3rd Wave Coffee Roasting in the Bay Area

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Blue Bottle Coffee Roasting plant in Oakland
Coffee roasting at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my amazing tour of Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s roasting facility in Alameda. Afterward, I started wondering how many other coffee roasters there were in the Bay Area. I knew we had a few — from Blue Bottle to Caffé Trieste — but was surprised to find that we have a long and impressive history as a roasting capital. From James Folger selling freshly roasted beans to dusty and thirsty miners during the gold rush, to the new wave of single-origin roasters like Ritual and Four Barrel, the Bay Area has been at the epicenter of coffee roasting in the United States for over 160 years.

The story of James Folger is one of those classic gold rush tales where an entrepreneur makes his fortune selling a prized commodity instead of mining for gold. Because James was only 15 when he journeyed to the area with his brothers, he was deemed too young to mine. Lucky for him no one thought he was too young to sell coffee, which is what he did in the mining fields out near Nevada City. He then made his way further west where he worked in the first San Francisco coffee roastery on Powell Street, which he eventually bought and turned into the mega Folgers. Hills Brothers — another local company — was also part of that first wave of coffee purveyors in the U.S. making cups of American Joe for our grandparents and great grandparents.

It’s an understatement to say that the 50s and 60s were a time of change for San Francisco, but what you may not know is that coffee was an integral part of the culture dynamic at that time. Giovanni Giotta opened Caffé Trieste, which started selling lovely dark European roasts in North Beach. In addition to becoming the local purveyor of coffee to the many Italian families in the area, his café was also the hot spot for people like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who, I hear, is still a regular). Where would American poetry and fiction be without Papa Giotta’s coffee? It’s also reported that Francis Ford Coppola wrote most of The Godfather script (pdf) there. Then, in the 60s, Alfred Peet started his now legendary store in North Berkeley, where he roasted and sold small-batch single-origin and blended coffees to all those students, flower children, and protesters.

Slideshow: Blue Bottle Coffee and Sightglass Coffee Bar and Roastery

Photos by Wendy Goodfriend

And, although you can still enjoy those rich dark roasts provided by Caffé Trieste and Peet’s today, the Bay Area is once again at the forefront of coffee roasting in the U.S., this time to a new generation of roasters who are myopically focused on finding the finest single-origin coffees, paying a more than fair price for the beans, and then roasting them for their own unique qualities. These roasts are often lighter than what you’d find elsewhere, the philosophy being that roasting for each bean’s unique flavors reveals the innate natural essence inside them. Much like wine, hints of spices, fruits and herbs emerge under the right conditions. When I heard this, I thought fine, but really how much of these can you taste? It wasn’t until I had an amazing cup of hand-dripped Ritual coffee at Remedy– a new café in Oakland — that I became a true believer. That cup of coffee was actually so good I decided not to add my normal allotment of milk and just sat there, savoring the subtle hints of plum and chocolate arising from my cup.

This new wave of coffee roasters seems a direct response to the Frappuccino world of Starbucks. From baristas to roasters, people associated with these cafes and roasting facilities seem obsessed with the craft and art of making the perfect cup of coffee. Whipped cream and hazelnut flavoring have no place in these establishments — these places are in business to sell coffee to customers who can appreciate the difference between a single-origin Guatamalan and a Sumatran blend.

Many are neighborhood cafes that roast on the premises. Companies like Blue Bottle, Ritual Roasters, Four Barrel Coffee, and Sightglass Coffee Bar and Roastery — which are the principal third-wave roasters in San Francisco and the East Bay — all roast on site and offer espresso drinks, hand-drip coffees (usually made in a Hario brewer or even one of those $20,000 Clover machines) and beans by the pound. Oh, and rest assured that you are drinking seriously fresh coffee. Blue Bottle, Ritual and Sightglass roast daily and sell their beans within 48 hours, while Four Barrel roasts 5 times a week and sells fresh beans within 1-4 days of roasting.

If you’re interested in learning about coffee, you can take part in tastings, or cuppings as they’re referred to, where you can talk to some very informed people about where the beans come from and how they’re roasted, while of course getting to taste the merchandise yourself by slurping steeped coffee with a spoon (apparently this is the tried and true method of cupping coffee, but be sure not to wear your favorite outfit as there’s a good chance you’ll spill some on yourself). And, if you don’t live near one of these coffee shops, most sell wholesale beans so the chances are pretty good that the independent cafe down the street, or a restaurant nearby, carries a local roast. You can also purchase these coffees at grocery stores — Whole Foods seems to have the biggest local selection — or even online directly through each company’s web site.

