Article and photos by Emily McIntyre
The southernmost Californian city—San Diego—has been getting a lot of press lately, much for its craft beer scene, which is legendary. Less has been said, however, about the specialty-coffee scene. The most common reaction to this point has been raised eyebrows and some stylish scoffing: “Great coffee in San Diego? You’ll have to convince me.”
Granted, when the folks at InterAmerican Coffee in San Diego and Jessica Henry of the just-formed San Diego Coffee Network reached out to us, we were skeptical, too. But after a whirlwind research trip and a lot of enthusiastic emails, we had become hardcover fans.
Caffeine Crawl San Diego became a sold-out reality on January 25, and the marvel of drinking iced coffee in 80-degree weather was just one facet of an unforgettable Crawl. A hallmark of the San Diego coffee scene is how extremely diverse it is: from the unapologetic third wave Coffee & Tea Collective to classic Italian roaster and wood-fired pizza spot, Caffe Calabria, to the beachy La Jolla vibe of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, each place has a unique aesthetic and approach to taste.
The Crawl kicked off at the quirky, light-filled InterAmerican Coffee space with local roasters James Coffee Co. and West Bean set up to present their coffees. David Kennedy of James Coffee Co. spent time pulling shots on a Unic Stella di Caffe machine along with Unic rep Brian Cornelson, while David fielded questions about his career as a rock star and his approach to espresso. James Rah of West Bean presented a tasty iced coffee in a remarkably stylish bottle, and Sheridan Owings of InterAmerican introduced Crawlers to some of the processes IAC pursues in responsibly sourcing coffee.
Crawlers split up from here to pursue their routes. Caffeine Crawl Roaster Sponsors Café Virtuoso and Café Moto presented on cortados and sourcing practices respectively, and we marveled at their widely different aesthetics that somehow use the same bumblebee yellow and black color scheme.
Virtuoso is the only 100-percent organic roaster and coffeehouse in San Diego, and it takes healthy trade relationships very seriously. Moto is a biker-inspired bar, and worth a walk through the hallways just for the informal coffee gear museum and the 1938 Jabez Burns Jubilee full-bag roaster that reigns over a sizable warehouse. Bay Park Coffee, a Bird Rock account in a wonderful neighborhood, stood out from the crowd by sharing tea and Chuao chocolate with the Crawlers in an engaging presentation on health benefits of tea and steeping advice.
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, which occupies a tiny space, was one of the most laid-back stops, with baristas setting up on the sidewalk and the sun dotting our faces as we tried iced Toddy, cascara tea, and vegan donuts from a local bakery. Not far away is Caffe Calabria, a coffee operation that feels like a film noir set, where we tasted some true ristretto and toured the production facility.
It is quite a sight to see stacks of green coffee stored in a door-less safe! Coffee & Tea Collective, nearby, occupies a sparkling white space with a really attractive minimalist feel. There’s a black SF25 San Franciscan roaster in the back, and the place is staffed by some of the most unique baristas in the city. Their presentation was on the difference in results from burr and blade grinders, and Crawlers got to take a hand in making the Chemexes.
Just an hour after the Crawl ground to a close, we convened at Double Shot Sponsor Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (BRCR) for Saint Archer beer (neat side trivia: BRCR head roaster Heather Brisson and Saint Archer head brewer Kim Lutz are partners and collaborate on some pretty kick-ass coffee beers), street tacos from a local purveyor that worked on San Diego’s reputation as home of some of the best Mexican food in the country, and a brew-off hosted by Bird Rock. The competition was won by Jacob of Bird Rock, and David of James Coffee Co. BRCR manager Jocylynn Breeland tales to the crowd about her recent trip to Brazil where she was a Cup of Excellence judge, and local chocolatier David Bacco set up and demo-ed his awesome chocolates and caramels.
Caffeine Crawl San Diego proved not just to San Diegans, but to people across the country, that San Diego is a coffee city on the move. What’s to come as the scene develops further will only up the ante. No wonder we’re already planning to do a Crawl there annually.