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Froyo Espresso

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Name: Fraiche
Location: 644 Emerson, Palo Alto, CA
Rating: 4-

I love coffee but have never really been bitten by the sour frozen yogurt bug. My wife, on the other hand, complained about the demise of Dannon’s sour frozen yogurt for years before Pinkberry, Red Mango and countless copycats burst on the scene.  She, unfortunately, doesn’t like coffee. This grim scenario could have required years and countless dollars righting our irreconcilable differences in couples therapy, but fortunately, some friends of ours turned us on to Fraiche. It’s probably better that Fraiche is located almost an hour away. If it weren’t, couples therapy might start to look like a bargain.

Fraiche does sour-frozen yogurt with a true Bay Area twist. They make their own yogurt from scratch – real frozen yogurt, made with local and organic ingredients. The menu also includes fresh, not frozen, yogurt and steel cut oatmeal, with or without yogurt. Like any yogurt place, you can top off your treat with various fruits, nuts, syrups or jams, but these toppings tend to be organic, homemade and/or locally produced. While I’m far from addicted, I could certainly find myself getting into Fraiche’s version of the stuff.

The exterior is really lacking and is almost easily overlooked. I’m not sure what the current banner outside displays, but it’s really unbecoming of the more soothing and inviting interior. The menu is detailed and informative without being overwhelming while the space is functional and attractively designed, offering booths, aluminum deck chairs and one big six person cushy booth by a window.

The part of the business that made me happy, though, was the presence of Blue Bottle Coffee. Fraiche sells bags of Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley Espresso and Bella Donovan Blends, and given the decrease in supply over just three days, it looks like they do a brisk bean sale business. They also do espresso and brewed coffee. They pull their shots from a cute (but powerful) little 2-group La Marzocco GB/5 and drip coffee on a four-station stand with ceramic cone filters. Unfortunately, I feel I under-explored Fraiche’s coffee offerings. On neither trip did I try the drip and I failed to ask whether they also had decaf. I imagine they must have decaf, but they didn’t openly display any bags for sale.

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While their selection is slim, they do a lot with what they have. The shot I had was really quite good and clearly pulled with care. It was freshly ground and staff apparently employ a naked portafilter – which is hard to see from the consumer side of the counter, especially when you have a two and half year old pleading in your ear for yogurt. My shot was topped with a dark, reddish-brown crema of moderate thickness with lots of flecking. The shot exhibited a mellow, orange-like acidity, was full-bodied, had a smokey, molasses finish and went down smoothly. It was a fine rendition of this particular blend.

I wondered a little about the brewing instructions taped onto the drip stand. It’s good to have directions but better if staff don’t need them. It certainly seemed like my barista knew what she was doing. My espresso was very good. While Fraiche has clearly invested in good equipment and quality training, I worry whether a yogurt shop – even a good one with good coffee – can maintain a well-trained staff. That said, if other non-cafes could produce coffee even half this good, the world would be a far better place.

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3 comments to Froyo Espresso

  • Jon

    Nice to see an assessment of that place. It would have been nice to give your wife some keyboard-time and assess the froyo. Anyway, since this is a coffee-centric blog, I’ll chip in my .02 in that direction.

    I was a little bit disappointed at their response to my rather innocuous question: what kind of beans are you brewing? They looked at me like I was missing a few and said, “Blue Bottle”.

    After many tries with different synonyms (what varieties?, what blends? uh, roasts? uhm, what’s the name on the bag?), I either thoroughly threw them off then track or they had no clue from the get-go. Saying simply “Blue Bottle” didn’t do it for me. To get any more detailed I had to come back during the day and ask the shift manager.

    I wish there were more seats. Coffee good. Valrhona chocky good.

  • Stay tuned for womanseekingfroyo (I’m probably kidding, probably). But I think your experience reflects my concern. They aren’t a cafe and with the high turnover a yogurt place will probably experience, I figure the best case scenario is that they’ll be able to maintain the technical expertise to do things well over time. However, I doubt Fraiche will ever have the underlying conceptual understanding about coffee that would allow them to be more than competent coffee technocrats. I just hope I’m wrong.

  • One of the things that Fraiche does, presumably to ensure quality control of their espresso beverages, is to have a dedicated barista per shift. I’ve been there and ordered an espresso only to be told that the barista had just turned off the machine because she had to leave early. I chose a drip instead. The staff there tend to be very open to feedback as well.
    As far as consistency is concerned, I’ve had decent luck, although some people that I know have indicted to me that they have not.

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