SF Coffee Scene*

4 12 2009

*Well, due to limitations in my travels last week (Thanksgiving), this is only partially representative of the city, not of greater SF or the Bay Area, which I hope to fully document someday.

SF is HOT! For coffee, that is. Roasters there are certainly bringin’ it with their coffees and their visions for the Third Wave (or Fourth Wave, for that matter).

Justin pulling shots on Four Barrel's double Mistral

Take Four Barrel, for example. Ask the people there about what coffee most excites them right now and, to my surprise (and initial horror), they said DECAF! Now, I’m philosophically opposed to decaf and the only good decaf I’ve had was a decaf espresso from Verve a couple years ago. To my pleasant surprise, Four Barrel’s decaf espresso was amazing! Of the beans used in their decaf is the Ethiopia Mordecofe, a coffee hand picked by them for decaffeination (as opposed to coffees picked by decaffeination companies). Mordecofe is offered three ways at Four Barrel – decaffeinated, washed, and natural (highly recommended!).

Four Barrel has recently reopened their back alley bar, this time with a built in bar instead of a cart. The idea is to offer a more limited but more personable approach to customers that come through the alley. It will be operated by their head trainers and/or baristas in training from their wholesale accounts. It’s a terrific concept and I’ve had amazing shots in the back bar.

Down the street on Valencia is Ritual. The cafe is busy busy BUSY (which is a good thing)! Soon they’ll move the roaster and green bean storage to revert the area back to dining room style seating for a more intimate setting. On the coffee side, they’ve recently started offering Panama Esmeralda in special handmade packaging (very cool cardboard and spray paint!), just in time for the Holidays.

Blue Bottle's cafe (with their Mechanical Paddle Linea) and roastery in Oakland. Note the warm Californian sun. How we so need it in Seattle.

Hop on the BART to Oakland and there is Blue Bottle‘s new roastery and a small cafe. The place is spectacularly clean (by that I mean clean and clean/sharp looking). In addition to the standard roasting/packaging area for coffees, office, and tech/training room, there is a cool presentation room, a full kitcken/bakery (they make killer chocolate chip cookies and $9 waffles), and a see through cupping room. If it wasn’t for the coffee equipment, the place might be mistaken for an art gallery.

Mechanical Paddle Linea at work at Blue Bottle's BUSY cafe at SF Fisherman's Terminal.

Back to SF side of the Bay at the Ferry Building (a touristy place for foodies) is one of Blue Bottle’s cafes, a very busy one at that. Featuring a Mechanical Paddle Linea as their main production machine, each espresso shot is expertly soft pre-infused for a nicely rounded, rich taste. With the Mechanical Paddle, the barista has more control (with variable pressure) over the soft pre-infusion process and thus requires a very well trained barista to continuously pull shots while there are a dozen people waiting in line.

Perhaps one of the most exciting up and coming roaster is Sightglass, just south of

Jerad and Ally of Sightglass. Pulling shots on their Slayer. Construction is afoot behind the wall of canvas.

Market in downtown. While their new roastery and cafe is still under construction, they are selling drinks on their cart to the passerby. Currently offering Verve coffee until their own roaster goes live (hopefully sometime later this month), they make fantastically prepared drinks every single time. With a huge space, a beautifully designed bar, and an u-shaped balcony seating area overlooking everything, this will be one of the most awe-inspiring coffee destinations for some time. If you go, be sure to try their mocha, which uses a specially sourced chocolate. It’s literally a chocolate cherry bomb.





What’s Next?

8 10 2009

It’s been almost 3 years since Stumptown has opened their beautiful roasting facility and cafes in Seattle. No matter which roaster you work for or which coffee you prefer, it’s undeniable that Stumptown has had a profound influence over Seattle’s coffee scene. Without getting into who’s coffee is better and whatnot, it’s fair to say that everybody has been upping their game for sure. To that, more power to them all.

Stumptown Seattle's Mistral.

Stumptown Seattle's Mistral.

This brings up an interesting question – with the proliferation of 3rd wave coffee, what’s next? 4th wave? What are the parameters of this next stage of evolution?

