Archive | Cafe Seen

Café Hapa: Bikini Bar Now Open

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess

Cierra at right, and Kat are two baristi on duty regularly at the new Café Hapa, located at the corner of Sports Arena Blvd. and West Point Loma Blvd. The Vietnamese-themed lounge is staffed by a crowd of well dressed women and they’re gaining business daily.

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Saint Jacques Chocolat Meets Caffé Calabria in Old Town

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


The beauty of Saint Jacques Chocolat is that it’s smooth. It’s not too rich, sweet, overpowering or the usual run-of-the-mill, over-the-top stuff you might find elsewhere. Enjoyed alone, the chocolates are enticing, with a fine finish and long aftertaste. Paired with Caffe Calabria’s Boulangerie Blend or with a good pinot noir, they came into their own and you feeling very satisfied indeed.

The Tasting Bars offer an attactive and well-packaged item that can add much to the menus of San Diego’s cafes. The are 18 small wedges of milk, dark, white or very dark chocolate are packed in clear plastic boxes that are prettily wrapped and tastefully marked. The contents of each weighs 3.37 oz. or 95 grams. The chocolatiers at Saint Jacques envision these boxes may be sold in cafes or individually added to dishes and drinks to add value to a cafes offerings. This expectation does not fall wide of the mark. The chocolate has a lot to offer. Gluten-free creations are also available.

As a local business, Saint Jacques Chocolat deserves your curiosity. It is a new company, based in El Cajon, and it sells its wares out of the Rust General Store on the plaza in Old Town, San Diego. The store is an antique sort of place that seems authentic to the late 19th century and offers a complete line of Saint Jacques Chocolat. One item is a pairing kit or paper box with chocolates and samples of Caffe Calabria beans, which come in small three ounce sample bags.

Word to the wise: if you get a sample from Rust, de-gas the bags if they show signs of swelling. The swelling indicates that the coffee was packed immediately after roasting and without allowing the carbon dioxide to dissipate. The blown bags are not dangerous but it’s conceivable they may pop at the wrong moment, possibly when you’re presenting one to your mother-in-law or your boss. This this does nothing to detract from the coffee’s quality.

Saint Jacques also offers a White Chocolate Chai Tea and a “Haute” Chocolate cocoa powder. These come in small, rectangular tins; the chocolate comes with a tiny whisk to stir the milk or water boiled for the up to eight demitasses one can expect to brew from each tin.

We tried the chocolate with both milk and water and, purists that we are, prefer to make it with water. You may prefer milk. That’s OK, since it works either way. The water brew did justice to some fine sesame seed biscotti and the after effect of this pairing would have been worth much more than we paid to experience it. The White Chai was engaging and we would urge users to add steamed milk to the brew.

Find them at or by calling (619) 820-6189.

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My Pressi Espresso Goes Anywhere

Posted on 21 September 2010 by John Rippo

Talk about brilliant. The My Pressi is a portable espresso machine that can pull a credible shot—once you know how to finesse the machine—and can go anywhere.

Imagine finishing off a fine picnic lunch with a double, or perhaps offering a credible espresso to your friends at a concert. This little jewel can make it happen.

The My Pressi is merely a water reservoir that sits atop a group head. The coffee container in the group head can take pods, or a stainless steel basket that yields a single shot or a double. Power comes from a CO2 cartridge in the handle and the whole thing is brought to life by a trigger beneath the handle. It’s an elegant piece of design and fits the hand well, for the most part.

Right out of the box, we got our test model up and running in short order. The My Pressi comes with everything needed to do the job; especially welcome is the plastic tamp that fits the group head perfectly. We started with a Yrgacheffe that we ground a bit finer than we might have otherwise, and we quickly discovered that the My Pressi tends to like finer grinds than other, bigger machines might. The tamp is critical, too. A firm plunge finished by a smooth twist to the left paved the basket. It’s important to wipe away any loose grounds that ride atop the basket lip to ensure a good fit between the halves of the machine, and as we quickly found, the machine is much more dependable when using the double basket rather than the single. Though it has an optional pod case, we think of espresso pods the way we think of tea bags—strictly for amateurs.

Assemble the group head into the frame, place the water chamber on top–and pre-heat the chamber to 200 degrees. Pour out the water, replenish with water at boiling point and let go with the trigger. Don’t miss the cups. That’s all there is to it. After a few seconds, a gentle hiss is heard, followed by a trickle of thick, syrupy espresso into the cups. A 20 or 21 second shot yields a double or two singles with generous crema and fine form that taste like an espresso. We were impressed.

