Written by Pablo Lara, Assistant Editor. Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle, Creative Director.
Caffeine Crawl, produced by TheLab, returned to our sunny city for a second round of caffeinated explorations this past January. The Kansas City based organization puts together guided routes around the country featuring exemplary businesses that focus on craft coffee, chocolate or tea products. Each location hosting event-goers prepares tastings and presentations, thus making the Crawl a delicious and educational activity. The tremendous expansion of the San Diego coffee community was reflected in the multiple routes offered by the program. This year's crawl featured 2 additional routes; a biking route on Saturday and the introduction of a North Coastal Crawl, which kicked off Friday afternoon. From the well established to the start-ups, the routes represented the rich variety of coffee interpretations our city has to offer.
InterAmerican: Green Coffee Importers
I took on route two as a caffeinated challenge; I was going to drink as much coffee as sanity permits. We started our morning visiting the beautiful office spaces of InterAmerican Coffee, a green coffee importer who distributes to multiple roasters in the San Diego-LA region. Representatives Dana, Sheridan, Krista and Fernanda welcomed us with an enriching discussion on the role of the green coffee importer. Dana talked about the logistics pertaining to quality control, sourcing and transportation.
To enrich our experience, InterAmerican prepared a sensory exercise that helped us become familiar with the distinct fragrances of differently processed coffees. In one of their cupping rooms we were able to smell a freshly ground natural Ethiopia, with pronounced black-berry notes; a washed Colombia that was both savory and sweet and an Indonesian that was deep and leathery. The information that we grasped here allowed us to better analyze the complexities of coffees that followed in our route.
Bean Bar: Caffeinating the East Village
Our route now directed us to the Bean Bar, just a short stroll from InterAmerican in the up and coming East Village. Co-owner Sandra welcomed us with her contagious smile and a refreshing cold-brew, a necessary complement to the scorching San Diego winter. This beautiful coffee bar is simple yet full of personality. The iridescent light-blue and white walls create a harmonizing environment, perfect for enjoying a morning cup of coffee.
While sipping on the smooth cold-brew, rich with chocolate notes and pleasant brightness, we learned that Sandra, and her business partner Jason, decided to carry 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters when they visited the roastery in their travels up the west coast. They became fascinated with the dedication in direct-trade sourcing and seasonal offerings of the Vancouver based roaster. With delicate care Sandra made us a pour-over with a La Colmena, Honduras. The cup was filled with notes of apricot, honey and a clean finish. We were sad to say goodbye to their stunning Kees van der Westen espresso machine but happy to have met the passionate team at Bean Bar.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters: New Expansion in Little Italy
Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, greeted us at his delightful new café in Little Italy. Just having returned from a sourcing trip in El Salvador, he gave an energetic and informative presentation on his company’s focus on direct trade and seasonal roasting. We learned plenty of interesting facts. For Chuck, a successful sourcing trip represents buying around 132 to 150 pounds of green coffee, choosing the exceptional 1% by cupping anywhere from 50 to 200 cups a day. Another crucial factor for these sourcing trips is a first-hand assessment of sound farming methods; this includes clean and organized installations and the absence of child labor.
We were then invited to taste a cold-brew made with a natural-processed Panama Geisha from the famed Esmeralda Estate, delighting our palates with intricate notes of peach, bakers chocolate and black berries. Complementing the rich brew were samples of chocolate from David Bacco, an award winning chocolatier who makes the mocha base, vanilla and caramel syrups for both Bird Rock locations.
The WestBean Coffee Roasters: Soft Open
We had the pleasure to be present during the soft opening of Westbean Coffee Roasters’ first storefront. Centrally located in the heart of Downtown, right in front of Horton Plaza shopping mall, with a handsome Synesso Hydra in matted black dominating the space.
Upon our entrance we were given samples of cold-brew served out of a keg, steeped for 24 hours making the brew rich and chocolatey. Also out of a keg was a “tea cold” made with chamomile sourced by Mad Monk, an O.B. based tea buyer and distributor. The refreshing tea cold was surprisingly complex, with warm floral notes such as honeysuckle, curiously missing the grassiness associated with chamomile.
The tasting ended with an amazing pour-over made by Paul Reizen, who displayed tremendous energy seeing his project realized while surrounded by his great team. He served us a Yirgacheffe Lomi Tash, sourced by Orange County based green coffee importers Bodhi Leaf. I was immediately hit by a jasmine aroma, and the flavor was rich in mandarin citrus, chocolate, florals with a clean finish. Three more stops to go and I was buzzing from both the experiences and the obvious: caffeine.
Ladies and Gentlemen: A Coffee Journey
I was thrilled when I found out that Ladies and Gentlemen Coffee Roasters was taking part in this year’s Crawl. Simply by watching the elegant pours of Joshua Bonner throughout the TNT’s one can be excited for the future of his business project. He received us with a big smile in his kyosk on Market Street. As he brewed a V60 of a Cup of Exelence Guatemala Chalabal, ranked number 10 in the country’s harvest, Joshua gave us a taste of his coffee journey. While growing up in Peru he spent a lot of time in coffee shops, and found inspiration in Lima’s Café Verde. Back in the U.S he worked for Blue Bottle and Stanza in the Bay Area.
Asides from roasting and continued construction on his roastery and café, Bonner plans to teach brewing courses. So San Diego keep your eyes open on March for their much anticipated grand opening. And once this Brewers Cup competitor starts those classes, you know I’ll be siging up!
Cafe Moto: Sustainability and Community
Our last stop was Café Moto, taking us to the developing Barrio Logan neighborhood. Down the hall and into their production area, the enthusiastic team of Café Moto had prepared a sensational gathering for us. Adriana, café manager at Moto, introduced the history of this San Diego establishment. Moto began roasting in 1994, coming out of the tradition of Pannikin Coffee Roasters.
We then viewed a film based on the Lets Talk Roya initiative, of which Moto is a great supporter. The project seeks to bring solutions to the many issues facing coffee growing countries and regions suffering from Roya. This fungus affects the leafs of coffee trees in Central and South America. And has already displaced over 100,000 coffee workers. After the film, we enjoyed pour-overs made with beans from Las Hermanas, a women's coffee cooperative in Nicaragua. I had the opportunity to ask Adriana a couple of brewing questions and she sold me on buying my own Acaia scale and un-bleached Chemex filters. The after-party awaited us, making the switch from Barrio Logan to Little Italy.
After Party at James Coffee Co.
We finalized our Crawl at James Coffee, who hosted a reunion of all the routes. We saw familiar faces, the ladies of InterAmerican, the team of Café Moto and friends who had tickets on different routes. We shared our experiences while enjoying delicious tacos, freshly made by the San Diego Taco Company. The entire experience filled me with an authentic admiration for our San Diego coffee community. It has grown tremendously and we are all closely connected: sharing loving customers, providers and most importantly, passion.
If you missed this year's Caffeine Crawl, do not fret! Caffeine Crawl will return in 2016! If you'd like to see where The Lab team will be crawling to next, take a look at their 2015 schedule (here). In the meantime, stay tuned via our events calendar for tasting opportunities and events. And remember to "Drink Local, Drink Often" San Diego!