June 2011

Monthly Archive

Trip Report: Hooker’s Sweet Treats

Posted by on 29 Jun 2011 | Filed under: Local Brew

With a name that sounds a lot naughtier for the neighborhood standard, Hooker’s Sweet Treats has probably disappointed more than a few thrill-seeking passersby in the Upper Tenderloin/Lower Nob Hill area. (What some realtor wannabes call the “Tendernob”.) But for those who venture here for coffee and confections, it’s something of a destination.

Opening almost exactly a year ago, this dark, small 700-square-foot chocolate/salt caramel confectioner is run by David “Hooker” Williams. It also sports an impressive coffee setup, showcasing some of the beans from friends and local, recent roasters Sightglass Coffee Roasters.

Entrance to Hooker's Sweet Treats Inside Hooker's Sweet Treats

The small space is decorated with vintage wallpaper on the walls, old wooden benches, vintage Cracker Jack boxes on display, and something of an old mariner theme with pelicans carved in wood. They have a single bench for seating on the sidewalk out front. Inside, there is a long table with a shared bench and some chairs — in addition to window counter seating among three stools.

Using a two-group La Marzocco Linea, the owner pulls shots of Sightglass’ Owl’s Howl espresso blend. The resulting shot is somewhat bright without being ridiculously so (as often happens in SF). It comes with a richly colored, mottled medium and dark brown crema that only comes from fresh-roasted coffee supplies. They pull doubles as a default into black ACF cups, and while the pour is of a modest size it lacks real body or heft. The flavor suggests some cedar and a touch of honey over some basic pleasant spiciness. Not particularly rounded, but not too narrow.

It isn’t even close to one of the best espresso shots you ever had, but it will do — particularly in a neighborhood not known for good coffee options. That and we celebrate the addition of another quality local roaster to the mix of options at Bay Area cafés — particularly while the risks of roaster hegemony reign high

Sir Hooker himself behind the La Marzocco Linea at Hooker's Sweet Treats Merchandising at Hooker's Sweet Treats

The Hooker's Sweet Treats espresso - and caramel

Read the review of Hooker’s Sweet Treats.


The Colombia Cup of Excellence, or Wired Magazine Keeps Up Its Futurism Farce over Coffee

Posted by on 17 Jun 2011 | Filed under: Beans, Quality Issues

This month’s Wired magazine published a piece on this year’s Cup of Excellence (CoE) competition in Colombia: Sip, Spit, Grade: Coffee Experts Crown Colombia’s Best Beans | Magazine. Opening with the Q-grading Alberto Trujillo and Intelligentsia‘s Geoff Watts, the article describes the Cup of Excellence process and a little of its short history. It also mentions last year’s Finca La Loma “scandal” involving some Caturra for Castillo varietal slight-of-hand.

Wired magazine's story graphic presents charred coffee with gold dustThe article then belabors the decidedly old art of coffee cupping (am I reading Wired or the Smithsonian Magazine?) We’ve had our past issues with Wired magazine’s editorial choices. As a magazine noted for its futuristic and tech-obsessed bombast, we’re puzzled as to why something as decidedly old and low-tech as a coffee cupping somehow makes the grade for a feature story. The article cites chief CoE judge, Paul Songer, saying he “believes that coffee gourmandism has the potential to rival oenophilia’s cultish obsessiveness.” And yet we’ve never seen a Wired article devoted to wine tasting.

Perhaps a clue as to why Wired‘s editorial board continues to see coffee as relevant to their magazine can be found in a quote from Susie Spindler, the executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, who developed to CoE format: “Cup of Excellence has completely changed the infrastructure of how coffees are sold.” It has certainly changed quality coffee marketing and how the precious, limited stocks of CoE beans are sold. But given their meager supply compared to the overall coffee market and the consumer demand for coffee, how many coffee consumers make Cup of Excellence coffees a regular habit?

However, the most poignant part of the article comes at the end. Colombian coffee farmer, Arnulfo Leguizamo, celebrates winning this grand national competition — something that respected experts have called “the Oscars of the coffee world” as recently as a few months ago. But you won’t find designer dresses, red carpets, and limousines at this competition. Mr. Leguizamo’s response to winning the title? “Now I can pay my debts.”


