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Location, Location, Location

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Name: Coffee Klatch, San Dimas and Rancho Cucamonga Coffee Houses
Locations: 806 W. Arrow Hwy, Suite A, San Dimas; and 8916 Foothill Blvd, Suite C, Rancho Cucamonga

Roaster: Klatch Roasting
Rating: 3 (4 for the coffee; 2 for the cafes)

For those of you not familiar with it, Coffee Klatch has quite a reputation. First of all, there’s Heather Perry, daughter of owner, Mike Perry, who just happens to be two-time U.S barista champion and the highest-ranking American ever at the World Barista Championship (2nd place in 2007). She’s worshiped for her god-like espresso-making powers and seems to be everywhere: competing, judging, running competitions and conducting trainings to baristas hoping that some of her incredible powers will rub off on them. Second, Coffee Klatch won best espresso at the 2007 World Barista Championship for their WBC blend. Third, their coffee is highly regarded pretty much wherever you look. Coffee guru, Ken Davids, for instance, has placed three of their coffees within his “highest rated” coffee category on his site, Coffee Review.

All this was on my mind as I convinced my wife, daughter, parents, brother and his partner to make the half an hour trip up highway 57 from my parent’s home in Anaheim to Coffee Klatch’s San Dimas store. Then, since it was in the neighborhood, my Dad and I headed over to the Rancho Cucamonga store after swinging by the Ontario airport to drop off my brother. Only afterwards did I really reflect on what turns out to be the $24,000 question: why are Coffee Klatch’s two cafes way the *$!# out in San Dimas and Rancho Cucamonga? You see, as painful as it is to put this in print, I have to say that I found Coffee Klatch’s two cafes just a little disappointing and location plays no small part. So are Coffee Klatch’s cafes disappointing because of their location or are they located where they are because they are disappointing?

I’m being careful here to use the word disappointing because neither of Coffee Klatch’s cafes is bad; the coffee is great and even the cafés themselves are still leagues above so many other cafes in the rest of the country. The issue is that these two cafes are a far cry from what one might expect given the caliber of their coffee and the quality one might expect from an institution that produces such exemplars of espresso making as Heather Perry. And I know that I’m not alone. Just check out this long thread on Coffee Geek, complete with some great responses from Heather Perry herself.

But before I get to what I found lacking, I want to start with what Coffee Klatch does right. In short, it’s the coffee. The macchiato I ordered was with their WBC blend. I have to admit my notes aren’t thorough, but it was sweet with just a hint of chocolate and lots of fruit. Overall, I think it was a well-pulled, well-balanced espresso; very subtle, more like a French wine than an American one. I suppose that’s why, even though I liked it, I wouldn’t count it amongst my favorites. I prefer my espresso a bit more punchy and distinctive.

I also ordered a press pot of the La Montana El Savadorian. I wasn’t surprised by the quality since it is clearly labeled as a #1 Cup of Excellence coffee, but it was delicious. It was light and delicate with a moderate amount of acidity and lots of floral notes. I could see it going down well in the early afternoon on a warm day, instead of a good glass of iced tea. Sadly, most of this farmer’s (Raul Ochoa) crop was wiped out in a recent wind storm. Coffee Klatch was donating $1/pot to help him recover from this disaster. Good coffee and a good cause – you can’t beat that.

What’s so disappointing? Here’s my list:

  • Most of the beans for sale, at both cafes, were not particularly fresh. It was not uncommon to see beans in the 1-2 week roast range and many were in the 2-4 week range. I even saw a small number of bags, including a few of the pricier beans, that were over a month old.
  • At least two of the milk-based drinks my family ordered had scalded milk, big pieces of skin – a bad sign for sure. My barista brother schooled me on these and other horrors of reheated milk.
  • The crew at both cafes were enthusiastic, hard-working and tried to be helpful, yet they didn’t seem particularly confident in the way things worked. They didn’t seem to know that much about their espresso machines and weren’t sure about which of their Columbian coffees was the one that had received a 94 from Ken Davids (it’s clearly marked as such on the website but I had forgotten the name at the time).
  • Both cafes seem a little tired and in need of a facelift. I guess there’s something to be said for the fact that they’ve been around for so long, but such good coffee deserves a fancier showroom.

I realize that cafes are a difficult businesses to run, especially in places like San Dimas or Rancho Cucamonga. Finding talented, hard working baristas with a commitment to coffee is, no doubt, hard enough, and keeping them must be even harder. The good ones simply head further into L.A. the first chance they get. While some of Coffee Klatch’s clientèle probably do know good coffee, I imagine a lot of their customers have Starbucks as their closest reference point.

A café owner in Mike and Heather’s geographic location who wants to be known for good coffee has to make a choice: run a café with a split personality and likely succeed or strive for unadulterated artisan coffee-making and likely go under. Mike and Heather have chosen a wise path. They’ve focused on roasting and shipping high quality coffee the world over, using the prestige garnered from barista championships to ensure their place amongst coffee’s elite. Nevertheless, it would still be nice to see them pursue option two, perhaps in a geographic area where there’s a demand for a more upscale establishment.

The bottom line is that Coffee Klatch’s reputation for coffee is no less than you’ve read. It’s certainly worthy of stopping by one of their cafes if you happen to live there or happen to be visiting or happen to be coming into the Ontario airport. If only I knew that Heather Perry would be making my espresso in person, I’d fly down there on a regular basis, but sadly, she’s not behind the counter too much seeing as she has more compelling and exciting things to do. That said, the café is not worth a 30-minute journey when there are so many other equally enthralling coffee options in the greater LA area. Either check when Heather Perry will be around or save the gas money and order Coffee Klatch’s beans online.

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