wears off, single origin or blend, light or dark roast, there will always be something to be enjoyed in the full variety of experiences coffee has to offer.
There are options in SF but what of the peninsula? As far as I can tell, there is no real place to get good espresso or fresh roasted non-burned beans on the peninsula. It’s either SF or drive all the way down to Barefoot (who don’t seem to be very much on the ball these days either….why don’t they ever have Element 114 in stock in the store?). I would love to be proved wrong but the Peninsula seems to be a wasteland.