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.