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Caffeine Crawl Returns to San Diego


Caffeine Crawl Returns to San Diego

Written by Pablo Lara, Assistant Editor. Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle, Creative Director. 

Caffeine Crawl, produced by TheLab, returned to our sunny city for a second round of caffeinated explorations this past January. The Kansas City based organization puts together guided routes around the country featuring exemplary businesses that focus on craft coffee, chocolate or tea products. Each location hosting event-goers prepares tastings and presentations, thus making the Crawl a delicious and educational activity. The tremendous expansion of the San Diego coffee community was reflected in the multiple routes offered by the program. This year's crawl featured 2 additional routes; a biking route on Saturday and the introduction of a North Coastal Crawl, which kicked off Friday afternoon. From the well established to the start-ups, the routes represented the rich variety of coffee interpretations our city has to offer. 

InterAmerican: Green Coffee Importers


I took on route two as a caffeinated challenge; I was going to drink as much coffee as sanity permits. We started our morning visiting the beautiful office spaces of InterAmerican Coffee, a green coffee importer who distributes to multiple roasters in the San Diego-LA region. Representatives Dana, Sheridan, Krista and Fernanda welcomed us with an enriching discussion on the role of the green coffee importer. Dana talked about the logistics pertaining to quality control, sourcing and transportation.  

To enrich our experience, InterAmerican prepared a sensory exercise that helped us become familiar with the distinct fragrances of differently processed coffees. In one of their cupping rooms we were able to smell a freshly ground natural Ethiopia, with pronounced black-berry notes; a washed Colombia that was both savory and sweet and an Indonesian that was deep and leathery.  The information that we grasped here allowed us to better analyze the complexities of coffees that followed in our route. 

Bean Bar: Caffeinating the East Village

Our route now directed us to the Bean Bar, just a short stroll from InterAmerican in the up and coming East Village. Co-owner Sandra welcomed us with her contagious smile and a refreshing cold-brew, a necessary complement to the scorching San Diego winter. This beautiful coffee bar is simple yet full of personality. The iridescent light-blue and white walls create a harmonizing environment, perfect for enjoying a morning cup of coffee.

While sipping on the smooth cold-brew, rich with chocolate notes and pleasant brightness, we learned that Sandra, and her business partner Jason, decided to carry 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters when they visited the roastery in their travels up the west coast. They became fascinated with the dedication in direct-trade sourcing and seasonal offerings of the Vancouver based roaster. With delicate care Sandra made us a pour-over with a La Colmena, Honduras. The cup was filled with notes of apricot, honey and a clean finish. We were sad to say goodbye to their stunning Kees van der Westen espresso machine but happy to have met the passionate team at Bean Bar. 

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters: New Expansion in Little Italy

Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, greeted us at his delightful new café in Little Italy. Just having returned from a sourcing trip in El Salvador, he gave an energetic and informative presentation on his company’s focus on direct trade and seasonal roasting. We learned plenty of interesting facts. For Chuck, a successful sourcing trip represents buying around 132 to 150 pounds of green coffee, choosing the exceptional 1% by cupping anywhere from 50 to 200 cups a day. Another crucial factor for these sourcing trips is a first-hand assessment of sound farming methods; this includes clean and organized installations and the absence of child labor. 

We were then invited to taste a cold-brew made with a natural-processed Panama Geisha from the famed Esmeralda Estate, delighting our palates with intricate notes of peach, bakers chocolate and black berries. Complementing the rich brew were samples of chocolate from David Bacco, an award winning chocolatier who makes the mocha base, vanilla and caramel syrups for both Bird Rock locations. 

The WestBean Coffee Roasters: Soft Open

We had the pleasure to be present during the soft opening of Westbean Coffee Roasters’ first storefront. Centrally located in the heart of Downtown, right in front of Horton Plaza shopping mall, with a handsome Synesso Hydra in matted black dominating the space.

Upon our entrance we were given samples of cold-brew served out of a keg, steeped for 24 hours making the brew rich and chocolatey. Also out of a keg was a “tea cold” made with chamomile sourced by Mad Monk, an O.B. based tea buyer and distributor. The refreshing tea cold was surprisingly complex, with warm floral notes such as honeysuckle, curiously missing the grassiness associated with chamomile. 

