Cali-Hospitality: Coffee Crawling Across Two Cities

by shelbinator3000

From lunchtime to lunchtime, with almost exactly 24 hours to spend in the City by The Bay, the race to drink San Francisco’s finest coffee was on.
But the finish line, which in our case were delicious olive-oil drenched sandwiches, wasn’t the destination. My buddy Alex, who has a definite eye for design, and I treated coffee shops with the same tourist-driven attitude as any other San Francisco landmark we’d hit; the Fisherman’s Wharf, a drive down Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge (not actually golden, by the way), and a concert at the Warfield Theatre.
But as far as being tourists goes we were the tortoises amongst the hares. There was no amount of relaxation that couldn’t be achieved at each and every stop. (Minimal) Time spent on photography and social media was merely a means to create a digital catalogue to look back on.
Not to mention we had taken our time getting to Everyone’s Favorite City – driving from Phoenix, Ariz., spending a morning on the way up and a full day on the way down in Los Angeles.

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//Cognoscenti Cafe Los Angeles, CA//
A grey little box-of-a-place where you could successfully spend now to forever called Proof Bakery dedicates one of its four corners to this coffee bar operation. What perhaps could have been space designed to showcase just a few additional pastries or sandwiches is home to two group-heads worth of espresso machines and some pour-over brew counter space. During my visit they were happily pulling Handsome Roaster espresso and brewing coffees fromCoava, Four Barrel, Ecco and Heart. Heart Roaster’s Kenya Gichatha-ini, which we drank on cool marble-topped tables, was impeccably brewed by their barista and my favorite cup of coffee I drank all trip.
A retired New York City Joe barista was there to offer us sound highway driving advice.
Proof Bakery’s sandwiches (mine was bacon, goat cheese, fig jam, arugula between sea salted bread) were perfect for the road.
A note from Alex: Bare, slate grey walls. What could theoretically use decoration offers contrast to their colorful foods and pastries – a blueberry scone and a dark chocolate croissant for us.

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//Ritual Coffee Roasters San Francisco, CA//
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
Freshly hitting the 5-year mark and escaping shop toddler-dom, as far as I’m concerned Ritual is officially a San Francisco and American staple. I got my first taste of Ritual from the Hope and Union Cafe in Charleston, SC and it’s been a personal favorite of mine ever since. Their baristas and bean sourcer, fresh off a public cupping, loved conversation and made me a cappuccino in a tulip-shaped cup (photographed above) – a first for me. I also tried their Las Manos coffee from Honduras, which I’d heard great things about on Twitter; it didn’t disappoint!
A note from Alex: Shop seating that stretches on for miles, filled with other busy-bodies, is a college kid’s dream.

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//Four Barrel San Francisco, CA//
Enough great things couldn’t be said about this beehive of a shop that serves some up some of the sweetest coffee around to a never-ending line of customers. Two “fast-bar” baristas plug away at two parallel state-of-the-art espresso machines and one other mans the “slow bar” – a section dedicated to the slower art of hand-brewing great coffee one cup at a time. With all this action, this coffee shop was alive and literally buzzing with the sound of community and conversation.
You see, Four Barrel doesn’t have wi-fi. Or electrical outlets. Or lazy leather couches. It gets it’s coziness from families, friends, and great tasting coffee.
Beware: the locals might shoot you envious looks if you bring your own box of half-a-dozen Dynamo Donuts beyond Four Barrel’s own Dynamo Donut selection. I wish I’d taken photos during the pickup – Dynamo might have deserved its own blurb here, what with it wielding a La Marzocco Linea machine slinging Four Barrel spro’. A donut breakfast is usually only a ritual for trips to my Dad’s in Vegas, but from Dynamo I enjoyed cornmeal blueberry, strawberry earl grey, spiced chocolate, lemon pistachio, and maple apple bacon donuts. Gladly.
A note from Alex: Lower than average, small, rectangular, wooden tables offer just enough surface area to accomodate a couple cups of coffee and your phone or notebook. Combined with some music and the hum of surrounding customers, the designer’s intention is to bring you closer to your company you’re visiting with.
Also… Four Barrel does have a wholesale account with Giant Coffee in Mid-Town Phoenix, Ariz., a mere minutes from the downtown ASU campus. They faithfully pull Friendo Blendo espresso and carry the rest of Four Barrel’s seasonal single-origin coffees. 

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//Sightglass Coffee San Francisco, CA//
Metal, wood and glass from head to toe, Sightglass successfully (almost nonchalantly) pulls off sticking just a bar, a roaster, and selective seating inside of a giant, high-ceilinged warehouse. Having too much empty space looks like part of the design, for once. I’d been wanting to visit since I first saw they were hiring maybe half a year ago, and since then they’ve opened up their shop to the public. Oliver Strand gave us our first look at the new space for his blog called Ristretto in the New York Times and I immediately recognized some of the baristas from his photography. Here, I took my own stab at cataloguing this beautiful space as well. My cappuccino was excellently textured and the taste was balanced – their Owl’s Howl blend being comprised of three cultivars from three different countries. I also tried a cup of their Kenyan coffee – they say it’s flavor tastes like lemon candies. And they’re absolutely correct.

Fun Fact: One of the original investors in Sightglass is Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter. Jack Dorsey also started Square (ever paid for lunch of coffee at some place via iPad?), and Sightglass was one of the first businesses to do Square’s beta testing.

A note from Alex: Unlike the square bar and seating designs we’re used to in most every shop, the bars and seating incorporate curves – keeping it fresh.

And as for lunch… From all the running around we’d done between driving the Golden Gate Bridge, picking up donuts, Four Barrel, and Sightglass, we were hungry. The locals all know about Tartine Bakery (they’ve got nation-wide following and a book dedicated to their story and their bread) and so we checked it out and paid our tourism dues by waiting in it’s line out the door. My sheep’s cheese, almond, lemon, sage and olive oil sandwich between two of slices of their bread was too juicy and incredible for words. Though, I may try to eventually…

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//Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea Venice, Silverlake, and Pasadena, CA//
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
(above) Photo credit: Alex Devine
If Square Mile Coffee in London is the Manchester United of the coffee world, then Intelligentsia is certainly America’s winningest team – the New York Yankees. Though, they do hail from Chicago – starting their Los Angeles roasting operation and planting their first shop in LA’s suburb, the hip Silverlake, Calif., just a few years ago.
The hospitality and attention to detail in Venice was beyond my expectations. Our baristas were the manager Melissa and Jaymie, who prepared Alex and me two cappuccinos to start. Their Black Cat espresso was delicious,though I’m favoring single-origin espresso lately and so my cappuccino made with their Nicaraguan was right up my alley. I later had a single-origin Kenyan cappuccino at their Pasadena location, and while some would say the fruity Kenyan flavors can’t cut through milk, I tasted no problem whatsoever. Just berries and cream.
A note from Alex: The collaboration amongst baristas within each Intelligentsia is impressive. Also, their Pasadena location fills all necessities for a long visit; coffee, food and beer. It’s feels like a bar.

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//Coffee Bar Los Angeles, CA//
Coffee Bar is just that: a coffee bar. Part of only a small group of shops across the nation with a plan to be consistently rotating coffee in and out from different roasters across the nation, Coffee Bar also incorporates the classic bar design; a network of bars and stools that focus on barista-customer interaction. I drank a cappuccino made with Handsome Roaster (they have a new site up) espresso that might have been the best all trip. Scottsdale needs one of these. 
A note from Alex: Scottsdale and Phoenix are in desperate need of a coffee bar. But who? And when? And where?