Australia’s Good Cafe Guides 2011

Posted by on 13 Jun 2011 | Filed under: Café Society, Foreign Brew, Machine, Roasting

As many of you may know, we started CoffeeRatings.com in 2003 with the idea of making a printed, local, quantitative guide to San Francisco’s best coffee. Our fair city still lacks its own printed guide, but that hasn’t stopped cities such as Sydney and Melbourne in Australia from forging ahead: Mecca Espresso Ultimo Cafe of the Year In SMH Good Cafe Guide 2011, and The winners of The Age Good Cafe Guide Awards 2011.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Cafe Guide 2011The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) have each just released inaugural Good Cafe Guide publications to promote the best coffeeshops in their respective hometowns. In Sydney, Mecca Espresso in Ultimo took top café honors while Auction Rooms in North Melbourne did the same for its mother city. Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville and Seven Seeds in Carlton each took their city’s respective top coffee prizes. (Note to Californians: Melbourne is sometimes referred as San Francisco to Sydney’s L.A.)

Each guide boasts around 250 reviewed cafés that make the cut, awarding points primarily for coffee quality. But the guides also reward a “café’s commitment to quality beans and a great experience.” As noted in the SMH article cited above, a number of cafés are rated with one, two, or three stars. In the printed guide, they are rated up to three “coffee cups” (rather than stars) — making them not unlike the chicchi awarded in the Gambero Rosso’s annual Bar d’Italia. (The Bar d’Italia uses up to three chicchi, or coffee beans, to rate an establishment’s coffee. Not to confuse things, but it additionally uses up to three coffee cups to rate these places for qualities other than their coffee.)

The SMH article also mentions some emerging trends for area coffeeshops, including naked portafilters, local microroasting, tasting rooms/cupping schools, new contraptions to showcase single origins, bone china cups (here here!), and economy-sized drinks such as the piccolo latte or mezzo-mezzo. In other words: today’s Sydney coffee culture sounds a lot like San Francisco circa 2008. But you have to forgive them, considering that Australia lacks a filter-brewed coffee culture and history.

While both of these printed guides are new, they enter a saturating market for printed city coffee guides in Australia.


Trip Report: Dash Cafe

Posted by on 10 Jun 2011 | Filed under: Beans, Café Society, Local Brew, Roasting

икониSince we’ve long tired of reading about Stumpgate, it’s time to change the coffee conversation. So instead of the global growth and ubiquity of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, we turn our attention to something closer to home: the growth and ubiquity of Blue Bottle coffee.

This relatively new neighborhood café caters to local UCSF medical students with a modernized coffee pedigree. There are a few sidewalk tables along Judah St. out front that are rarely used. Inside the space is a bit schizophrenic, starting with the bright, clean room with several tables upon entry with its wide windows facing Judah St. It’s typically filled with laptop zombies where conversation is almost discouraged.

Dash Cafe's storefront along Judah St. Grinders and rear seating area in Dash Cafe

Beyond that is the small serving area for waffles, lunch bites, and coffee — including a two-group La Marzocco Linea machine and a set of four Blue-Bottle-branded Bonmac drippers. In the back and somewhat below is a darker, more social, lounge-like space. It typically has fewer customers in daytime hours. They also have a wall of wine selections.

They pull espresso shots with an even medium brown crema of decent thickness. It’s served as a slightly high pour, even for a doppio, but the body is still good. It has a fresh Blue Bottle flavor that’s a cross of smokiness and stone-fruit, and it’s not overly bright. Served in classic brown Nuova Point cups.

A solid espresso, definitely. But one we feel we’ve tasted many times before in a consistently growing number of places in San Francisco — a city that yearns to celebrate its diversity.

Read the review of Dash Cafe.

The Dash Cafe La Marzocco Linea - plus beer on tap The Dash Cafe espresso


The Quest for the best Canadian coffee: on Web video

Posted by on 02 Jun 2011 | Filed under: Café Society, Foreign Brew

Back in 2003, two longtime Canadian friends, Nik Green and Edan Marshall, originally thought of visiting the best coffeehouses in British Columbia and making a book out of it. (Back in 2003, we had the exact same idea for San Francisco.) They’ve recently come back to the idea, but this time as a Web-based TV series documenting their road trip across all of Canada to find their favorite independent coffeehouses.

The result is Common Grounds TV: Across Canada in A4 for best coffee. The episodes are hosted on YouTube and published on the Common Grounds TV Web site.

A TV program focused exclusively on the coffee can be a little limiting, so we very much like the concept of a coffee show infused with a major road trip/travel theme. But while some elements of the show work, we can’t help but feel that the series would improve a lot with tighter editing.

The team has finished Season One in Canada, which includes 20 segments. They are already planning to do a second season that should focus on the U.S. West Coast. In one of the better episodes from Season One, here they interview Sevan Istanboulian of Montreal’s Cafe Mystique: