// It isn't sunshine alone that makes San Diego's coffee and tea culture so fantastic. //
There’s a reason we start the Caffeine Crawl season in San Diego. A lot of the country is layered up and experiencing cabin fever from heavy snowfalls and cold spells. San Diego is out on the surf, sitting outside drinking hoppy beers, and warm sun runs through cafes. We ran into a challenge this year with crazy winds, heavy rains, and freezing temps in the 60s. Yes, 60° is chilly in Sun Diego! The funny thing is it didn’t stop anyone. A few wet socks, parking in large puddles, and rushing from shop-to-shop, but overall a collection of thank yous for a drinking experience combining a Northwest overcast feel with off-the-chart amazing coffee and tea drinks. San Diego, you really are special!
We started further north this Crawl with a North County Crawl on Friday with help from Banana Dang supporting our efforts to make this happen. At Banana Dang, owners Thanh Thanh and Mario greeted us with a whole visual presentation on Puerto Rico’s culture, and their experience on the island starting Banana Dang there. A lot of insight, plus fuel for our bellies with chocolate covered frozen bananas, freshly baked pan de agua served with queso blanco, and dulce de lechosa. That was just the food. We also had Americano-style brews of a Nicaragua and Puerto Rican coffees to sip on.
We had multiple roasters on this portion of the Crawl. Steady State Roasting used a Kenyan coffee of theirs to demonstrate the delicate balance of roasting time with two sample cups for us - one roasted to their measurements and another over roasted. This was also one of the many shared work spaces throughout the weekend. Sleeping Tiger Coffees is located inside Witch Creek Winery. Fallon and her team utilized the space for us with collaboration of drink and chocolate pairings using their Colombia Hacienda El Quebradon coffee, a 9-year-aged Port from Witch Creek, and single-origin Guittard Chocolate from Colombia. Revolution Roasters used one of the biggest variables in producing a good cup of coffee as their focus - water. Explaining their reverse osmosis system (RO) in the shop, and a Guatemala of theirs brewed the same way, but using three different water sources - their RO, Oceanside tap water, and a store bought distilled water. After all samples one after another we were able to discuss the stark differences.
Another multi-use space was Succulent Cafe, which brought beauty in texture and greenery as we were surrounded by raindrops and succulents. The owner, Peter, met us with a blueberry scone from Petite Madeline Bakery paired with their dirty chai. Baba Coffee served up locally sourced drinks with a mint tea from Tea Gallerie, espresso shots from Pannikin Coffee, and a sideshot of beer from Modern Times. Scratch made baked goods accompanied the drinks. The Loose Leaf changed it up with tea on tap opposed to the popular coffee on nitro option. Their mango ceylon was a refreshing hit, and bright comfort from the rain.
If you have time in San Diego, it’s well worth the trip making the drive up the 5 to visit these shops and their shores. A very underrated beverage community nestled against the waves and commuter traffic.
Image on left from InterAmerican Coffee's Instagram page.
Saturday was a true coffee blitz. Six routes took places around San Diego visiting about 20 different locations followed by a lighter two-route Sunday. More of the West Coast’s top roasters hail from San Diego and were part of the weekend magic. We were also privileged enough to have a green coffee importer, InterAmerican Coffee, start everything off. InterAmerican is the premier partner for this Crawl, and opened their beautiful co-op facility to a coffee cupping (which is not easy to pull off on a Crawl). Costa Rica coffee, a natural and honey-process, were on the cupping table. Many Crawlers commented that they had no idea about this role in the coffee process that an importer plays.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters balanced our crowd and the Women’s March perfectly with the Bird Rock coffee roots, and what makes a good coffee from sourcing to getting it to your cup. Chuck and team brewed three origins of theirs that differed a lot by location and style - Sumatra, Panama Geisha and Ethiopia Washed - and we were allowed to fill our cups to compare as we pleased. Torrey at Cafe Moto demoed the Pashley mobile nitro cart inside their impressive roasting space. Plus, we were welcomed with espresso tastings extracted at different temperatures. Cafe Virtuoso Coffee Roasters had coffee and snacks for us, and walked us through their roasting process. Savannah led us with a visual reference of coffee beans representing the roasting stages. Ryan Bros. Coffee also brought out their taps for us. They had a variety of cold brew nitros for us to sample from a Mexican coffee, a green coffee cold brew with mint, and a dirty chai.
