Words by Chad Lanting.
Forward & Editing by Jessica Percifield Henry.
We just celebrated the 4th Annual Caffeine Crawl in January. If you missed out on the North Coastal Crawl, here's a few shops to be sure and hit up as soon as the rain departs and the lovely San Diego weather is back in full effect. Each shop shares proximity to San Diego County's iconic northern coastline. Sunshine, blue skies, palm trees, some of the best beaches in the County, and ocean breezes are a huge draw for slow weekend crawl'n between a few local coffee shops. For those who cannot wait for the next Caffeine Crawl, sign up for their newsletter and be the first to know when tickets go on sale again.
Lofty Coffee Co. (Cedros)
Lofty Coffee at 132 S. Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach lies at the northern edge of the Cedros Ave. Design District and fully embraces the pursuit of design. Coffee is crafted, not just served. The interior of Lofty Coffee is modern-rustic with its walls composed of concrete board and cinder blocks. The interior has an unattached bar area at the center of a relatively small room. White tiles wrap around the counter and a Kyoto tower setup is prominently on display behind the bar. A small amount of merchandise, such as Aeropresses and gooseneck kettles, is displayed in a corner, and on a nearby wall, coffee themed wood panel art hangs. Massive glass accordion doors open to allow the coastal breeze in succeeding in blending the indoor and outdoor space. The outdoor patio has plenty of tables with polished wood tops with a natural barrier of olive trees providing separation from the the stream of pedestrians shopping the design district. This is the third location for Lofty. Its flagship cafe, organic bakery and roasting facility are located just up the road from Ironsmith, with the beauty of their roasting facility making it a must visit on your way to Moonlight Beach, or when continuing up North in Encinitas toward Pannikin.
Lofty Coffee on Cedros offers espresso drinks as well as single origin espressos and filter coffees. On my visit, I opted for one of their specialty drinks, an iced salted caramel latte, which featured caramel made from scratch, and was served in a mason jar. It paired quite well with their oatmeal chocolate chip cookie which happened to be both vegan and gluten free. While I don’t typically choose gluten free items, I can attest that it was a delicious cookie. Besides serving baked goods, heartier options are offered for breakfast or brunch lovers. In the spirit of good design, Lofty coffee is certainly doing a good job with many of the variables of the coffee experience, such as quality coffee, delectable food, pleasing aesthetic, and comfortable ambiance.
Zumbar Coffee & Tea
Next stop: Zumbar Coffee & Tea. Recently, I picked up my first legitimate espresso machine. I have been using the Hummingbird blend from Zumbar roasters in part because of the description, and because I could conveniently pick it up at one of my favorite local spots, Escogelato. On my recent visit to Zumbar Coffee at 115 Chesterfield Dr. in Encinitas, I sampled Zumbar espresso and experienced its full potential. Zumbar used beans that were roasted that day. A trained barista pulled a beautiful shot from a La Marzocco espresso machine while dialing in all of the variables that a home enthusiast, such as myself, has trouble controlling. Adjectives such as “rich” and “buttery-sweet” now seemed completely fitting given this beautiful example of espresso. I left with a standard to compare my own home efforts to and to strive for.
In addition to the shot of espresso, I also sampled a delicious latte paired with an incredibly tasty walnut, chocolate chip cookie made by Opera Patisserie. Zumbar has a simple menu that features standard espresso drinks such as lattes and mochas as well as pour over coffees. The simplicity of the drink offerings can, if anything, be taken as a testament to a coffee shop which allows the freshly roasted beans to speak for themselves.
Next stop: Better Buzz. Arguably, there could be several ways to take the word “buzz” of Better Buzz, at 578 S. Coast Highway 101. Given the steady stream of customers, some of whom stay and some who take their drinks and continue their coastal stroll, there is definitely a buzzing atmosphere inside. With six different Better Buzz locations spread around the county, it seems there is also buzz in the community about the quality of their drinks. This location features large neon wall signs that indicate that you are in the right place to “Buzz” and “Get Buzzed." On my visit, I tried the Iced Mint Mojito which won’t produce that kind of “buzz” since it’s not the cocktail version of a mojito, but instead is a refreshing blend of espresso with muddled mint, cane sugar, and cream. The menu at Better Buzz also offers a number of other delightful coffee drinks, as well as smoothies, sandwiches, acai bowls, and various pastries.
Ironsmith Coffee Roasters
Next stop: Ironsmith. The name “Ironsmith” brings to mind a blacksmith of old carefully and skillfully crafting a product to be proud of. Ironsmith Coffee Roasters, at 458 S. Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas, may not literally be working with iron, but the image evoked by their name fits the vision of their approach to coffee. Drinks are carefully created and baristas take pride in their craft much as a craftsperson of old may have. On my recent visit, I sampled a latte, often my go-to drink, and watched cars drive under the arching metal Encinitas sign right outside the front entry. The rollup door welcomed the coastal breeze in as a Diedrich coffee roaster was in the process of roasting a fresh batch of coffee. The menu displayed simple visual recipes for the most common espresso drinks. One part espresso combined with four parts milk produces a latte such as the one that was made for me. A stainless steel kitchen rack hangs from chains immediately over the bar and holds the tools of the coffee trade. The handmade counters and shelves alongside the local art displayed on the walls added to the element of craftsmanship. Ironsmith Coffee Roasters, true to its name, is forging great coffee and a legitimate place in the San Diego craft coffee scene.
There are some buildings that seem to be woven into the character and history of San Diego County. Pannikin Coffee & Tea, at 510 N. Coast Hwy. 101 in Encinitas, is one such building. The iconic bright yellow building is a landmark of the area. Pannikin has been serving coffee and tea for decades now. The unmistakable structure sits proudly along the famous 101 and welcomes visitors to the area and locals back to their home. Prior to Pannikin’s tenure as a purveyor of coffee and tea, the building was the area’s main railroad station, dating all the way back to the 1880’s.
Pannikin Coffee & Tea
Next stop: Pannikin Coffee & Tea. San Diego's first coffee roasting company, established in 1968, by the late Bob Sinclair, which continues to be a family owned and operated local hub in the heart of Leucadia. When I visited on a recent Sunday morning, the building’s current use as a coffee, tea, and bakery seemed like a fitting link to the past. There were patrons sitting upstairs, downstairs, on an outdoor balcony, and in the spacious front lawn, and there was a line of customers stretching to the door, all of which created an energy that seemed to connect Pannikin back to its origin as a center of travel and commerce. Just as the former train depot in its heyday brought people from different walks of life to a single location, Pannikin creates a welcoming environment. I chose to sample a Mexican Mocha paired with a decadent cinnamon roll. The pastry case displays loads of mouthwatering options, and Pannikin's drink menu offers every caffeinated beverage one could desire. Freshly roasted whole bean coffee and tea are also available for sale. Pannikin, a Welsh word for small cooking vessel, is continuing to hold its own in coffee house history.
Some things bear repeating. That is the case with the name of Coffee Coffee, located at 970 N. Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia. With regards to coffee and espresso, Coffee Coffee has a drink menu that mostly sticks to the classics, i.e. brewed coffee, lattes, americanos, etc. with a few additions such as a Mexican Mocha. Beyond coffee, they offer a large selection of teas, some juices, and hot chocolate. Coffee Coffee has teamed up with Revolution Roasters in Oceanside to provide freshly roasted, delicious coffee beans for their drinks and for sale as whole bean coffee for home brewing. On my visit, I sipped a smooth iced latte as I meandered the interior of the shop taking in the open seating, antique roaster, and the view through a window of the coastal-themed mural on the alleyway wall. The patio was full of customers enjoying the classic pairing of delicious coffee drinks and warm southern California sun. Coffee Coffee finds purpose in providing delicious coffee. Wander in and have a coffee, or as the name suggests, have two.
Long live the Revolution. I am not only referring to the continued growth of the San Diego craft coffee culture, but also to Revolution Roasters at 1836 S. Coast Highway 101 in Oceanside. Revolution Roasters serves coffee and espresso that they have roasted at their own location in Leucadia. They make excellent use of the freshly roasted beans to offer a house brew, pour overs, cold brews, and espresso-based drinks. The beans are ground on site, and you can pick up a pound of whole bean coffee that was literally roasted earlier in the day. Beyond the standard drinks, the menu features some notable standouts such as a lavender honey latte, coffee soda, and a butterscotch latte, the last of which I sampled. I paired my subtly smooth butterscotch latte with a salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookie because I figured if I am going for sweet, why not go all in. Revolution Roasters also had a triple berry scone and zucchini bread made by Foodie Folk in Carlsbad. Both the latte and the cookie were served on locally made wooden serving boards. The interior strikes a balance between a simple modern aesthetic created with exposed rafters, a rollup garage door, and concrete floors and its own unique feel as noted by the succulent wall pieces, outrigger oars on the wall, and a boar’s head looking down over the bar. There is plenty of seating including a communal raised table in the center of the space. In light of the excellent coffee, delectable treats, and comfortable atmosphere, and at the risk of giving political advice, this is one revolution you may wish to join.
Sitting in Banana Dang Coffee at 115 S. Coast Highway in Oceanside with two ceiling fans rhythmically spinning in time with the Spanish language music, one could almost imagine themselves in an island cafe. Perhaps that is by design as Banana Dang started as a business in Puerto Rico. Banana Dang is a welcome addition to the San Diego coffee scene and to the bustle of Oceanside's businesses along the coastal stretch of the 101.
The “Banana” in the name is no mystery as the menu features seven different smoothies all featuring bananas with other ingredients that range from chocolate to green tea or acai. For coffee enthusiasts, the barista recommended adding espresso to the Nutty Dang smoothie which has the requisite banana plus peanut butter, chocolate, and vanilla. Banana Dang Coffee, as the name also implies, offers a selection of coffee and espresso drinks. I ended up trying the Sweet Latte which is made with condensed milk. It was delightful. The sweetness did not overpower the El Gaucho espresso from Manzanita Roasting Company. Banana Dang also offers a pour over, frappes including one that’s a banana mocha, and several other coffee drinks. While “Banana” and “Coffee” are self-explanatory, I learned from articles on the wall inside, that the “Dang” is taken from the last name of one of the co-owners, which I also learned is customary in Puerto Rico. While the name may say it all, get in there, and let the drinks speak for themselves.