The tasting ended with an amazing pour-over made by Paul Reizen, who displayed tremendous energy seeing his project realized while surrounded by his great team. He served us a Yirgacheffe Lomi Tash, sourced by Orange County based green coffee importers Bodhi Leaf. I was immediately hit by a jasmine aroma, and the flavor was rich in mandarin citrus, chocolate, florals with a clean finish.  Three more stops to go and I was buzzing from both the experiences and the obvious: caffeine.

Ladies and Gentlemen: A Coffee Journey

I was thrilled when I found out that Ladies and Gentlemen Coffee Roasters was taking part in this year’s Crawl. Simply by watching the elegant pours of Joshua Bonner throughout the TNT’s one can be excited for the future of his business project. He received us with a big smile in his kyosk on Market Street. As he brewed a V60 of a Cup of Exelence Guatemala Chalabal, ranked number 10 in the country’s harvest, Joshua gave us a taste of his coffee journey. While growing up in Peru he spent a lot of time in coffee shops, and found inspiration in Lima’s Café Verde. Back in the U.S he worked for Blue Bottle and Stanza in the Bay Area.

Asides from roasting and continued construction on his roastery and café, Bonner plans to teach brewing courses. So San Diego keep your eyes open on March for their much anticipated grand opening. And once this Brewers Cup competitor starts those classes, you know I’ll be siging up! 

Cafe Moto: Sustainability and Community

Our last stop was Café Moto, taking us to the developing Barrio Logan neighborhood. Down the hall and into their production area, the enthusiastic team of Café Moto had prepared a sensational gathering for us. Adriana, café manager at Moto, introduced  the history of this San Diego establishment. Moto began roasting in 1994, coming out of the tradition of Pannikin Coffee Roasters.

We then viewed a film based on the Lets Talk Roya initiative, of which Moto is a great supporter. The project seeks to bring solutions to the many issues facing coffee growing countries and regions suffering from Roya. This fungus affects the leafs of coffee trees in Central and South America. And has already displaced over 100,000 coffee workers. After the film, we enjoyed pour-overs made with beans from Las Hermanas, a women's coffee cooperative in Nicaragua. I had the opportunity to ask Adriana a couple of brewing questions and she  sold me on buying my own Acaia scale and un-bleached Chemex filters. The after-party awaited us, making the switch from Barrio Logan to Little Italy. 

After Party at James Coffee Co. 

We finalized our Crawl at James Coffee, who  hosted a reunion of all the routes. We saw familiar faces, the ladies of InterAmerican, the team of Café Moto and friends who had tickets on different routes. We shared our experiences while enjoying delicious tacos, freshly made by the San Diego Taco Company. The entire experience filled me with an authentic admiration for our San Diego coffee community. It has grown tremendously and we are all closely connected: sharing loving customers, providers and most importantly, passion.

If you missed this year's Caffeine Crawl, do not fret! Caffeine Crawl will return in 2016! If you'd like to see where The Lab team will be crawling to next, take a look at their 2015 schedule (here). In the meantime, stay tuned via our events calendar for tasting opportunities and events. And remember to "Drink Local, Drink Often" San Diego!



Treat Yourself San Diego: A Shopping Guide for Coffee Lovers

Written by Pablo Lara, SDCN Staff Writer

Photos provided by Jose Lopez.

Some people think shopping can be as uneventful as brewing a cup of coffee. I refuse to think accordingly. I love shopping and brewing coffee is as eventful to me as a Karl Lagerfeld runway. As most coffee lovers understand, brewing coffee at home can become a cherished ritual. Therefore selecting the right tools for brewing is just as important as taking the time to find that special bag of coffee. San Diego has hidden spots where shopping for home brewing equipment can translate into a delightful experience. 

The following five places have been selected because of their well stocked retail, unique merchandise, great service and fun environment for that retail therapy over-caffeinated individuals deserve. 

Cafe Moto:

This San Diego roaster is a local institution. The minute you walk into their retail section you will encounter a vintage industrial tea mixer, shipyard windows and a 1930's Jabez Burns & Sons roaster. Retail experts, Marisa and Bucky,  will guide you through the three aisle, 400 sq. ft. retail space. 

