Archive for February, 2013

Roaster Roundup: De La Paz Acquired by Four Barrel

When I interviewed Jason Benford of De La Paz Coffee Roasters in San Francisco for Left Coast Roast, we talked among saw horses. At the time—way back in early 2011—the company was planning to open a new cafe modeled on a nieghborhood bar—lots of counter stools, no obvious place to stand in line, lots of wood. As the book went to the print, we ended up pulling out a few sentences that described the space. De La Paz was running way behind schedule and it hadn’t opened yet. (It’s never good form to write about something that hasn’t happened yet in a book, our most permanent of literary forms—well, after petroglyphs).

Fast forward to early 2013. De La Paz still hasn’t opened a cafe, though they have been roasting coffee out of the half-finished SOMA-neighborhood space for the last two years, and have a cart out front. I was puzzled as to why until I stumbled on this recent article from Eater SF. Turns out Benford was trying to juggle two businesses, coffee and woodworking, and it was just too difficult to do both. Instead of let De La Paz go belly-up, though, he approached the folks at Four Barrel about a friendly takeover. Here’s more:

Four Barrel owners Jeremy Tooker, Jodi Geren, and Tal Mor…are planning to build out a new cafe in the company’s Mission St. roastery. Geren spoke to us about the Four Barrel group’s plans for their newest acquisition: “We want [De La Paz] to be a side project that’s different from Four Barrel, and focused on a different kind of coffee. While Four Barrel is focused on single-origin coffees, De La Paz will be focused on blends…we’re really excited to do this other kind of coffee, that focuses on sweetness and body.” … The Four Barrel team’s next task is building out a cafe in the De La Paz roastery, a project Benford had already embarked upon with Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture, but had yet to complete.

So, another exciting project from Four Barrel, which is just on a roll these days.

LA Coffee Tour: G+B

Two weeks ago, I spent a whirlwind 36 hours drinking coffee in Los Angeles. Coffee touring is well-matched to a sprawling place like LA, an excuse to ramble around a strange city with purpose. Part of being enamored with LA’s coffee scene, I know, was just having a “way in” to a place that otherwise feels mostly incomprehensible to me (strip malls? everywhere?). The longer I’m attached to it, the more I’m forced to concede that coffee is a club, with it’s own coded language and markers of belonging. But in a foreign place, it’s wonderful to have symbols to lean against.

The Angelenos have been gunning for the mantle of “hottest coffee city” for a while now. Perhaps it was all the sunshine, but I may be ready to concede them the title. With only a day and half, I didn’t get to a fraction of the places on my list (there are so many!). Those I did visit charmed me immensely. My undisputed favorite was G+B.


It took me almost half hour to unlock the mysteries of the food menu at G+B’s patron-partner, the inspired SQIRL, and get down to the task of ordering coffee. I couldn’t do it on my own. Instead, Charles Babinski (he of the “B”),  gently escorted me out of my helplessness to an order of brussels sprouts with egg and toast with “blubarb” jam. (I’ll get back to those in a minute.) I asked him to recommend something special in the drinks department, something I would be unlikely to find elsewhere. He was gracious in his reply: “We pride ourselves on doing the regular things really well.”

Pure, yes, but not puritanical.

So nothing fizzing or foaming, or called “Geisha.” At G+B, there are scales and refractometers, but they’re refreshingly out of sight.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not above gimmicks. But Babinski and his partner, Kyle Glanville, achieve magic without them. They manage to be pure without being puritanical. Ferreting out the best coffee, from a predictably small list of roasters around the country, they take time with each to find exactly where it sings. Each coffee they serve is served only one way—the way they can make it maximally delicious. Heart‘s Ethiopia Yukro was the best cold brew I’ve ever had (“Really?” asked Babinski, as if sad for me). It’s a bright coffee to start, and the refreshing citrus came through loud as a bell on ice, but then it resolved into a syrupy caramel that ran to the end of the block and back.

In the “different” department, Babinksi did acquiesce a bit and steer me to their almond milk cappuccino (the nut milk is made in-house). I loved it, but to really do the drink justice you’d have to rename it. Call it amandine, or anything to keep people from dismissing it as an ersatz substitute, when really it’s a whole new thing. Almonds are an especially oily nut; when soaked in water before being ground, the oils pass easily into the water to make “milk”. It went together with espresso in a masculine way, emphasizing its heavier, folksier qualities. If a regular cappuccino is dreamily looking up at clouds, the almond-milk version is hands-stuffed-in-your-pants-staring-at-a-country-road. The nut milk had an earthy sweetness, thinner than cow’s milk but heavier on the tongue, with just a touch of grit. Unusual for a coffee drink, it was actually thirst-quenching—like horchata, but without the teeth-numbing sweetness. (The espresso was Epic, from 49th Parallel.)

