Bird Rock Little Italy
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Bird Rock Little Italy

2295 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy

I’ve had good reason to visit Little Italy lately, with Beer Week events at Bottlecraft and the opening of Juniper and Ivy’s casual spinoff The Crack Shack. But most surprising turned out to be a visit to Bird Rock coffee.

That’s because the roaster’s shop was offering La Esmeralda Bosque Geisha coffee on pour over. For 11 dollars a cup.

Most casual coffee drinkers have already dismissed this as lunacy and moved on. Even some enthusiasts may shake their head. A coffee-loving friend recently chided me for dropping seven bucks on a single-origin Kenyan pour over — and that was in midtown Manhattan, where everything goes at a higher cost.

Admittedly, that cup wasn’t worth it. So why would I be willing to spend eleven in San Diego? In a word, geisha. Also known as gesha, a variety of coffee bean that, like most, originated in Ethiopia. But this temperamental bean grows successfully only at higher elevations and in particular climates. As it turns out, the highlands of western Panama are ideal, particularly those of Hacienda la Esmeralda.

For the past decade or so, their Geisha coffee has been prized for its floral and fruity complexity. But its rarity is why Bird Rock calls it one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Demand is high, and its limited supply is sold at auction. This is Esmeralda’s Lot #1, meaning the farm deemed this batch to be its highest in quality. Eight ounces of beans sell at Bird Rock’s cafés for $51 — just over 100 dollars per pound.

Made by the cup. They even got his name right.

So investing eleven to try it seems reasonable enough. Bird Rock offers a couple of options for pour over, using different precise drip-cone methods to make coffee by the cup, as close to perfect as possible.

The barista recommended a Hario V60 drip for La Esmeralda. The Japanese company’s ceramic cone uses spiraling ridges water distributes evenly throughout the coffee grounds. It’s typically a top choice for African coffees, as it allows for the cleanest expression of their fruitier flavors.

Central American coffees don’t typically impart that sort of bright fruitiness, but the Geisha does, which is part of its allure. My first sip proved tart as my palate tried to make sense of the many flavors. Bird Rock’s tasting notes describe them as “sweet stone fruit aromatics, jasmine, honeysuckle, and toffee.”

I encounter tasting notes like this all the time. But with subsequent sips, the florals washed over my palate, sweet and fruity, inviting further sips and rumination. What stood out is how delicate it was. Not weak — there was plenty of flavor in every mouthful. It was refined instead of bold, as you might hope for at such a premium.

I’ve had comparable quality at less than half the price, but this easily rates among the best coffee I’ve tasted and worth a special-occasion sip. This batch was gone quickly, but Bird Rock expects to feature it in greater quantity on or after Thanksgiving weekend.

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