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Man Seeking Coffee 2.0


Trick or…Coffee?

Halloween activities most typically involve costumes, collecting candy or cavorting in the Castro (or the location du jour), but I, unintentionally, managed to associate Halloween with the anniversary of this blog. That’s right. I started writing Man Seeking Coffee two years ago on October 31, 2007. So I’ll start this post by patting myself on the back, saying Happy Birthday to me, and by extending an enormous thank you to all of you.

It boggles my mind to think that I’ve only been writing this blog for two years. In part, my amazement stems from the fact that my obsession with coffee has been going on for much longer, but that’s not the core of it. Mostly I’m amazed by the strides the coffee industry has taken in just the past two years.

In the Beginning

I’ve hardly been blogging since the pioneering days of bad Bay Area coffee you might read about at that venerable institution, Coffee Ratings, and its accompanying blog, The Shot, when the one bright spot was Mr. Espresso. When I started two years ago, Blue Bottle was then a well-established roaster and kiosk-vendor while Ritual was finally coming into its own as a roaster and even beginning to expand, with their Flora Grubb Gardens location. New roasters, such as De La Paz were starting to make their mark, while other high quality roasters, such as Barefoot, Pacific Bay Coffee Company, Ecco Caffe, Flying Goat, and Moksha were thriving, but mostly in the outer reaches of the Bay Area.

The Expanding Bay Area Coffee Roasting Empire

Still, the coffee scene was far from where it is today. Mr. Espresso’s finest coffees were not available at Coffee Bar and Ritual had to yet expand to Napa Market or its current, many wholesale clients. Blue Bottle’s manifest destiny was not yet realized as James Freeman had yet to open the Blue Bottle cafe, Ferry Plaza and SFMOMA kiosks and brand new Jack London Square roasting facility and coffee bar. Blue Bottle also lacked a presence, as it does today, in New York, LA, Tokyo and a number of top-quality bay area restaurants (check “find us” on BB’s website).

The most important change in the last two years, however, may have been the emergence of Four Barrel Coffee, which I watched go from back alley kiosk to store front to fully fledged roaster. While determining true causality can beguile the best of us, it seems hard to deny that Four Barrel’s arrival correlates with a huge growth in the local industry. First is the arrival of highly acclaimed roasters such as Verve, intriguing newcomers such as Scarlett City, and soon-to-be roasting companies such as Sightlass (currently serving Verve). Second is the massive increase in new, wholesale client cafes focused on great cafe design and superior quality coffee.

The March of the Wholesale Clients

In San Francisco, some of the many new wholesale clients include Haus (Ritual and De La Paz), Stable (De La Paz), Epicenter (Barefoot), farm:table (Verve), and Sightglass (which will eventually be roasting). Other wholesale clients worth noting include: Mojo Bicycle Cafe, which switched from Ecco to Ritual and De La Paz; Dynamo Donuts, which focuses on donuts but serves quality Four Barrel; and upgrades at Specialty’s, promising an experience worthy of their Intelligentsia beans.

More exiting for me, given where I live and work, is the recent explosion of wholesale client cafes in the inner East Bay, which include great new spots such as Local 123 (Flying Goat), Subrosa (Four Barrel), Remedy (Ritual), Modern Coffee (Verve and Four Barrel, and a heavy guest rotation) and Cafe 504 (Blue Bottle and Ritual). Of course, these join what are still relative newcomers (within the last two years), such as Awaken (Taylor Made) and 33 Revolutions. This newest wave of wholesale client cafes appear to offer both extremely high quality coffee, more or less on par with what’s come to be expected from their affiliated flagship roasters’ cafes. And, what they can’t match in quality, they typically compensate for in variety, offering coffee from multiple roasters or via a variety of brew methods.

Coffee Elsewhere

While there’s no way I could fully cover the last two year’s of change abroad…er…beyond the Bay Area, I’ve spent too much time on this blog covering that growth not to give it a brief mention. Certainly there is Intelligentsia’s expansion into to LA (1,2), Stumptown’s expansion to New York and Counter Culture Coffee’s increasing saturation up and down the east coast. In part due to the efforts of these three macro-micro roasters, and a handful of others, New York and the greater LA area are hardly the coffee wastelands they were just two years ago. And changes have been happening rapidly in countless other cities across the country, including coffee mainstay cities such as Portland. (I won’t even dare to touch the foreign market.) It’s reached the point where this near-exponential growth is getting difficult to follow.

What’s next for Man Seeking Coffee?

Of course, there’s no shortage of coffee to write about, and given a new job, new school schedule for the kid, and far too many cafes to cover, I’m getting increasingly behind. I hope to get caught up soon, including a collection of reviews from a past trip to the Northeast. I also plan to continue to cover spots further afield, reporting back on coffee from new cities rarely covered and those I’ve been dying to get back to for some time.

More importantly, though, I’m working to make this blog better. In just a few days, Man Seeking Coffee will be closing its doors to begin some much needed upkeep and improvements. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to access everything here while I work behind the scenes. I just wanted to give you the heads up in case things seem a bit more quiet than usual. Stay tuned for further details and I’ll see you on the other side.

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