Like any micro maker, the My Pressi demands patience and finesse from its operator. For flawless function, it has to be kept thoroughly clean between shots since the slightest grounds left lurking anywhere will spoil the next shot or at least rob the cartridge of pressure. It comes with six CO2 cartridges and we think CO2 is the best to use, though nitrous oxide can be substituted, who wants espresso to taste like laughing gas? It has to be carefully manipulated so as not to damage the threads holding the halves of the brew head onto the frame or the rear screw onto the handle, and to do this properly for repeated use, the operator will need an oven mitt, since the metal water chamber stays hot once it gets that way. And you have to watch how tightly you twist the screw onto the handle, too. Too much pressure will needlessly strain the CO2 cartridge. Also, there is the trigger–the one serious weakness of this design. The trigger is not only permanently exposed, but its incredibly easy to touch it off when you don’t want to; this can be messy or at least embarrassing and once the brew head is loaded and the water reservoir is filled, you’re committed, since without a safety of any kind, you can’ t put the machine down without risk of discharge. Like handling a gun, it’s best to keep the trigger finger extended alongside the grip right up to the moment of discharging the shot.

We think the My Pressi needs some accessories to make it completely portable, it ought to have a kettle, heating element, grinder, stand and coffee bean bin and plenty of rags to clean it with. These things can be put together on one’s own of course, but a matched set of all the needed components in a carrying case would add to the machine’s cache even as it bumps up the price. Ours retails for around $170, give or take a few bucks and with reasonable care it should last a long time.

Overall, the My Pressi is perhaps the best of its class we’ve seen. It actually does what it is supposed to do and it does it with reasonable ease of effort, too. Once accessorized, it’s just the thing for home, home office or travel, and the price point is reasonable. Find it at

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Guns in Coffeehouses: Businesses Confront “Open Carry”

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to apply the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the states has been celebrated by all those who understand that rights adhere to individuals, but like any new found freedom there are a few who never miss an opportunity to misuse it and display a monumental lack of class while doing so.

For instance, in recent months, some gun owners who insist that they have a right to openly carry their artillery in plain sight on their person have clouded round corporate coffee outlets in an effort to prove to all and sundry that they can get away with it. They seem to think that by hanging out at Starbucks with a Colt or Beretta bolted on their hip they’re somehow getting their country back and proving to the masses that they’re cool. Never mind the panic and terror they arouse in the public who might think that strangers with guns in the café may be planning to rob and shoot up the joint; the important thing to the ones carrying the guns is to make a statement of lifestyle. Kind of like when some men came out to march in their first Pride parade, or when some women declared themselves to be radical feminists to their surprised relatives. Some militant gun geeks are now empowered—and loud and proud about where their true desires and preferences take them—and by wearing a piece on the hip for all to see, their message is, “Get used to it.”

Whether or not California law will continue to prohibit the open carrying of firearms in public is a question that will be answered by the courts, later. What concerns the coffeehouse owner now is what to do when confronted by armed and silly men with something to prove and attitude to match their small bores.

Business owners must think of safety first—of themselves, employees, the customers and general public at all times while operating their shops and while no one might expect an unarmed shop owner to actively confront someone with a gun, that owner doesn’t get a free pass from the law or liability if he or she allows someone among their customers who is manifestly unsafe. You wouldn’t let someone in who had a chainsaw in their hands or a can of gasoline and a lighter because they’re obviously dangerous and likely reeking of intent; likewise, strangers with guns need to be regarded as trouble waiting to happen—and business owners need to be proactive against it.

One way to do this is to control the possession of the guns on the premises. A sign on the wall that reads: “Check all firearms with the barista at the register before ordering” will do a lot to deter gun carriers from coming into your coffeehouse. Placing the gun in question into a locked box and giving the patron a ticket for it that must be presented when he leaves in order to retrieve his gun is an additional refinement. The rule should be pointed out to anyone who needs to understand it with a straight face and direct gaze and in an even tone of voice. The speaker shouldn’t move much when telling the gun bug what his options are, either. With luck, he’ll do his drinking elsewhere.

Or you can merely say that you don’t serve armed people because they’re offensive and scary to you, the customers and the employees and that guns don’t belong in your coffeehouse because coffeehouses are places where conviviality, comaraderie and conversation thrive and guns don’t help.

And finally, a foolproof method to rid you house of gun carrying geeks is to loudly shout “He’s got a gun! Call 9-11!” at the sight of one. Unfortunately, this will empty your café, but you might be able to sue the gun nut for stress, loss of income and perceived threat to life and limb. You may also get him arrested, and watch as the gunner lectures a SWAT team on his God-given Constitutional right to be an idiot.

It’s good that the Second Amendment took its rightful place with the rest of the Bill of Rights and found its home among the people again. But some people are so hung up on their guns that they forget their manners and others’ feelings. Coffeehouse operators are well within their rights to control what happens on their own turf and by reminding those who need a refresher course in civility to mind their manners, it will make a baby step toward that more polite society that gun afficionadoes have claimed an armed society would always bring about.

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Costa Rican Coffee Grower’s Success Stems From Illegal US Entry

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Gerardo Arias, a fourth generation coffee farmer and president of Coopellano Bonito, S.A., an organization of Costa Rican coffee growers that supply Cafe Moto, among others with some superior coffees, is an example of how hard work and determined effort pays off. One of the first steps that Arias took in his bid for success was to migrate illegally to the US in 1989. His efforts led to enrichment of both countries by developing the trade in Costa Rica—and later in Tanzania; raising the standard of living for Arias’ countrymen and opening ways for their youth to go to school and prepare for a better life. Arias’ and Llano Bonito’s products offer Americans a better coffee than they might otherwise have, too.
Gerardo Arias’ father was a tenant on land that the family had worked for generations. From a poor family, Arias had little opportunity for education and at 18 was ready to take a main chance at improving his lot in life. Making the equivalent of two dollars a day is a great incentive to take a chance on anything better and Arias and some others formed a plan to go the US, work and save money, then return with enough to buy property, tools and equipment and provide for their parents, wives and children.
Unused to travelling the long distances involved, Arias made the mistake of getting off the bus he was on and was arrested—twice—in Mexico by authorities whose sense of justice demanded that they impound the illegal alien’s money. Leaving him broke, Arias finally found someone to get him to the border and across to the American side. By the time he got on the bus for the ride into the States, Arias had learned his lesson; he didn’t get off again until he reached his destination—New York—several days later.
He worked at a lot of jobs in the next five years, and true to his word, saved the bulk of his pay and returned home at age 23. He succeeded in buying land for his father and set about improving it for better yields with modern methods of planting coffee trees. Establishing a true plantation in the 4000-foot high mountains was no small feat and it took a decade of intense labor before the plantation could show a return. Along the way, Arias organized other coffee producers into a co-op now commonly known as Llano Bonito—a 1200 hectare coffee growing zone covering steep mountainsides where even donkeys can’t safely climb and where much labor is done by hand where it can’t be offset by modern technology. The co-op’s philosophy is to rely on quality instead of volume, and this seems to have paid off due to the Fair Trade, sustainable ideals that are shaping more and more of the central American and African trades.
When Arias met Torrey Lee of Cafe Moto several years ago, Lee was searching for a reliable source of fine Costa Rican coffees to make up for a shortfall in the market. Finding Arias’ co-op was a stroke of luck for both; premium prices for superior coffee produced with superior labor skills and methods ensure maximum guaranteed returns for Arias’ co-op and a guaranteed source of supply for Cafe Moto. This has already seen Llano Bonito through some increasingly tough times due to the downward fluctuations in coffee prices echoing the worldwide Depression as well as the effects of global climate change on the region that has forced coffee growers to endure uncertain rains and threatening winds that seem to occur more often just as coffee plants are beginning to flower. The winds often tear up new shoots, scattering seedlings and reducing the numbers of new trees to be planted.
Still, the efforts have resulted in some superior coffees, carefully nurtured by hand at every step of production. Echoing the labor concerns of the US, Costa Ricans aren’t so willing to labor in the coffee fields anymore and the slack has been taken up by Nicaraguan and Panamanian labor. But the end result is that Arias’ co-op has made a better life for thousands of Costa Ricans by sending youth to schools and even universities where opportunity was non-existent before, and generally raising the economy and standard of living for people of the region.
In addition, the success of the co-op’s efforts have branched out to Tanzania, where co-op farmers have helped African coffee growers improve their coffees with Costa Rican methods, modern technology and a new appreciation for what the American market demands. The upshot of this is to gain far better yields from Tanzanian coffee plantations and use less local resources such as water and firewood cut from local old-growth forests in which threatened apes and chimpanzees live. The higher quality of fair trade organic coffees from the region command higher prices in the US market and elsewhere, and this is helping to rapidly expand the capacity and standard of living of the African farmers and their peoples.
The payoff for American consumers is equally impressive: the Llano Bonito coffee, harvested around the beginning of the year, is available now for consumption and is at the peak of its flavor. Like all fine coffees, it is the result of endless, heavy labor in high mountain regions and years of long patience as trees and conditions mature. The work of Gerardo Arias enriches two continents through better cultivation, farming methods and and quality controls and brings greater wealth and stability to areas that lacked them before. The co-op enriches the American trade with a first rate coffee that is exemplary of its kind and an excellent value for money spent. American dollars spent on this coffee and its Tanzanian partner help stabilize and preserve the coffees’ native environments and go against the common grain of industrial agriculture while yielding a better product in the long run. They are examples of what a better agriculture can be.
This is also the result of a formerly illegal migrant’s success at his efforts to bootstrap himself into a better way of life from working sub-rosa in the United States. It’s hard to find a truer tale of rags-to-riches effort than Gerardo Arias’ story and it stands as a worthy antidote to the common misconceptions of what migration, illegal and otherwise, may really mean.