In conversation, Glanville mentions that they are toying with the idea of pre-sweetening lattes for those who want them that way. Think Dunkin’ Donuts: “Two milks, one sugar.” Despite the protestations of coffee purists, 95% of people that buy a latte put sugar in it. “So why don’t we determine the optimal sweetness of a drink and do it for you?” asks Glanville. It’s a fine question.

Perhaps I loved G+B so much because coffee isn’t even the main attraction. That honor goes to Jessica Kaslow’s SQIRL—a sort of magic workshop where small bites are transfigured into big flavors. Toasts, jams, “two-faced” sandwiches, and bowls of veggies. I have never had a better bowl of Brussels sprouts. The blubarb (blueberry rhubarb) jam was sweet for my taste, but still made a fine duvet for a thick, pillowy slice of bread.

If you don’t like affogado because you think it’s an affront to coffee, I don’t want to be your friend.—Babinski

Kaslow lends space to G+B (it’s kind of a “pop up”) but their contract is up in April. The tenuousness of the project is unquestionably part of its charm—the whole thing feels of a particular moment. Even the space has the feel of serendipity and impermanence. Pure, but not puritanical. It doesn’t look like a typical cafe—if anything, it reads more like a New York lunch counter. It’s narrow and cobbled together. The geometrical blue paint is chipping, the metal shelves behind the bar are cluttered. There are no tables, anywhere. Inside are two small counters where you can take a stool and assume the position of a regular. Outside, on a shaded patio, it feels otherwordly. Svelte birds preen, perching their plates and drinks and bangles on too few, too small stools. Eating in the sun? Makeup for breakfast? Bracelets? I’m not from a sunny, sophisticated place—it’s all too romantic. I love it.

Babinski and his partner, Kyle Glanville, were stoic about what might come next. Possibly, an extension of the lease. They are looking for permanent cafe space, but G+B has proven more successful than they envisioned. Whatever it is, I’m in.




10 Questions with Entimos Coffee Roasters

Entimos Coffee Roasters is a collaboration between Matt Dittemore and Tim Tubra. Northwesterners by birth and by inclination (they were both steeped in Portland’s coffee culture in the early 2000s), they now call Sacramento home.  Matt and Tim began as home roasters (Matt in 2002, and Tim in 2009), but after exchanging notes and critiquing each others’ coffees, they began to collaborate.

"We'd kill for good coffee."

“We’d kill for good coffee.”

“I began this competition between myself and the coffee I was roasting,” says Tubra, “I wasn’t satisfied until I knew I’d found the perfect profile.” Friends and family took notice and began placing orders. With enthusiastic encouragement from their community, the duo formed Entimos in 2011 and began their fledgling business.

For now, Entimos is a tiny, roast-to-order operation. In addition to a small slate of individual coffees for sale online, customers can also sign up for three-month subscriptions, with coffee delivered once or twice a month. As a small operation, they roast only once a week and regularly update their website with their offerings. (Subscribers can expect to see 4-5 different coffees over the course of three months, so there are some repeats.) Beans are always shipped within 24 hours of roasting.

But there is at least one place you’ll soon be able to grab a cup of “the divine draught” on a Sunday morning—at the church where Dittemore serves as a pastor. He’s sharing the gospel of coffee with his congregation: “We are just starting to serve Entimos at the church. We want it to be a true representation of what our coffee is. We are in the process of changing over the equipment—it was pretty bad—which involves training the wonderful volunteers that make it in the morning.”

Might they expand in the future and consider a retail shop? It’s probably a long ways off. “We know that starting and running a retail space would be a large undertaking,” says Tubra. “Our focus is very much in roasting great coffee and we want to keep that our main priority.”

Twitter: @entimoscoffee

10 Questions 

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

The same bean roasted one day will taste different the next; from one brew method to another it will develop subtleties in flavor. There is no single cup that is the “best” coffee. This is what makes coffee so exceptional. One of our main goals is to help educate consumers about the differences between origins and assist them in recognizing different characteristics in each cup. While we enjoy a good blend, single origins are our main focus right now.

Diedrich IR-1What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

We roast on a one-of-a-kind, white Diedrich. When we started we tried several different roasters but ultimately fell in love with this machine. It gives us full control over both airflow and gas pressure, important determinants of the roast profile. Apart from producing phenomenal coffee, it’s just so gorgeous to look at.