In addition, Ryan Bros. hosted our Sunday morning Meet-N-Greet before the day’s routes started. We were joined with a variety of healthy organic juices from Suja Juice, oatmeal from Earnest Eats, and coffee from our host. Reps from all purveyors, Jason from Caffeine Crawl, and Rigo from Cafe Virtuoso met with guests.
As mentioned the rain was a hurdle, and Industrial Grind Coffee swiftly shifted locations for us to stay dry at their University Ave. location (Hillcrest) with gluten free pastries, and three different brew methods of their Brazil for us to taste while the roaster, Nyle, discussed this coffee with us. We all went onward with a sample to brew at home. Caffe Calabria Coffee gave us a peek of their green coffee awaiting roasting and showed us the roasting space soon after we selected either a blended cold brew, or shot of a single-origin Ethiopian espresso.
Many of San Diego shops had impressive spaces, but Modern Times Beer & Roastery lived up to their namesake - beer and coffee! We explored the facility and sipped on a nitro signature coffee drink with coconut and almond milk. Dane Coffee Roasters set up at Simply Local with another layer of local collaboration with Nibble Chocolate and cold crew mocktails using Dane’s Guatemala infused with a Madagascar vanilla, and citrus juices. Another interesting chocolate and Guatemale coffee combo was Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. They had brew samples of their Guatemala Valle de Volcanos and an Eclipse Chocolate espresso toffee.
There were several other shops proud to showcase local roasting gems. The crew at Heartwork Coffee Bar used a James Coffee blend of Ethiopia and Guatemala that they serve, and sampled it hot and cold for us. It was great hearing the history of their business and their place in the Mission Hills neighborhood. Pop Pie Co. also uses James, and Brandon created a coffee mocktail for us using their coffee paired with a slice of cherry pop pie. For those ending their Crawl route there, we took advantage of ordering from their pot pie menu. Heartsleeves Coffee uses Swell Coffee, and tucks in a lot of good merch and vibes in a small Little Italy corridor with their neighbor businesses inches away. Brandi and her whole team was there to share the two drinks they created for us - a honey sweetened cold brew and a Peru from Swell. Better Buzz Coffee served up two different cold brews, one on nitro, and some shared plates of eats while sharing information on their multiple locations and roasting practices.
Dual usage spaces Moniker Coffee and Tech Outfitters also offer locals drinks and services in other areas. Moniker is in Liberty Station, and carries handcrafted furniture and accessories, plus transforms to an event space. We learned about the space and their coffee relationship with Copa Vida while enjoying with a brew of a blend from Copa Vida and an iced chai latte. Tech Outfitters is completely set up to handle your tech needs and wants. I don’t think I’ve been to another place in the country that you can get such a great coffee drink and get your Smartphone serviced. We had three different coffees all from separate SD roasters brewed on the Chemex - The West Bean, Cafe Virtuoso, and Manzanita Roasting Angie at Tabac Coffee & Cigars served a traditional Turkish coffee in a demitasse along with baklava on our Crawl visit.
We also explored roasters outside San Diego on participating shops. Father and son owned shop, Hawthorn Coffee, uses Santa Cruz roaster Cat & Cloud. They showcased a Ethiopia both hot and cold along with a snack mix. It was great to see this new space. Also new is Communal Coffee that shares space with Native Poppy. Jen of Communal had a wide variety of coffee drinks and palate exploration waiting for us. All Sightglass coffees out of San Francisco. A sample bag of Colombia was available for us to take home after a Rwanda, Honduras and espresso blend, then two signature drinks - lavender honey latte and a rose vanilla late - one on the menu and a test drink. She wasn’t done with us until we had comfy pieces of toast and toppings. Jason at Bean Bar visited with us as he brewed 49th Parallel, out of Vancouver, Wanderlust Blend. Two different routes joined together to end at Halcyon for a Thai coffee using Katz Coffee from Houston, and happy hour specials to choose from. Our team warmed up by the outdoor heaters with early dinner along with several fellow Crawlers that traveled from LA for the day’s events.
San Diego continues to excel with their beverage scene. A lot of hospitality, and a common link was the number of shared working spaces. A good mix of tiny neighborhood shops and large, high ceiling facilities.
A big thanks to the sponsors listed above and San Diego Coffee Network, Boxo Coffee, Ally Coffee, and Barista Magazine. Also, to our fabulous local tour guide assistants, Pia Piscitelli, James Coyle, Raymond Reyes, and Scott MacBride. We look forward to planning for 2018.