Photos by Julie Rings, SDCN Social Media Manager. Words by Pablo Lara, SDCN Blog Editor & Chief.
Centrally located in the heart of San Diego, Barrio Logan is a community that blooms. It's coffee scene boasts three major roasters and cafes that are quickly becoming the center of this art rich neighborhood. A quick stroll down its historic streets and you will discover murals, graffiti art and cultural emblems of Mexican American heritage. A wonderful mix of industrial beauty and passionate individuals make Barrio Logan a coffee destination for San Diego locals and visitors alike.
Quality coffee is found here through different representations much like in its prominent art scene and traditional gastronomic gems. Galleries such as Bread & Salt, Glashaus, La Bodega and the Chicano Art Gallery, to name a few, have become pillars for this happening community of artists and makers. Las Cuatro Milpas, Salud, Panchitas Bakery and a variety of Colombian and Salvadorian restaurants along with Border X Brewing and Iron Fist Brewery enrich the culinary scene in Logan. Coffee then becomes the fuel that keeps everyone creating and developing and also exists as the coffee break residents need to reflect and gather.
Cafe Virtuoso: 1616 National Avenue
Housed in a historic bright orange brick building Cafe Virtuoso mixes traditional with the cutting edge. It now includes a roasting facility in the adjunct warehouse, producing high-quality beans in a Loring roaster. Nelson Tesky, Head Roaster, has concocted a house espresso rich in dark chocolate notes with delicate florals. This blend was included in the the top 30 coffees of 2015 by Coffee Review. Coming from Vancouver with an artist visa, Nelson is happy to work with the Loring technology which he calls "mind blowing". He also asserted that coffee culture in San Diego is bigger than he anticipated, and in Logan "eveyone is doing something a little different".
Delight your palate with espresso and feast your eyes with a mural by Mary Jun Dandan, lead barista for Virtuoso. The artwork is located in the main hallway of the facility and it depicts four brewing methods in the chronological order of their invention.
Ryan Bros. Coffee: 1894 Main Street
If you are lucky enough to run into Tom Ryan in his Barrio Logan flagship roastery you will observe passion in the craft of coffee. For over twenty years Ryan Bros. has been a coffee house with local roots, selling a product that San Diegan's were accustomed to get from a grocery store or the Starbucks franchise. Inspired by the nascent craft beer scene, this company sought to pioneer. Barrio Logan is home to their original location, welcoming you with a Turn of the Century wooden bar and an extensive option of drinks. They have bottled cold-brew along with bottles of their beer collaborations with prominent breweries such as Stone Brewing. The wonderfully intoxicating aroma of coffee roasting and tea blending will forever give you a vivid memory of this Barrio landmark.
Por Vida: 2146 Logan Avenue
Perhaps one of the fastest developing community hang out spots in Barrio Logan, Por Vida is buzzing with action. Owners Milo Lorenzano, Carolina Santana and Bucky Montero have organically developed a space for local artists to get their caffeine fix. In order to set themselves appart they decided to carry coffee from James Coffee Co. which roasts out of Little Italy. They are extremely happy with the dedication of their wholesale partner. A custom horchata is made by Salud just down the street, an ingredient they use in their popular horchata lattes and cold-brew. They also treat their customers to mochas made with Mexican chocolate from Cafe Moto (a custom blend made in Guadalajara by Ibarra). As mouth-watering as the sweet drinks sound, do not shy away from the traditional cappuccino as they are well versed in micro-foam techniques.
The entire property is being developed into a collective of shops that will include a barber shop, florist, vintage store and art academy. Bucky referred to the project as "The Vecindad" or The Neighborhood, a concept inspired by the mom-and-pop stores in Mexico City along with the aesthetics of Mexican popular art.
While discussing the coffee scene in Logan, Bucky assured me that "opening in a location between Cafe Virtuoso and Cafe Moto was nerve-racking" and at the same time "inspiring". They knew that success would only come if they gave "respect to the coffee". The coffee shop also features an in-house bazaar, retailing items from Guadalajara, Baja and local artists.
Cafe Moto: 2619 National Avenue
Cafe Moto, the largest wholesaler in San Diego, is another Barrio Logan landmark. Personally a trip to this spot rivals any of my visits to Disney Land. There is so much to see, taste and learn in this coffee mecca. Grab a drink in their cafe and chat with Adriana Uriostegui, Cafe Manager at Moto. She can answer any coffee questions you may have and crack a joke on a whim. The bar is usually packed with local artist, business men, bikers, policemen and everyone is up for a conversation. Owners Torrey and Kim Lee have remained relevant in this community from its inception in 1998, with a coffee roasting legacy extending back to 1968. This historic warehouse has been refurbished with solar panels that along with their green coffee sourcing certainly make Cafe Moto an example of sustainability.
If you find yourself too caffeinated to function, take a stroll to their retail center. Along with an outstanding selection of brewing equipment you will find a vast collection of vintage coffee machines. The standout for me is the mid-century Italian Faema espresso machine. Its futuristic design takes you back to a world where espresso was served in an elegant setting. Lastly, if you have never seen a two-story roasting machine ask for a tour of their production facility.
Imperial Grounds: 2920 Imperial Avenue
Barrio Logan born and raised Steven Williamson and wife Michele Gonzalez agreed that this section of the city lacked a place for people to meet. With that clear understanding of a community space they ventured out into the world of coffee. The brand new Imperial Grounds coffee shop is unquestionably making the community excited. The lovely decor is an eclectic mix of velvet covered furniture, funky lamps and concrete floors with a spacious feel.
Out of their three-group La Marzocco Linea they are serving Cafe Moto's Sumatra blend. For their drip option they carrie a single-origin Peru made in a Curtis brewer. Barista Sergio Downs made me the customer favorite, a mocha made with Moto's Ibarra. The dark roast espresso blended perfectly with the spiced chocolate. This is an ideal place to meet up with a large group of friends, specially after an indulgent meal in any of the restaurants down the street. Imperial Grounds is revamping their building in order to open up their gorgeous wooden patio, sizable for community events.
Bound by Coffee:
Barrio Logan is seen to be going through a Renaissance, with the distinct beauty that it's inclusive development mostly lead by locals. Cafe's here understand what their customers are looking for and simultaneously work in elevating the consumer's knowledge of coffee. At every stop in this Barrio Logan coffee crawl you notice a delightful array of personalities who are passionate about their community and enthusiastic about the future.