With little fanfare, last week Four Barrel Coffee finally graduated out of the ranks of the Malaysian street food experience and opened up its formal café space. So this week we paid a visit to check out the new digs — and update our espresso review. (See: our previous Four Barrel Coffee Trip Report.)
Last year Jeremy Tooker (along with partners that included Stumptown‘s Duane Sorenson) split from nearby Ritual Coffee Roasters to start a new coffee business that avoided the trappings of Ritual’s Valencia St. coffee bar (besides emphasizing more of the roasting operations). While it’s still early to tell, so far it’s not clear if they solved many of Ritual’s problems so much as relocated them a few blocks up Valencia St.
Not surprisingly, given loyalties and lineage, many of the clientèle here fit the same MO as Ritual’s customers. The lack of Wi-Fi and laptop outlets might prevent some table squatting. But like the liquor store/mini-marts of my old Southwest Berkeley neighborhood, there are already early signs of a “front sidewalk loiter” that so many Ritual customers have perfected. And when we approached the counter to make a purchase, most of the staff and the customers in line were perfectly content to mill about and socialize as if at a kegger party rather than service the line or make an order. Hopefully this is something that will diminish as the novelty wears off.
On the positive side, they finally can boast some baseline customer amenities: places to sit with tables or counters, and a lone a restroom complete with hanging chandelier and a laminate floor that sports a hunting motif. This latter detail nicely compliments the four boars’ heads that adorn one wall above a display of roasted coffee for sale. Apparently, each of these trophies Jeremy hunted off of eBay — at least if we are to believe this informative video published by SF Gate: SF Gate: Multimedia (video).
The five-minute video is a rather worthwhile interview with Jeremy, who offers an early tour of the space, demonstrates how to make a great French press of coffee, and discusses a variety of topics that include restaurant coffee, SF’s coffee history before Seattle stole the limelight, and Direct Trade.
The entire space, despite its in-progress roasting operations in back as PG&E allows in the gas lines, centers around the café’s showpiece: two beautiful Mistral Triplette espresso machines, tricked out with Four Barrel branding in glowing glory. These machines themselves are worth the trip, given their rarity and the exquisite machine design handiwork of Kees van der Westen (though the Mistral is now distributed by La Marzocco). Duane Sorenson’s influence shines through.
Oh, but how was the espresso? Great, of course. Until they get their own roasting operations up, they are serving Stumptown’s Hairbender blend. The baristas here are meticulous and deliberate — rightfully taking their sweet time to do it right. They pull shots with a darker, mottled, somewhat bubbly looking crema. The body is a touch thin for the pedigree. But flavorwise, the shot is supremely bright: mostly a sharp pungency of spices and some herbal elements, but there are traces of honey, nuts, and even orange peel. That much hasn’t changed.
Read the updated review of Four Barrel Coffee.