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Mission Report: Four Barrel Coffee (An Early Review)

Name: Four Barrel Coffee (see this link for updated reviews)
375 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA (Coffee served on Caledonia St., off 15th)
Rating: Not Yet Rated

Traipsing down a narrow, grungy, dead-end alley is probably not most people’s idea of how to spend a bright and beautiful Saturday morning. Nevertheless, as I carefully navigated around uneven concrete and broken glass, I couldn’t help but think that this was a damn fine way to spend some quality time with my two-year-old daughter. You see, she and I were trying to locate a loading dock, from where I had heard that one might find superior coffee being slung. If successful, this adventure might rival other hush-hush foodie adventures of mine such as being ushered into the back office/overflow seating area of the former location of Shalimar or smuggling brown bag booze into the (very recently) deceased No-Name Sushi.

Although the morning hadn’t exactly begun well – I had forgotten the address of our destination at home – the Gods were soon smiling upon us. We had made a couple of trips up and down Valencia when my daughter stopped to point out a large pile of spent coffee grounds blocking our path. I looked up and, sure enough, about 10 feet away was the closed-off opening of Four Barrel Coffee. At that moment, a band of 20-something mission hipsters passed us by, the gleam of coffee pilgrimage unmistakable in their eye. Within a matter of minutes, we found ourselves standing before Jeremy Tooker, as advertised, slinging shots of Stumptown coffee from his sporty looking La Marzocco Mistral.

Now, in case you’ve missed the rumors or the hype, Four Barrel Coffee is the latest undertaking of Jeremy Tooker, co-founder and once co-owner of Ritual Roasters, which is just down the street between 20th and 21st. Four Barrel will supposedly be opening in just 3-4 weeks, although when I peered in through the front doors that were slightly ajar, it still looked like there was a lot of detail left to be completed.

From what I’ve picked up in several conversations as well as read on the internet (Coffeed, Eater and 7×7), Four Barrel aims to be something other than a typical café. They’ll offer single origin espressos, a range of single origin and micro-lot coffees and avoid most anything other than coffee and your minimalist line of espresso-based drinks. They’ll do daily cuppings, have no wi-fi and lots of space (3,000 square feet) in which to stand, sit and drink coffee. Jeremy confirmed that there will be not one, but two roasters: a large one for the espresso blends and any big restaurant or café orders, and a smaller roaster for, not surprisingly, small batches. I also heard from someone who heard from someone that Four Barrel aspires to be something of a Stumptown of the Bay Area – a major player offering not only amazing coffees but also serious coffee distribution. If all these things end up being true, then it sounds like Four Barrel’s vision might be something closer to a vintner’s tasting room rather than wine bar.

Gossip aside, how’s the coffee? Well, Jeremy is currently pulling shots of Stumptown’s Hair Bender, which to my reckoning came out wonderful as a macchiato. His curved leaf Rosetta was gorgeous and the drink had great chocolate flavor with notes of bright crisp granny smith apple and sweet pear. I’ve never been sure if “Hair Bender” refers to its mind-altering flavor or its powers of stimulation, but if I had to guess, I’d throw my lot in with the latter. After half a cup, I was already wired. I probably should have stopped then, but my daughter insisted on spooning me mouthfuls of coffee in a way that was just too cute to resist.

Despite my already highly caffeinated state, I ordered a cup of the very limited Colombia micro-lot that Four Barrel was pressing, just to taste. It was bright with lemon and lime and subtle herbal notes that reminded me of matte. While it wasn’t my favorite, it was a very good, complex cup of coffee.

So far, I’m willing to give Four Barrel a four, but that seems premature. The cafe isn’t yet open and the coffee this roaster is serving isn’t even their own yet. I’d rather withhold judgment for now and let this early review serve more as gossip column than review. But you can bet I’ll be back after opening to level a more definitive report and let you know what you can find. Until then, if you’re willing to undertake a little coffee sleuthing adventure of your own, Four Barrel’s loading dock is certainly a memorable coffee destination.

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