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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Best Practices for Drinking Coffee in San Francisco

Posted By on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 11:40 AM



In the '80s coffee was funny ― Maxwell House, Yuban, Chock Full o'Nuts. They thought we were idiots. Perhaps we were: Only the best of us rejected the aluminum-tin allure of General Foods International Coffee. "It tastes like a candy cane dipped in Bosco!" gushed one comfortably seated lady in a 1982 commercial, and she was right.

The only people who really drank coffee at all were detectives. It was like watching middle-aged bachelors dress a baby. One would take a sip, blanch, look at his partner and say, "Bleh! Who made this coffee? You?" And his buddy would sigh, stare into his mug and mutter something heartbreaking about his murdered wife.

click to enlarge SHINZUI/FLICKR

Anyway, coffee is not funny anymore.

Home Brewing, Beans to Cup

First, visit the supermarket, fall to your knees in the specialty coffee aisle, and sob. You used to be a cult, Peet's! Now you have a "freshness pledge" promising beans within 45 days of roasting, which is dozens too many ― exactly how many depends on who you ask, and we recommend not asking anybody. The pledge doesn't even address the insanity within: preground? Why not just dissolve a NoDoz in some Go-GURT and bottle it for 7-Eleven like Starbucks does? Even Jonathan Franzen knocked ground coffee (Freedom, page 2), and I bet that guy lives on Mr. Pibb.

Screw brewing at home. Let's go out.

A Cup of Joseph

Upon entering a high-end venue, the first order of business is to reassure your superstitious grandmother that she is not witnessing sinful alchemy, lest she slice her cane through all the tubing and apparatus and glass crap hanging about. Seriously, Isaac Newton could hit the ground running at any of number of cafes and blow back the weekend rush solo.

Nana may have a point about the alchemy, however. With Blue Bottle's $20,000 Japanese siphon bar, the only one in North America, the grounds are mixed with water, suctioned into the air and circulated in a fiery whirlpool for 54.3 seconds with blooms erupting like solar flares and CO2 off-gassing heavenward; then the coffee firestorm is shot back to the pot with all the force and cinematography of hell's demons being sucked into the Ark of the Covenant. That's why the employees have their eyes closed and are screaming. They know what happened to those Nazis.

Excerpt from the New York Times:

"The whirlpool, it messes with your mind," said Mr. Freeman, the owner of the Blue Bottle. "There's no way to rush it. One false move and the hounds of hell melt the faces off the customers."

After the chorus departs, walk your siphon pot to a table, documenting your steps for your blog. Spend the next hour sniffing and sipping ― noting the gradations of flavor, the floral notes, the fragrant bullshitery of the entire day ― because you are at the pinnacle of North American coffee drinking. This is it (until Tully's finally pisses off Dean Kamen). Take a video, which is definitely a thing.

Now seat grandma in front of Blue Bottle's Kyoto-style iced coffee apparatus, which transmutes grounds into coffee at one drop per second and previously transfused royal blood in 17th-century France, and wonder: Why did Blue Bottle want to sell hamburgers in Dolores Park again?


Baby We Were Brewed to Run

An alternate to the siphon bar is the fully automated $11,000 Clover machine, whose big finish features a cake of sludge being pushed nearly one inch into the air as a clown farts. But the machines disappeared from cool shops like Ritual after Starbucks acquired the company ― that happened with Leslie Feist, too. Anyway, for those who suspect there is something, I don't know, weirdly insane about drinking an overpriced cup of razzle-dazzle from machines that could be colliding particles or processing opium, rest assured that most outlets also offer the simple but fantastically named "pour-over." Indeed, there's this one guy at Four Barrel who's got the best pour-over I've ever seen. He must have inherited it from his mother's side of the family.


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Michael Leaverton


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