Ariana Akbar originally wanted to open a flower shop. But even as the trained florist was working out the plans, she was roasting her own coffee and making a lot of espresso at home. Soon the project became a combination flower shop and cafe, then a mobile cafe ― the city's expensive street-food permits scuttled those plans ― and finally just a cafe, which she opened up on Taraval five weeks ago.
Akbar is now working at Brown Owl Coffee every day, wearying of the long hours but not the coffee. The cafe is spare and charming, with banquettes and tables made out of reclaimed wood and shelves stocked with mosaics, stuffed pillows made by the mother of her partner, James, and packets of coffee beans.
The microroaster revolution has taken a while to filter out to western San Francisco; with the exception of Trouble Coffee and Outerlands up on Judah, great coffee isn't easy to come by in the Outer Sunset. Brown Owl has a Marzocco for espresso drinks and uses a Clever dripper to do pourover cups. The pastries all come from local bakeries. And the coffee? Roasted in house.
Working under the brand name Hearth Coffee Roasters, Akbar is roasting two kinds of organic beans: A Flores, which Akbar describes as tasting somewhere between a Sumatran and a Yirgacheffe, and a medium-roast, high-altitude Guatemalan. The Guatemalan pourover I ordered didn't yet have the aromatic finesse of Four Barrel or Ecco, but it was a smooth, very drinkable cup of coffee, a fantastic start for a self-trained coffee roaster.
"I've had so much fun playing with playing with the roaster, learning different curves and heat cycles ― you have so much more control over the quality of the beans," Akbar says. "I just want to see how far I can take it. The next step is to own a plantation." She laughs when she says it, but it's the semi-apologetic laugh of someone who's not yet sure how far her ambition is going to take her.
Brown Owl Coffee: 1131 Taraval (at 22nd Ave.), 242-1426. Open 7 a.m-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
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