Matthew Lickona 1:15 p.m., May 22
My roommate asked me if I had been to COFFEE yet.
"That new place on El Cajon," he said. "It just says "COFFEE" on the wall."
Sure enough, that's the signage for the Coffee and Tea Collective, a combination coffee shop/arts and crafts gallery.
In addition to the short menu of coffee and tea, the walls of the shop are covered with random stuff like leather goods and used bicycle frames, all of which is for sale. Seating is pretty minimal and the aesthetic definitely reflects an art gallery more than a coffee store. Still, there's WiFi up for grabs and the sleek, minimalist decor appeals to a certain sense of urban hipness that might classify the noisome atmosphere in a conventional coffee shop as just "way too Nineties."
There's no denying that the Coffee and Tea Collective is uber-serious about taking caffeination to the next level. Beans are roasted at the back of the shop and the menu is limited to the preparations that the men behind the counter deem worthy. They have a lever-operated espresso press, which is undoubtedly the best way to pull a shot of coffee, and drip coffee, knowingly referred to as "pour over" is only produced one cup at a time with special ceramic filter cones that incorporate a vortex-like design to ensure optimum coffee brewing.
If this sounds pompous, it's because it most certainly is, though not undeservedly.
I tried the pour over coffee and it was, undoubtedly, one of the best cups of coffee I've had in a long, long time. The flavor was intricate and subtle without a hint of the phenolic compounds that mar inferior coffee.
For $3, it was cheaper than a fancy latte at most coffee houses and equally, if not more, satisfying.
I was given the option of having a little milk in the coffee, if I wanted it, but it was obvious that would be the wrong answer. That's going to rub some people the wrong way. The idea that the coffee shop knows coffee better than the patrons makes a lot of sense if you stop to think about it, but we aren't really used to being sold to with that approach outside of certain niche industries like wine. And coffee isn't wine.
That's not to say that coffee can't be approached like wine; with considerations made for terroir and varietals. Some places have tried to do so, but have been mostly perceived as a bit of a hipster joke. The Coffee and Tea Collective is probably the most legitimate effort I've yet seen to treat coffee like wine.
The shop is hosting a grand opening party tonight from 5-10 PM. The MIHO truck will be there to dish out some food and there will be drinks from Hess Brewing.
2911 El Cajon Boulevard