A small coffee startup, Spokane Washington style.
809 Thomas Avenue, San Diego
Pacific Beach got a new coffee shop in July. Actually, it’s more of a shack. California Bean sits in the parking lot of bar/restaurant The Local Pacific Beach, with a partial ocean view and a small strip of asphalt to serve walk- and drive-thru customers. The tiny shop is owned and operated by Morgan Fransk, a 14-year San Diego resident who’s worked as a bartender and barista while saving up to start her own thing.
“I always thought about buying a coffee shop,” Fransk says, “but a lot of people don’t give you business loans, so I had to pay for this a little at a time.” She found the used trailer for sale in Colorado via Craigslist, estimating it cost her a relatively low-budget $20,000 to buy and ready it for limited to-go coffee service — primarily espresso drinks and small baked goods.
“Up in the Northwest these little coffee shops are everywhere, on every block,” says Fransk, who grew up in Spokane, Washington. “They’re just drive-thrus, not walk-ups.”
It was while working in one of these shops that she came across a unique offering that makes California Bean stand out: white coffee.
Not white coffee in the milky, flat white sense. This white coffee consists of underdeveloped beans — whereas most espresso beans are roasted dark, these are roasted extremely light, even by third-wave standards.
Fransk gets all her beans from Spokane roaster Thomas Hammer, which offers a full variety of coffees and calls this unusual one White Zombie. The official description on the Hammer website suggests White Zombie for people who “would like a little extra jolt of caffeine and don’t care for the taste of coffee.”
White coffee beans yield a nutty-flavored drink that bears little resemblance to traditional coffee, yet possesses about 30 percent more caffeine. Actually, Fransk doesn’t suggest drinking a straight shot of white coffee. Instead she offers it mixed with a twist on hot-beverage standards, including a ginger latte and a coconut-milk chai. “I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in San Diego that has it,” she says.
Indeed, there’s little to compare it to locally. Café Virtuoso roaster Stephan Vonkolkow says, “I tried playing with it once.” Though he professes limited experience with it, he recalls it “Smells like peanut butter” and is “really hard on coffee grinders.”
Matt Delarosa, co-founder of Ironsmith Coffee, says he’s heard about white coffee but hasn’t encountered it in his travels to some of the West Coast’s top coffee destinations. “I haven’t experimented with underdeveloping my own coffees,” he says, adding, “I roast specifically to obtain full development in all my coffees. It’s where I believe coffee showcases its full potential.”
It’s not exactly specialty coffee, but Fransk says California Bean is not out to offer specialty coffee. “It’s kind of like an In-N-Out,” she says. “Just simple, good coffee.”
And white coffee. And maybe in the future, a granita machine she wants to use to make coffee slushies.