With the way things are brewing (bada bing!), direct trade and ultra attentive sourcing will result in brewing methods that highlight such extensive work. These may include single origin espresso and single origin coffees by the cup via various methods e.g. pourover, chemex, press pot, etc. Equipment-wise, this means new coffee brewers and espresso machines that enable greater control over soft preinfusion and pressure profiling. Though there has not been an entire industry consensus on merits or standards of soft preinfusion and pressure profiling (whether on a Mechanical Paddle La Marzocco, Synesso, or Slayer), things are trickling in.

Advanced soft preinfusion (soft preinfusion with pressure manipulation) in its various forms have shown what’s possible to date. It doesn’t necessarily work on all coffees and, in the end, it’s still in the tongue of the beholder. In words, it’s hella debatable! The results have been impressive for us – espressos tend to be much more softer and rounded, without sacrificing its core delicacies e.g. brightness, acidity, etc. Hopefully, as more advanced soft preinfusion machines (Mechanical Paddle La Marzoccos and Slayer) find their way onto coffee bars, a better consensus can result.

However, advanced soft preinfusion is but only an incremental step towards total control a.k.a. true pressure profiling (that is, infinitely variable pressure from zero to your desired maximum brew pressure throughout the extraction process). Whatever the technology (or the lack thereof) that will get an espresso machine there, more power to it. After all, it’s all about what’s in the cup that truly matters. Well, it’s also about reproducibility as well. It’s rather difficult to use either advanced soft preinfusion or pressure profiling to make every espresso shot in a busy cafe. It’s just not practical!

To date, no production machine has been able to truly enable true pressure profiling. To that end, La Marzocco is working on a brand new, true pressure profile machine. A prototype was shown at this year’s SCAA on a down low basis and there’s field tests/feedback going on to get maximum input and feedback from those that will ultimately use it. All we can say is, watch out for it in 2010!





More Pics from Coffee Fest

28 09 2009
Killer custom Knight Rider La Marzocco Linea from Espresso Parts! Joined 2 and 3 group Mechanical Paddle Linea with two groups reverted to semi-auto, all stealth black finish, and with sliding LED lights on the bottom. No, it doesn't talk.

Killer custom Knight Rider La Marzocco Linea from Espresso Parts! Joined 2 and 3 group Mechanical Paddle Linea with two groups reverted to semi-auto, all stealth black finish, and with sliding LED lights on the bottom. No, it doesn't talk.

Matte black finish on the Knight Rider Linea.

Matte black finish on the Knight Rider Linea.

Espresso Parts' custom GS2 with glass side panels.

Espresso Parts' custom GS2 with glass side panels.

CF Esp Parts GS2 2

The Original. The GS.

The Original. The GS.

Chris Davidson from Atlas Coffee Importers double barreling with the two Swifts and the GS/3.

Chris Davidson from Atlas Coffee Importers double barreling with the two Swifts and the GS/3.

Baristas jamming on the Mechanical Paddle Linea at Victrola's Barista Jam.

Baristas jamming on the Mechanical Paddle Linea at Victrola's Barista Jam.





GIZMODO Reports on La Marzocco (and Coffee)

27 08 2009

Usually known for their reporting and humor on all things tech and gadgets, Gizmodo‘s Matt Buchanan wrote a comprehensive primer on coffee and basic brewing methods. Unlike most mainstream media, however, he actually sought knowledge and advice from those in the know – Ken Nye of Ninth Street Espresso and David Latourell of Intelligentsia. Matt also interviewed Jacob Ellul-Blake, La Marzocco s.r.l.‘s R&D, on what it takes for an espresso machine to brew a good espresso shot (other than a good barista, that is).

Also featured in the article is a picture of Ninth Street Espresso’s custom Linea Paddle.

Ninth Street Espresso's Linea Paddle with individual coffee boilers, 3 PID controllers, preheated inlet water line, and barista lights.

Ninth Street Espresso's Linea Paddle with individual coffee boilers, 3 PID controllers, preheated inlet water line, and barista lights.








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