Saturday, March 26, 2011

San Francisco Coffee Tour

The Coffee Tour:
            I love coffee.  Any one who knows me knows that I enjoy a good cup of coffee.  I’m quite serious about it and anytime that I can enjoy a smooth cup I jump at the opportunity.  As part of my vacation to the San Francisco Bay area, I set up a coffee tour stopping at the best places in the Mission District, world renowned for their joe. 
During this tour, I rated each local on a 1 to 5 cup scale in 5 different categories. Atmosphere, Cost, Menu, Coffee, and Technique.  Atomosphere rates the decor, music, patrons and general vibe of the space.  Cost would look as the price of standard cup of Joe, but would also take into consideration the cost of other items on the menu.  Menu evaluated the types of coffee served, variety of specials as wells as other items served.  To rate the Coffee I considered the flavor, warmth, richness, strength and aroma of each cup.  Technique looked at how each coffee house made, kept, heated, and served their brews.
I started my adventure by filling my stomach with a crepe at the Crepe House, downing almost a gallon of water to combat the diaretic effects of caffeine and then strolled down Valencia Ave to my first stop, Ritual Coffee Roasters
Atmosphere – Ritual offers up a clean simple modern look.  No art on the walls or unique character defining elements.  The space is open with plenty of tables and seating for Conversations and Studying.  The first occupied a majority of the patrons, and their conversations were load enough to cover the Indie World Music.  At least I think that’s what it was, I admittedly couldn’t hear it.  3.5 cups
Cost – They were celebrating Brazil week serving up a variety of Brazilian Beans for Drip Brew.  I ordered a Serato for $2.25, a good value for the quality of this coffee. The other options were starkly higher, but on par with most coffee shops today.  5 cups
Menu – The focus here is on Coffee and the Menu proves it.  The non Coffee options where pretty standard with the typical array of pastries, deli style cookies and sweet breads.  The coffee Varieties were extensive.  Beside the 6 different weekly special Brazilian drips, they served a vast of array of mochas, lattes, and espressos though they failed to post those for easy ordering.  3 cups
Coffee – Simply put amazing.  The Serato offered a strong aroma, delicate flavors of roasted nuts, citrus, and a smooth note that extended to the caramel finish. A great cup of coffee made very well.  The flavor lasted from the first sip to the much cooler last drops.  I enjoyed every one of them.  5 cups
Technique – These people are coffee snobs.  They breathe beans.  From the way they freshly steam milk for each drink, meaure the temp of the water used for brewing, they revere the bean.  It is their master and they serve him well.  Unfortunately, the customer doesn’t get even half the same attention.  I hardly received a smile from the 3 different people it took to order, make and pay for my coffee.  Would I change it? No.  Serve thy master and let me sip on the sweet aromatics of thy ritual blend.  4 cups 
         A short walk down the street and a couple of visits to the used books stores along the way and I found myself at the next stop.  Four Barrel Coffee Company
Atmosphere - This is the way a coffee house should feel. Dark warn wood counter tops, Bare industrial floors, and an industrial size and functioning coffee roaster in the back.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t here on a production day, but the aroma of freshly roasted coffee settled on everything like a fine layer of magic pixy dust.  Even though the place is large, boasting 3 separate coffee bars and one dedicated to just specialty Pour Over Drip Brew Coffee, it has limited seating. This doesn’t take away from the warm and welcoming feeling here.  The fact that the employees are smiling and jamming to the classic rock played via LP doesn’t hurt the vibe either. 5 cups
Cost – For just 2 bucks you can enjoy their in house roasted coffee. I chose to indulge and get a specialty Pour Over Brew.  The Ethiopian Tekka Wato was $3.50.  4.5 cups.
Menu – As is expected in a Coffee House that puts their roasting facility on display for all to see, the Menu focuses on the Joe.  A few pastries behind the counter, pale in comparison to their drink selection as well as fresh roasted bean selection.  With 15 varietys of Beans roasted in house, you can sniff and smell to your hearts content and either have them make you a cup on the spot or take it home to share. 4.5 cups
Coffee – This cup was a very rich and strong brew.  Dark color with earthy tones and flavors, it finished with what I’ll try to describe as the smoke of a burning oak wine barrel.  None of the unpleasant choaking or tear jerking responses, just the sweet smoky flavors of grape and oak blended perfectly together.  The flavors float through you mouth like wisps of smoke and settle on your tongue.  5 cups.
Technique – It’s evident that Four Barrels views Coffee as an Experience. They set up everything to allow their customers to enjoy the moment of relaxation and calm that good cup of coffee offers. From the moment they ground the beans for my cup, allowed me to smell the fresh grounds before brewing, the 8 minutes it took to slowly pour the water over my the delicate grounds, to the friendly conversations I had during that time, Four Barrels gave me an experience I will not soon forget.  I left here relaxed and warmed to my heart.  5 cups.
After walking past what I had intended to by my 3rd stop, I moved onto the quirky, fun and vibrant Philz Coffee.
Atmosphere – This is a hip hangout for the contientiously eclectic crowd that populate the streets of the Mission District. The overall vibe created by the murals, random postings, and abstract art of the Proprietor, Phil, was the same feeling you get after having one too many cups of strong coffee, slightly over caffeinated.  This is a place on the go.  Grab your coffee and head out or take a seat on one of the couches, which look like they were found on Craigslist, and get some work done.  The people behind the counter move about with a smile on their face, jumping from task to task like an oversized flee circus.  The Simon and Garfunkel playing overhead adds to the hippie vibe, but not the mellow stoner hippies.  These hippies, now fueled with Philz best, are headed out to protest.  3 cups

Cost – I grabbed a large PHILTERED SOUL for $3.75.  The average cost for one of the 19 different variety of single cup Pour Over Brews.   A little pricy considering the cramped space and quality of the coffee.  3.5 cups
Menu – Phil offers his guests 19 different blends of beans, “one cup at a time.” He and his son have hand crafted each blend. One blend took 7 years to get just right.  Along with the standard pastry display, Burritos, Sandwiches, and Bagels are available, but they aren’t made on the premises and simply thrown into a wicker basket for the guest.  I passed on this game of culinary rullete, but I did get a cheese Danish to take the edge off my hunger.  Is “’Blah’zaise faire” a term.  3.5 cups
Coffee – Not the best cup I had today, by far.  It was a medium roast and according to the definition has a sweet hazel finish.  I missed both due to an overpoweringly strong bitterness, which came across as a burnt flavor.  Admittedly, this could have been the intended flavor, but it left me with anything but a Philtered Soul as the title suggests.  Instead I had a bitter acidic after taste left in my mouth.  The aroma did help this cup.  It gave me a sense of the sweetness that the definition promised and failed to deliver.  2.5 cups
Technique – In one word, Rushed.  There is no way to make a good cup of coffee quickly, but as they try to speed things along that rushed attitude steeps into the drinks.  To their credit, they do make each cup one at a time and even aerated my drink before handing it to me.  The temperature was hot enough to make my hand start to sweat through the cardboard sleeve, and I can only imagine that the violent temperature didn’t help the coffee any.  The baristas or servers were very friendly and seemed like they really enjoyed being their.  They add to the funky, fun, if a little frantic environment of this Mission District institution.  4 cups