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Itching an Niche That You Didn’t Know You Had

Name: Catahoula Coffee Company and Roastery
Location: 12472 San Pablo Avenue, Richmond, CA
Roaster: Catahoula Coffee Company

Rating: 3-

My folks were in town so my wife and I decided to take advantage of the free baby sitting. We headed out one morning, steering the car toward Point Richmond, where we had a terrific breakfast date at the Hidden City Cafe – good polenta scrapple and an amusing website. In case you’re wondering, Point Richmond is actually a cute, sleepy little waterfront “town,” nothing like the crime-ridden, destitute, bankrupt (see the comments section below) city of Richmond of which it is technically part.

It probably came as no surprise to my wife when I suggested that we stop off at a cafe. I had squirreled away just such a location for the next time I happened to find myself near Richmond. I suggested we stop in for “just a quick cup of coffee.” My wife, rolling her eyes and prescient as always, graciously agreed. In the end, we stayed the better part of an hour.

Catahoula Coffee, named for the owner’s favorite breed of dog, sits along San Pablo avenue in a somewhat surprising location, given the definitive lack of, well, much of anything else. The owner, Timber, clearly has plans to change that. He’s started this cafe and roastery and is trying to organize a semi-regular farmers market. It’s the kind of entrepreneurial spirit this part of town desperately needs and, hopefully, appreciates.

The cafe itself is charming and tiny. It has just a few, dark wood tables lining one wall. Most of the cafe is occupied by a couple of counter tops holding various coffee equipment (include the 3-group La Marzocco and several different grinders), the coffee bins, Timber’s collection of photographs of his catahoula dogs and the large San Francisco Roaster that fills the front window.

Timber is clearly enthusiastic about coffee and recognized me as a coffee geek immediately by the questions I asked about his coffee and his operation. He even took me back behind the counter to show me his setup. Despite his loyal and growing following, I guess coffee geeks still stand out in Richmond.

I ordered a shot of his Lola blend espresso (named after one of his dogs). It had a great punch of lemon-lime acidity followed by a smooth and steady, slightly syrupy, but not too rich, coffee liquor. It was well balanced, and while not novel in its profile, was a nice shot of espresso. I didn’t order a macchiato or cappuccino, but Timber assured me that the espresso went well in milk. Given the flavor of this espresso, I can believe it would.

I also tasted Catahoula’s drip – a Costa Rica. It was smooth and was neither burnt nor bitter, which is good since Timber likes to joke that Catahoula is a “no-char” zone. At the same time, I found the coffee to be a bit flat: neither distinct nor offering much complexity. I also experienced a similar flatness with a Papua New Guinea and some Lola that I took home and brewed as both a pour over drip and French Press. Interestingly, these two coffees did produce a decent home espresso.

Catahoula isn’t on par with the rapidly exploding world of high-end, bay area coffee. But then again, as my wife aptly put it, not everyone can be the best, especially right out of the starting block. Catahoula is a relatively new roastery and the quality will likely improve as Timber refines his skill. Besides, most people who live up near Richmond are probably not willing to make the type of detour required to get one of these truly amazing cups of bay area coffee, and they most certainly don’t have the time to do so on a regular basis.

I haven’t done an exhaustive search of coffee up in that area, but I would be willing to bet that Catahoula’s is better than most any other coffee around, assuming that you don’t like burnt or bitter tasting coffee. It’s also certainly more unique given that it is a truly local roaster. The bottom line is that Catahoula brings a bit of local flavor to a place with little and thereby fills a niche in a place that didn’t know it had one.

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3 comments to Itching an Niche That You Didn’t Know You Had

  • catahoula fan AND local

    Nice job on the review of Catahoula but please spare us on the remarks about Richmond, unless you’ve driven around it more than once, and not just on your way to Point Richmond (which, by the way, sports many multi million dollar houses that are actually worth it). We live just up the hill from Catahoula and if you’ve ever gone up that way, you’d see that Richmond is not all about drive by’s or hold-ups. Houses around there are worth a pretty penny even if the market had not been so out of whack for the past 5 years. Families are involved and yes! they are even into doing good for the environment and all of that stuff you may equate with only SF folks. Richmond is not bankrupt – you have mistaken it for Vallejo. But yes, there’s much to fix in this city and I hope Catahoula brings a breath of fresh hope in the air. Maybe you will visit for a cuppa coffee on June 14 when it hosts a farmers market? Then, you’ll get to talk with locals and experience your “local flavor”. Just don’t tell them what you wrote about their city.

  • For the record, I have done pretty extensive driving and walking around Richmond. A few years back I even had the opporutnity to work with some city officials. That’s probably a lot of what drove my impressions of the city so I went back to do some research.

    You are right. Richmond is not bankrupt and I have corrected this above. I was thinking of some articles from a few years ago that discussed Richmond’s potential for bankruptcy surrounding huge city budget shortfalls ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/02/02/BAGOA4MSA61.DTL&hw=richmond+bankruptcy&sn=006&sc=392 ) due to serious financial mismanagement by city officials ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/12/08/BAG5EA7V2539.DTL&hw=richmond+fiscal&sn=008&sc=549 ). It seems that Richmond’s fiscal health has improved in the intervening years ( http://www.contracostatimes.com/search/ci_9408074?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com ).

    You are also right that there are several very affluent sections of Richmond like the Richmond Annex, Point Richmond and Richmond Heights, and crime-wise, Richmond is certainly better off than Oakland. Even if Richmond isn’t quite 9th worst city in the country for crime ( http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/11/18/dangerous.cities.ap/index.html ), I don’t think it can yet shed it’s reputation for high crime ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/20/BA79TFIO3.DTL&hw=richmond+crime&sn=003&sc=285 ). It does seem that Richmond has gotten a little better this past year ( http://www.contracostatimes.com/search/ci_9235740?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com ), but crime stats are notoriously tricky and easy to play with in both directions. I’m willing to go with the preponderance of evidence and say that Richmond is pretty bad, but there are nice parts that probably barely feel the impact of so many terrible losses.

    But I digress, the bottom line of my article, though, is that I hope a place like Catahoula is a sign that things are looking up for Richmond or perhaps a driving force to make them so.

  • Although I can see why fans of Richmond wouldn’t appreciate your crossed out description of the city – having grown up in and around the area – I’d have to agree with the generalization and contend that it’s no jewel of the of the bay area. Actually its more like the floored chewing gum of the bay area that politicians like to sweep under the rug when exposed. There are always million dollar homes in “the hills” and “heights” of rubbish cities. Besides, it takes more than a few nice areas and a street sweeping to better the reputation of a historic city.

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