When Andrew Barnett talks about coffee, he talks about the stuff of his dreams. He's an espresso lover of olympic proportions, and he's been a fixture in the coffee scene for decades. His new project, Linea Caffe, is slated to open this week in the Mission, in partnership with Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese fame. For such an anticipated project, it's done a good job of keeping quiet.
Barnett is known most recently as the founder of Ecco Caffe, which he sold to Intelligentsia in 2009. Myint, of course, comes with a sparkling pedigree having founded Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and more recently having been named to Chow.com's list of the 13 most influential people in the food world. That's a lot of expertise to cram into 300 square feet. And on the corner of San Carlos and Mission Street, that's all they've got.
Linea is uncommon in a few ways. Firstly, Barnett is considered a champion of Brazilian coffee, an origin with an unsteady reputation known more for commodity coffee than specialty grade stuff. He's been back to the country fifteen times in the last eleven years, in part to judge the country's national coffee competition, the Cup of Excellence. He tells us Brazil is underrated, and harbors the flavor profile of his dreams.
"When it's good, it's incredibly sweet, clean, and balanced coffee. It's where California wine was in 1976, right when people changed their thinking about it being a commodity product," says Barnett.
At Ecco, Barnett was known for plucking unusual and spectacular coffees out of Brazil. At Linea, he'll be doing it again. And he's assembled an arsenal of coffee doyens to help bring it to the people. Ant Walach, formerly of Sightglass Coffee, will be heading up roasting. Behind the bar will be Tom Baker, veteran barista with a long, expansive history working in the bay's best shops, alongside Rita Kaminsky, who managed Albina Press in Portland and worked with pioneering coffee farmer Aida Batlle in El Salvador, as well as Stumptown alum, Hector Coronado. Basically, it's a team of coffee superheros. And they're only doing espresso. Why? Simplicity, says Barnett. The team is small, and bandwidth to travel the world is limited. And so they are starting small.
"It's an incubator, one idea for coffee. Just like a barbecue place that's not doing fried chicken, or roasted meats, we're focusing on one preparation to do it spectacularly well. That's our mission, so we're keeping the menu small," says Barnett.
Still, Barnett will be bringing in coffees from other places like Central America, and bags of beans will be on sale in the café. On the food side, Myint has wrangled together a program of salads and waffles to go with the coffee. It seems an odd marriage, but given Myint's history of ridiculous success straying from the norms, we're hopeful. The café is duelly incubating the two concepts as Lt. Waffle - -Brussels-style sweet and savory waffles -- and Greensalads.org, offering salads to go or tossed to order. In true Myint form, there will be a substantial charitable component to the food, wherein a portion of sales go to 350.org.
In a word, Barnett is out to show that world class coffee doesn't need a showroom, or all the glossy pomp. His favorite food comes from holes in the wall, and, despite his kingly status as a coffee nerd, he believes humility and kindness behind the counter are enormously impactful. He compares buying coffee to buying bread at Tartine:
"I go in, and someone is nice to me. No one is telling me about the bread's sugar content, how many times it was kneaded, the elevation the wheat was grown. I just get nice service and a stupendous product. We want to create something like that, friendly and efficient. We want to be approachable."
It's an elegant recipe for a humble concept. While there will be no sugar on the counter, the staff will certainly fetch you some if you ask. Barnett's theory is this: If all the steps of the supply chain happen as they should, you won't need to add sugar to the coffee. Farmed, processed, roasted, and made thoughtfully, coffee expresses the natural sweetness of the cherry that once encased it. There's a direct line between the sweetness of a cherry and the sweetness of the coffee. The key, really, is getting there. And that's what Linea is all about.
Find Linea Caffe at 3417 18th Street at San Carlos.