Religion...politics...coffee. Add the caffeinated brew to the list of subjects one ought not discuss in polite company. Opinions on the matter grow hot faster than it takes a barista to make a double latte.
3933 30th Street, North Park
Recent case in point: in the Kelly house we’ve always regarded Caffe Calabria in North Park to be San Diego’s java gold standard. The high-ceilinged restaurant on 30th (a half block north of University) features a pleasing European vibe. In an adjacent room, visible through windows, stands a coffee roaster, 20 feet high and 20 feet long, on which they roast their beans. “Best cup of coffee in town,” Patrick says to anybody who asks (and some who don’t).
1128 25th Street, Golden Hill
I never had cause to argue with my man — not on this subject — until we visited Krakatoa on 25th (near C) in Golden Hill. As cool as Calabria’s Euro-chic look is, Krakatoa may be even cooler. It’s in a little old bungalow hidden behind a bamboo hedge. A wrap-around patio is usually well-populated with Golden Hill’s eclectic mix of people. Inside, carved island art hangs on the deep red walls. After three sips of a small latte ($2.75), I smiled at Patrick and said, “Better than Caffe Calabria.”
He started to say, “Caffe Calabria is the best...”
I interrupted, “You always say that, but do you really know?”
“Well,” his frown morphed into a grin, “no, but it’s pretty darn good.”
“Tell you what,” I suggested, “let’s take a coffee tour. We’ll find the best coffee in town.”
“Love to,” he said, “but we can hardly visit every coffee shop in town.”
“We’ll go to the ones that roast their own beans,” I answered.
3260 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Our first stop was at Dark Horse on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, next to the post office. I asked for a latte, but the ponytailed young barista told me, “We don’t do espresso drinks.” Choices are limited to French press or made-to-order filtered. You get to select your own beans. I tried the Molokai. It was fresh and rich, and I think I tasted the volcanic soil the barista mentioned. But I also tasted an unpleasant burnt flavor on the finish ($3).
2911 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
From Adams Avenue, we popped down to 2911 El Cajon Boulevard, where Coffee & Tea Collective occupies a tall, narrow storefront. I had a single latte ($3.25) and everything about it was near perfection, starting with the pretty heart-inside-a-leaf design the barista drew in the luxurious steamed milk with the poured espresso. And such espresso — deep, rich flavor, no unpleasant bitterness, and a subtle beany-ness I could smell and taste. “Oh, my goodness,” I swooned. “Coffee perfection.”
Patrick grabbed the cup from me. One sip and the skeptical grin left his face. “That’s so good,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had better.”
A few blocks down 30th, just north of University, I ran into Caffe Calabria and plunked down $2.85 for a short latte. It was very good, but even Patrick had to admit that it suffered by comparison to Coffee and Tea Collective. It finished a little bitter. However, Calabria won the foam décor award with a delicate and lovely swan design.
From North Park, we continued down 30th through South Park and into Golden Hill. We were intent on settling the original Krakatoa vs. Calabria debate. In one of those perfect marital moments, we discovered we were both right: Krakatoa uses Caffe Calabria coffee.
1894 Main Street, Barrio Logan
We chuckled about that and continued south through Logan Heights, down to Ryan Bros Coffee at 1894 Main in Barrio Logan. “Life is too short to be bitter,” was the logo on the front of the cup. Yet, my $2.75 single latte was rather bitter, and the steamed milk went flat within a minute. Patrick enjoyed the barrel-vaulted space, with its old-timey carpentry and brick walls.
2619 National Avenue, Barrio Logan
We hit Caffe Moto’s storefront café a few blocks to the west on National Avenue. I enjoyed the thick foam and strong coffee flavor that threatened to cross the line into bitter but never did. It was my second-favorite latte of the day ($3.25).
As far as the Kellys are concerned, we have a new best coffee in town, Coffee and Tea Collective. We’d love to hear what yours is. But let’s not fight about it.