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West Bean: SD’s Newest Roaster Makes Fine Marks

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

San Diego’s newest roaster, The West Bean, is less than a year old and is already making a name for itself among foodies with their quality, attention to detail and a singular method of roasting that makes the most of the Renegade Roaster, a locally made machine that allows for unusually fine air control during the roasting process. The finesse in roasting usually means that West Bean coffees look like they’re roasted to a full city level while displaying flavor characteristics and taste notes of darker roasted beans. We had some Ethiopian Sidamo that was stellar; a great nose with hints of nuts, chocolate and velvet smoothness both as french press and drip. The drip process yielded an uncommonly fine finish and sweet aftertaste that lingered long after the coffee was gone. Their Tanzania Peaberry was a snappy, clean tasting cup, with bright high notes and a steady evenness of body that make this a fine sipping coffee for all day drinking. Their roast profile seems to shine with the Tanzania and is an indicator of what West Bean’s talented roasters are capable of. Lastly, we had a Sumatran; this is best brewed in a french press if you want the gentle, small nose and light taste from this coffee. Our staff were divided on this one; some preferred to let the cup rest for a half minute before gulping it down while the less civilized among us took in its deep flavor immediately. Strangely for a Sumatra, there is little aftertaste or finish to this coffee but while in the cup the essence is right on target. We think West Bean is a roaster to watch and search for in the future; they will be offering pairings of coffees with foods, tobacco and chocolates at a growing number of retailers around San Diego and we think highly of their approach to the beans and innovation in the trade.

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Lion Coffee Offers a New Brew

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

LION has been the last word in Hawaiian Kona since the days of the Civil War and their product line-up is amazing and prolific. At right is the newest wrinkle in the mix; an antioxidant enriched coffee to maximize the health benefit of drinking your daily joe. The coffee has the sharp zinginess Kona is known for and is the usual high standard expected from LION. Our sample was pre-ground in a 10 oz. bag—purists will demand the bean.

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Philz Coffee: Full Body; Complex Roast

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Philz Coffee from sent on a couple of interesting mixed roasts; their Tesora is a macho mixed roast of very good looking beans that is best done up in the french press for maximum punch. And punch it does, too. The coffee is a powerhouse of nutty flavor and dense, smooth body that stands with dairy very nicely. The Jacob’s Wonderbar Brew is anothe mixed roast, though seemingly darker overall than the Tesora. This is another coffee that really needs to be well handled in a french press; drip just doesn’t do it. The reward is a sturdy, robust and earthy cup of body that hits the spot every time. Neither blend are acidic and aftertaste and finish are minimal. We seemed to tend more toward the Jacob but were perfectly happy with the Tesora and only regret that we don’t know more about the source of beans. This is a secret. No matter; the beans are even, of fine size and beautifully roasted with the darks displaying a Viennese take.

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Santos: Known for Fine Roasts

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Santos Coffeehouse is one of San Diego’s unsung roasters. The little coffeehouse at 32nd and Thorn in North Park has long served its own coffees in a surprising variety of blends, flavors and decafs for a decade and their hidden roastery supplies coffees to a growing number of San Diego restaurants that like the consistency and taste. We had two samples; an espresso which is the house’s own and a city roast . We revelled at the espresso, pulled in our own antic MyPressi, but even that tiny machine got some excellent sweetness and fine crema from the beans and we were rewarded with a lingering finish. The coffee was even, the beans were same sized without chaff, char or cracked beans and overall it was impressive and ranks alongside any espresso anywhere. The city had a sharper, more aggressive flavor, though with a fine nose and longer aftertaste. Just the ticket for a spicy breakfast. Santos offers a variety of worthy coffees daily. Find them at 3191 Thorn, 92104. 619. 640-3376.

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Blue Moon Kona: Bright Cup Quality

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Fine Kona from Blue Moon is sharp, snappy, bright and poppy—just what you expect from a Kona. An even, clean dark roast with a variety of bean sizes are present, as is a smooth mouth-feel and mellow aftertaste. Though some Konas can be acidy, this one is mild and makes for a fine brew to mull all day. Its a forgiving coffee, yielding as much flavor from a drip pot as a french press and is a great value for the money at $26 for 16 ounces.

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