Most cities in the country, or the world for that matter, are not as blessed as cities such as Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco (er…the Bay Area). Most cities simply do not possess a plethora of truly excellent coffee roasters such as we do. But we shouldn’t feel too superior to these lesser regions since even coffee’s greatest metropolitan areas were once piss poor places in which good coffee was a rarity. Our blessed and truly gifted status is due to the efforts of one or two powerhouse roasters that set the tone, advanced the agenda and spawned progeny capable of moving coffee forward. Instead, we should embrace and uplift our less fortunate cousins. Let’s recognize those roasters most capable of moving coffee forward and applaud their heroic, if not sometimes seemingly Sisyphean efforts.
Case in point: Caffe Calabria, a stalwart steward interested in upping the quality of coffee in a city which apparently enjoys too much sunshine to give serious thought to the need for caffeinated beverages. That’s not to say that the coffee scene in this classy city isn’t changing. Relative new kid, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and their clients, may be worth checking out and Perks Coffee Shop in the UCSD bookstore serves coffee by Bay Area Roaster, Barefoot. But credit for any progress in San Diego is likely due to the efforts of Caffe Calabria, which has been pushing coffee for a number of years and has remained the one consistent spot mentioned across any coffee boards when considering a visit to this sunny city.
I finally finagled my way to Caffe Calabria with the assistance of a colleague. I was happy to find that the space was absolutely enormous, offered wifi and a really delicious selection of house-sliced (but not cured) salami. The Italian theme was neither original nor particularly well executed, but the cafe worked perfectly as a mobile office that was airy, spacious, nutritious and delicious.
The espresso option at Calbria involves shots of the self-reflectively named “Calabria” blend as pulled by a barista on an enormous, four group La Marzocco Linea. My shot was sweet and honey-like, very mellow with notes of chocolate. It was well-rounded with just a touch of orange citrus brightness. Good enough to inspire me to buy some to take home. (3+)
Filter coffee options include a rotating Fetco-brewed coffee or your choice of several beans prepared as either a one or three-cup French Press. I really appreciate the a single-cup brew to order option. I only wish I had liked my Ethiopia Yergacheffe better. It wasn’t bad, mind you – just lacking. I noted some slight, but indistinguishable floral notes, and it had a nice leathery/tobacco tone, but the coffee lacked acidity and was overwhelmed by a heavy roast that was either too dark for the coffee, or necessary given less than top quality green coffee. This cup of coffee brought to mind a Blue Bottle Yerg I had back at Caffe Luxxe. In a way this is fitting. While Blue Bottle is distinct from Calabria in any number of ways, I think they happen to fill a very similar role in their respective cities’ coffee development. (3-)
It wasn’t until after my eating and drinking that I noticed there was much more to this cafe than meets than the eye. Off to one side is the forbidden roaster zone, where you can watch the highly skilled roaster people run around in their glass room roasting coffee.
Through the swinging glass doors in back is an entire other shop. Dimly lit, with modern couches and glowing Nuova Simonelli Aurelia espresso machines is the shop for buying beans and equipment and, I imagine, demoing coffee and equipment to clients. The staff here, perhaps due to the dimness of the lights, seem cooler and move with greater authority. I purchased some beans and left quickly for fear of loosing the sunny disposition I would soon have to hand in as I departed from the San Diego airport.