Saturday, April 30, 2011

San Francisco Barefoot Ritual

Our view of San Francisco
Picture by Brad Guzman
San Francisco is famous. Famous because of the Golden Gate and because of Alcatraz; from pop-culture and from politics; for food and for coffee. I love San Francisco, and that is why on my road-trip through California last week we stopped in Baghdad by the Bay. Twice.

Salem is rainy. And this spring in particular, the sun seems a bit more shy than usual. The weeks ticked by with only occasional sightings. Of course, these sightings made us drop what we were doing, don t-shirts, run outside, and stand blinking up at the sky. But I was getting impatient and the grass looked greener in the Golden State. Thus, a road trip was planned. And, by planned, I mean we jumped into a car and started driving South... and then two hours into that drive we all pulled out our smartphones and started to map out our trip. It looked like this: four friends, five days, six beaches, seven cities, and two thousand miles - stopped whenever we wanted to, saw whatever was interesting, and stayed wherever we could.

My illustrious traveling companions were the following: James (Games) Hamer - Mafia master, gaming guru, and programing prodigy. Bradley Guzman – our soon-to-be-dreadlocked photographer extraordinaire, and Brent Hayes – Europe adventurer, professional barista, and the brother of yours truly. The trip was amazing – filled with dangerous detours, cliffs and high-tides, excellent food and awful, cheeky characters and sea monster or two.

But, that tale is for another time. And perhaps for another blog. What I want to do here is give you a review of two third-wave coffee shops we visited under the shadow of the Golden Gate: Ritual and Barefoot.

Like so many of the best roasters I know, I was introduced to Ritual by Barista. Not by a barista, but by Barista – Billy Wilson's Portland based coffee shop. This is one of my favorite places of all time. They pull three different coffees by three different roasters as espresso at the same time. And they rotate their selection often, which means many trips to Portland and three macchiatos in a row for me. I've always been impressed whenever one of the baristas at Barista pulled me a shot from Ritual. And I was very excited visit Ritual Coffee Roasters in person.

Ritual's pour over bar
Photo by Eat Love Drink
Super fun space, simple menu, single origin coffee choices, good music. The place was packed, and I happily waited in line enjoying the whole scene. I ordered a single origin macchiato and a pour over. While waiting I tried to strike up some nerdy coffee conversation with the barista preparing my pour over on a custom-built bar filled with V-60s, but was quickly shut down. Sad face. But I shrugged it off, as the shop was busy, and wrote it off as bad multi-tasking. Hurrying over to my table with my two drinks and a water, I quickly snapped a picture and took a sip of my macchiato. Frowny face. Over extracted. I took a sip of my pour over. Meh face. Alright, but not what I was expecting.

Now, I'm not in a hurry to shelve Ritual Coffee Roasters because I got a couple mediocre drinks. In fact, I know they are capable of roasting a mean single origin. This just goes to show how rare exceptional coffee is, and how easy it is to mess it up. If any piece of the puzzle – from growing, to harvesting, to processing, to transporting, to roasting, to (in this case) extracting – if any piece is slightly out of place, what you have in your cup is no longer extraordinary.

I would still recommend a visit to Ritual if you're in San Francisco. Their reputation for producing face-melting coffee should not be trumped by one bad experience. They're doing a lot of things well.

My good friend and fellow coffee-nerd, Stephen Davis is a big fan of Barefoot Coffee Roasters. He's the reason I started getting into these guys. He brought a bag to my house and we brewed it up on the Chemex back in the day. Beautiful. Beautiful enough to make me want to drive a few hundred miles to visit the source.

I was surprised by the location of Barefoot's retail coffee bar. My phone led me off the highway, down the ramp, along a palm tree-lined road, into a U-turn, and straight to a... strip mall? Yup. A strip mall. Despite being located in a strip mall, they did a nice job with the interior, which was quite pleasant.

Barefoot's bar
Photo by Coffee Geek
Barefoot was also bustling with people. Each barista would greet a customer and stick with them until drink was delivered – an enjoyable and slightly more personal approach. I ordered a macchiato (only one drink this time as we were pressed for time). Smiley face. Sweet and complex. Not absolutely mind-blowing, but very solid nonetheless. I meandered over to the pour over bar and tried once again to strike up a nerdy coffee conversation. Success! The barista was friendly and fairly knowledgeable, and we geeked out for a couple minutes before I had to bid farewell to my Barefoot experience.

Next time you're down in the San Francisco area, I'd recommend a trip to Barefoot. They're doing some solid work.

It's too bad that I had so little time in San Francisco, since there are so many other roasters and shops that I wanted to visit. Oh, well. That will give me something to look forward to on my next road trip.

Questions for discussion:
1. Have you had coffee from Ritual or Barefoot? What did you think?
2. What else in the coffee scene is worth visiting in San Francisco?


Jesse Hayes said...

Allow me to be the first to comment...

1. Yes. To see what I thought read this really neat blog post called, well, you know.
2. Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, Sight Glass, Ma'velous

Stephen Davis said...

Here's the iPhone app of San Francisco's best coffeehouses:

Good variation and color coded map.

lance said...

Good stuff Jesse. I have never had coffee in San Francisco but you did make me want to go try it out.