How would you describe your roasting style?

Knowing that it’s possible to roast a Kenyan and a Colombian very “dark” and have them taste essentially the same, we tend toward the lighter end of the spectrum. We want to give our customers a taste that showcases the particulars of each coffee’s origin and the farmers who grew and processed it.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve roasted: Where did it come from? How did you roast it? What most excited you about it?

Tasting Wrecking Ball's Kenya GatugiSeveral months ago we roasted a coffee from Nyeri, Kenya. It was processed at the Gatomboya co-op wet mill in Mathira, Nyeri. After dropping the beans into the roaster, we gradually brought up the heat. Just before first crack, we charged the temperature. We finished the roast just after first crack. It made a very delicious drip that was full of strawberries, but the single origin espresso that came from that bean was out of this world. We miss that coffee a lot!

What does Entimos mean?

Entimos is an English transliteration of a Greek word that carries the connotation of “esteemed,” “honored,” “held in high regard,” and “valued.” It encapsulates much of what we want our coffee to be. Being a student of the Bible, Greek is a language I [Matt] love. I took several years of French in high school but I don’t remember much of it—and “honoré” doesn’t have the same ring.

Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?  We have a mausoleum of coffee brewing devices and it seems like our preferences change all the time. If we had to pick one “go to” method right now? It would be a lovely pour over in a Chemex using Able Brewing’s Gold Kone.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Sacramento?

Without a doubt, we love the fact that it is growing.  For a long time, San Francisco was the closest place to get good coffee.  Specialty coffee has exploded in Sacramento in the last few years. The sense of community between roasters and coffee shops has been awesome. It is a privilege to be a part of it.

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster? The worst?

Hearing the positive responses from those who drink our coffee. Seeing people enjoy the coffee experience as much as we do is phenomenal. Being a part of the coffee community and experiencing the camaraderie there has been very fulfilling. How could there be a “worst thing”? We are doing what we love!

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Tim enjoys beats like RJD2 and Matt occasionally gets down with any kind of bluegrass. It just depends on which one of us is roasting.

Finally—and I’m dying to hear this—what’s the story behind that awesome photo of you being arrested for brewing coffee?

Tim: We wanted to enter the Able Xtreme Kone contest [a competition for the best brewing recipe for the Able Kone filter, along with a photo of Kone brewing that is “extreme, creative, and extremely creative”]. We thought it would be a killer idea to have a picture of us being arrested for brewing coffee. After many failed attempts to stage a photo with our buddy who is a police officer, we had all but given up on the idea. I [Tim] was driving home just an hour before the contest deadline. I was stopped at a light and looked to my right and saw the officer. I rolled down my window, got his attention and asked if he had 15 minutes to spare and wouldn’t mind taking a photo with me and my buddy for this coffee contest. He obliged and I had him follow me to Matt’s house. Hilarity ensued. Matt’s neighbors couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Matt: I was almost asleep when I got a frantic call from Tim informing me that he was three minutes from my house and had an officer following him. He told me to get dressed and get my Chemex and Kone FAST! Leave it to Tim to convince a cop to follow him somewhere in the middle of the night to pose for a picture.

Coffee + Sustainability panel recap

On January 21, I was honored to moderate a panel discussion at San Francisco’s famed Ferry Building about a vexing topic: “Coffee and Sustainability.”Joining me were Chris Bacon, an environmental social scientist at Santa Clara University and co-author of Confronting the Coffee Crisis; Steven Vick, quality control manager at Blue Bottle Coffee Co.,; and Colby Barr, co-owner of Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz and a winner of two Good Food Awards in 2013.

A recap of the panel, including full audio of the conversation and audience questions-and-answers, is live over on the CUESA website now.

I’ll also be writing my own recap for Sprudge (hopefully live sometime next week). Here are just a few nuggets from the CUESA recap, but there’s plenty more to come:

Certification itself isn’t a guarantor of sustainability, but it sets up criteria that move us closer to sustainability. —Chris Bacon

The farmer and consumer are most important [in the supply chain], and they’re the most disconnected geographically and emotionally. […] To have longevity, you need to have a relationship, and to have a relationship, you have to pay farmers well. —Colby Barr

A big part of it for us is to calibrate with the farmers and say, ‘This is what we’re looking for, this is how we roast coffee, and this is what we’re going to pay more money for. It really empowers the farmer to know what their quality is so that they can demand the right price. —Stephen Vick