At Moto you will be able to find an extensive selection of coffee brewing equipment, including Hario plastic, glass and ceramic V60 cones, metal and plastic pour-over stands, syphons and all the filters necessary for Hario equipment including the syphons.

Moto also carries Chemex brewers in three different sizes and the coveted reusable stainless steel Chemex filter. You can also invest in a Baratza grinder, maybe you will be starting out with the Encore or going all out with the Virtuoso. For the San Diego weather nothing beats a batch of home made Toddy, and here at Moto you can find the home Toddy system for $34.95. 

The standout piece for me was the elegant Yama water dripper, for cold brew priced at $235.

Yama Dripper at Cafe Moto

Yama Dripper at Cafe Moto

Walk out with your new toys and enjoy a delicious single origin Papua New Guinea cappuccino made with care by Adriana, or any of Cafe Moto's friendly Baristas.

Lofty, Encinitas Roasting Works

The recently opened roasting facility of Lofty Coffee Co. hosts a luxurious retail shelf with carefully selected brewing equipment. Espro French Presses share space with Hario Electric Kettles, V60 Arm Stands, and a gorgeous Hario Water Dripper. But the beauty queen at Lofty has to be the Buono, a beautiful Hario copper kettle with wood detail priced at $170. 

Lofty's owner, Eric, told me that he patiently awaited the arrival of the Buono kettles directly from Japan. They are a great complement to his Modbar as-well. And while you gaze through the gorgeous selection of retail, sip a cup of Lofty's dry processed Aricha, Ethiopia great through a V60. 

Cafe Virtuoso

Home of the Amaro Gayo and those velvety cortados, Cafe Virtuoso has recently expanded their retail selection after much demand from its devoted customers. This Barrio Logan roaster now carries Baratza grinders (both Virtuoso and Encore), glass V60 Drippers, Hario Beehive Decanters, Hario scales, the Aero-press, Hario's V60 Iced Coffee Maker, and a simple yet eye-catching Olive Wood Pour-Over Stand also by Hario. 

Virtuoso also offers electric kettles by Bonavita and stove tops in two sizes from Hario. And if you want to add extra sweetness to your organic Bali they carry a  great selection of organic Monin syrups too!


Fashion Valley's Williams-Sonoma might not be a roaster, but it landed a spot on this list because of its great selection of brewing equipment. Also, it is pretty convenient to pick up some bamboo filters on your way to Prada a few stores down.

This store carries Fullcircle cleaning supplies for your coffee machine, Breville “smart” coffee grinders, the hard to find re-usable Hario coffee filters, the classic Chemex and my personal favorite, the MoccaMaster by Technivorm! If you are going to invest in an automatic coffee maker this bad boy from the Netherlands will make you a Gold Cup Standard brew every morning in a classic mid-century design. 

Caffe Calabria

Another San Diego institution, Caffe Calabria provides home brewers with a great retail selection accompanied by a delicious Viennese. While walking back to their retail area you can catch a glimpse into their green coffee room, the vault  reminds us of the building's past as a Bank of America. 

Lindsey can answer all your questions and give you plenty of brewing tips with her enchanting charisma. Calabria carries both the plastic and olive wood Hario pour-stands, Chemex, Bodum french presses, Aero-press, Hario scales and glass V60 cones. 

Coffee & Tea Collective

The retail shelves at Coffee & Tea Collective may be small, however they have all the tools necessary to home brew their delicious coffee. Want to brew their chocolatey Malawi at home? Well these guys have the wood collar Chemex, AWS 2kg Scales, the Hario Kerton Grinder, V60 filters and Hario ceramic cones and glass decanters. Their branded d'Ancap cups made with Italian porcelain go great with that wood collar Chemex don't you think? Owner, Daniel, gave us a heads up on new canteens coming soon!

Balance your checkbooks and make yourself that much deserved cup of coffee. Did you decide on a Chemex? Or an Aero-press? No matter what you purchase, supporting your local roaster allows their passionate and knowledgeable staff to do what they love. As for Williams-Sonoma, well, shopping for Italian shoes and Dutch coffee makers sure sounds like an excellent time.