2619 National Avenue, Barrio Logan
5627 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla
3933 30th Street, North Park
4002 30th Street, North Park
Order coffee in a San Diego café or restaurant, odds are you will be drinking local coffee. In a survey of 60 local businesses, I found about two-thirds of them buy beans from local roasters, most likely long-established brands such as Pannikin offshoot Café Moto, Italian-styled Caffé Calabria, and organic specialist Café Virtuoso. Shops opening within the past two or three years have been increasingly likely to serve third-wavers, most notably Bird Rock, West Bean, and Coffee & Tea Collective.
But as our collective coffee palate grows, some highly regarded artisan roasters from outside the city have begun to turn up. When StreetCar Merchants opened last month in North Park, Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee established its first bona fide outpost here. StreetCar owner Ron Suel refers to Intelligentsia as the “godfather of the third-wave coffee movement.” Indeed, the high-profile purveyor has long since extended its reach to include roasteries in New York and Los Angeles, the latter close enough to easily deliver fresh beans to StreetCar on a twice- and sometimes thrice-weekly basis.
Suel says he considered several local coffees as well as other notable artisan brands, including North Carolina’s influential Counter Culture and San Francisco’s rapidly expanding Blue Bottle. Ultimately, he says the decision came down to Intelligentsia’s “phenomenal coffee” and the “integrity of the brand.” The company doesn’t merely ship beans, it also sent representatives to train StreetCar’s baristas, a requirement to ensure consistent quality of the product through preparation.
This in not an unusual practice for artisan roasters. Award-winning roaster Klatch Coffee, out of L.A. suburb San Dimas, has trained Escondido baristas since Kettle Coffee & Tea opened shop there in 2012. Kettle co-owner Tricia Howerzyl says this kind of support contributed to their decision to go with Klatch, pointing out that, from North County, San Dimas “doesn’t feel that much more out of the area than San Diego.”
Klatch has made a name for itself with superb roasting and pursuit of direct-trade relationships, sometimes co-sourcing beans with Bird Rock and routinely producing highly rated coffee, including the best reviewed of 2014, a 97-point Panamanian Geisha bean Kettle hopes to carry later this winter as it introduces siphon coffee to its menu. Howerzyl says, “With Klatch, we really feel connected to the broader coffee world.”
In the meantime, other notable roasters available for tasting include Portland’s exalted Stumptown, served at Donut Bar, Stevedore’s, and Harbor Breakfast; Vancouver’s 49th Parallel, found at Bean Bar; and Seattle’s Caffé Vita at vegan restaurant Sol Cal.
While Bay Area standouts have yet to find a footing here, it’s likely just a matter of time. Blue Bottle recently established a base in L.A. and highly touted Santa Cruz shop Verve will soon do the same, while another prominent SF brand, Ritual, has “some of [its] best wholesale accounts” there. All professed to have interest in this market. Likewise, a rep from Oakland’s Sightglass says they “would love to develop a following in the San Diego area.”