Coffee Bar: An Update that is Long Overdue

Name: Coffee Bar
Location: 1890 Bryant Street (Mariposa and Florida), San Francisco, CA
Rating: 4-

I first stepped into Coffee Bar back in April, but that visit fell at the end of a long day of coffee drinking. I found myself, at the time, too caffeinated to explore this cafe’s coffee offerings and was left promising a return visit at the end of this preliminary review. Fortunately, an opportunity to finish the job finally presented itself during my folks’ most recent visit. We found ourselves in the city with the need to kill a couple of hours and Coffee Bar seemed like the perfect spot. I finally was able to make that long overdue reunion.

Without spending too much time recapping the details covered in that earlier review it does bear repeating that Coffee Bar is a well-designed, industrial-modern café that is really a pleasant place to be. You have the option of sitting inside on some attractive, modern-yet-functional-and-comfortable furniture or outdoors on some bright red picnic tables. There is also a fairly extensive menu including sandwiches, salads, small plates, delicious pastries and a sizable selection of wines. On weekends, the café also transforms into restaurant Radio Africa. I can’t speak for the food, but the menu looks quite good. You’ll certainly also be able to find a very nice cup of coffee.

One thing that pushes Coffee Bar to the top of the pack in San Francisco is the terrific range of coffee choices that they offer. You can: order one of two different brewed coffees; have the barista pull either single origin – typically their Kenyan AA – or traditional – Mr. Espresso’s Neopolitan blend – shots on their 3-group Faema e91 Ambassador; or select from 4-5 different single origin coffees that the barista will brew for you on their Clover.

While they don’t offer a carafe of freshly brewed decaf, they can prepare you a cup on the Clover or make an Americano for you. I tasted my father’s Decaf Americano, which was sufficiently strong, very fresh and even still had a ring of crema remaining in the cup. It was dark and sweet without just a touch of brightness.  While not amazing, it was so wonderfully prepared, it made me reconsider the power of a darkly roasted decaf.

Despite the fact that Coffee Bar’s rendition of Mr. Espresso’s Neopolitan espresso would probably be a top-notch benchmark by which I could calibrate future tastings of this coffee, I’m a sucker for single origin espresso so I ordered the Kenyan instead. It had an even, if somewhat thin, layer of golden crema which I’m guessing had more do to with the coffee than the preparation given the high level of skill I observed. The shot was bright without a lot of bottom notes, moderately sweet, a little smoky, and had some hints of black pepper. This medium-bodied shot with just the faintest hint of a syrupy mouthfeel was good but does display some of the shortcomings of a single origin espresso.

I had greater success with their Colombian La Serrania Huila brewed on the Clover. It made a very tangy, very clean cup of coffee with a medium body. It had notes of kaffir lime and dark, black tea, like an Assam.  The coffee wasn’t particularly sweet and had hints of a mellow woody quality like the oak flavor imparted to wine by the cask. This coffee was a very nice selection from the lighter end of Mr. Espresso’s roasting spectrum although I would like to see what this coffee could do if roasted just a bit lighter.

Overall, Coffee Bar is a pretty smashing success. The cafe has variety, atmosphere, skill and quality. The baristas can also clearly maximize the potential from the Mr. Espresso coffee that is for obvious reasons used (see my previous review). I’m not giving Coffee Bar a full 4, however, because I find Mr. Espresso’s coffee darker than I typically like coffee roasted. The roast is still a far cry from Peet’s or Starbucks, but Mr. Espresso is, on average, a shade darker than either Blue Bottle or De La Paz, two roasters whose coffees I put at the darkest end of my personal coffee roasting spectrum. So, in the end, it comes down to a matter of personal taste. If you like darker coffees, you’ll love Coffee Bar. If not, it still has a whole lot to offer.

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