Yes. I confess. I have written about Ritual before and probably am at risk of of over-referencing it in my articles, but don’t worry, this isn’t a repeat episode. It’s also not one of those flashback article; the Keaton family won’t be accidentally trapped in their basement forcing you to re-watch old episodes cleverly re-edited into a special hour long shell of new material (OK, I secretly loved those episodes). I actually do have something new to say about Ritual. Two things, in fact. The first is that they have an absolutely amazing second location. It’s right smack dab in the middle of Flora Grubb Gardens.
If you’re not familiar with it, Flora Grubb Gardens is a high-end gardening store that’s received a fair share of media attention from publications such as Dwell, Domino, Metropolitan Home and The Chronicle. This impressive lot out in Bay View is teeming with plant life and feels a bit like an escape from urban living with sheik, modern architecture thrown in just so that you don’t get too agoraphobic. Oh, and each plant also comes equipped with a price tag. It’s a lush space, spilling out from the modern barn-like structure, with walls open to the elements. The amount of shelter increases as you move from the parking lot to the core of the gardens until you are inside a three-walled space staring at vases, tools, t-shirts, gardening books, the cash registers and, oh, Ritual’s tiny, four-stooled coffee kiosk.
I couldn’t shake the Tree of Knowledge metaphors as I gazed longingly at this well-equipped little kiosk. It has a bright red, 3-group LaMarzocco FB/70 and a Clover machine ready to brew each cup of coffee on demand. You can choose from roughly 6-8 coffees, a few less than Ritual’s full coffee menu. To compensate though, once you get your coffee you can sit at any of several tables strewn about the Garden. This space doesn’t capture the intense, networking, buzz of the Valencia Cafe. It fact, it’s relaxing and peaceful. I drank significantly more coffee than I should have, but barely felt a thing; I think the serene setting pretty much neutralized my jitters.
The second item I want to report on is that Ritual recently replaced their house espresso – the Red Flag Blend – with a new one they’re calling the Sweet Tooth blend. It’s about 75% Faezenda Sao Joao and about 25% Rwandan. I’m not clear if it’s the Rwandan they list on their menu or another one their keeping under wraps. Either way, it’s delicious. It’s very bright and very sweet, but still remarkably well balanced. I tasted a burst of orange, lemon and tart cherries followed by rich, sweet undertones of light molasses and very mild chocolate. The barista assured me it also tasted great in milk.
I also ordered a cup of the Faezenda Do Serrado. While I just wrote about this coffee recently, I wanted to try it on the Clover. It resembled what I had tasted at home, only darker: lot’s more cinnamon, less fruit and herbs and the addition of a smokiness. I actually liked this coffee most when it was first served and less as it cooled. The acidity dropped off quickly and I was left with a lingering heavy tobacco aftertaste.
It was an added bonus to try Ritual’s decaf blend on the Clover. Of course, I want to echo Ken David’s lament on the sorry state of decaf, but Ritual’s is at least up there in the acceptable category. I’ve always liked it at home in a French Press or a drip, and it’s even nicer on the Clover. Hints of pepper and spice suspended in a slight sweetness that creates a complex cup even though it’s lacking in acidity (which is inevitably in short supply in most decafs).
Ritual’s Flora Grubb location isn’t that easy to reach. You have to drive through lesser well known parts of the city or be willing to take an around about Muni trip and a bit of a hike. I assure you, however, that the location really is worth the trip. Besides, where else can you pick up some succulents along with your coffee.