I was amazed to learn that Blue Bottle, Ritual and Four Barrel have actually created the budget and resources to seek out relationships with farmers all over the world to grow their beans. When I called Four Barrel, the owner was in Indonesia, visiting a farmer. These companies seem incredibly dedicated to finding the highest quality beans possible. Yet what’s equally important to me as a consumer is that they are also dedicated to paying at least the fair trade price, and often far above.

Following is a list of some of our local roasters. If you are a coffee lover, it’s definitely worth seeking one or more out to experience the latest trend in Bay Area coffee.


San Francisco and East Bay Coffee Roasters with Cafes and Outlets


Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle obtains its beans in three ways: from farmers at origin; through auctions; and through a network of U.S. brokers who have presences in particular growing regions. James Freeman, the owner of Blue Bottle, is dedicated to finding not only the highest quality beans, but paying more than fair trade for them.

Blue Bottle has various local cafés and kiosks. You can also go to their roasting facility and café in Oakland’s Jack London Square area or their new café at SFMOMA. They are also available at farmers’ markets, in retail stores (such as Whole Foods), various local cafes and restaurants, and through their online store. Cuppings and tours are available at the Webster St. Oakland location.

And, if you go to the cafe, try their New Orleans Style Iced Coffee. It’s amazing.
Twitter: @bluebottleroast

Ritual Roasters
Ritual purchases most of their beans directly from farmers, but they are not opposed to buying “spot” (from an importer) if the coffee is delicious enough, especially from countries like Ethiopia and Indonesia where their sourcing relationships are not as strong. The price ritual pays for green coffee is always well above fair trade.

Ritual has three cafes and also sells their beans wholesale to various local cafes and restaurants including my new favorite, Remedy, on Telegraph in Oakland. You can also buy Ritual at the Alemany Farmers’ Market, The Creamery at 4th and King, Haus on 24th St., La Stazione in the dogpatch, The Coffee Caboose in Yountville, and Slow City Cafe which operates on the Civic Center green in front of City Hall. Various restaurants, such as Delfina, Firefly and Heirloom also offer Ritual coffee.

    Ritual has three cafes:

  • 1026 Valencia Street
  • Inside Flora Grubb Gardens 1634 Jerrold Ave
  • Oxbow Public Market 610 First Street, Napa

The Roastery is located at 1050 Howard Street, but is not yet open to the public.
Ritual Newsletter
Twitter: @ritualcoffee

Four Barrel Coffee
Four Barrel has one café on Valencia Street in San Francisco. They also roast their beans at this location. Roasting takes place five times a week. The café serves various espresso drinks and hand-dripped coffee, as well as beans for purchase. Cuppings are offered on site.

Four Barrel has invested time and resources to work with farmers and build relationships to put together micro lots of the highest quality coffee at origin. They also work with farmers to raise the quality of the beans.

Four Barrel Coffee
375 Valencia St., San Francisco
Twitter: @fourbarrel
Four Barrel Coffee Blog

Other cafes serving Four Barrel include: Tartine; Subrosa; Grand Coffee at 2663 Mission St at 22nd; Dynamo Donut; and Ironside
Grocery Stores selling Four Barrel include: Bi-Rite; Whole Foods; and Rainbow Grocery

Sightglass Coffee Bar and Roastery
This is the newest coffee roaster in San Francisco and everyone is talking about it. They are currently building their café, but have an espresso bar and coffee-making stand next door on 7th at Folsom. Sightglass roasts daily (they started only four weeks ago) and they offer cuppings for the public daily. Their barista, Kelly, made me a truly excellent latte.

Although Sightglass currently purchases their beans from boutique importers, who buy directly from origin at direct-trade prices, they are looking into forming their own relationships with farmers. You can buy Sightglass at Matching Half Café, Hooker’s Sweet Treats, Outerlands, Comstock Saloon, Hapa Ramen, Farmer Brown, and Rainbow Grocery.

Sightglass Coffee Bar and Roastery
270 Seventh Street at Folsom in San Francisco
Twitter: @sightglass

Other Bay Area Coffee Roasters
Barefoot
Located in San Jose and Santa Clara. Beans available at local grocery stores, and various San Francisco cafes sell their coffees. See the Fully Caffeinated map for details.

Ecco Caffe
Located in Santa Rosa, Ecco Caffe is a Certified Organic coffee roaster that sources directly from growers and importers. They roast in a Northern Italian style. All coffees are shipped within 24 hours of roasting to insure optimal freshness. See the Fully Caffeinated map for cafes and restaurants carrying Ecco in San Francisco.
Twitter: @eccocaffe
Ecco on Facebook

Verve Coffee Roasters
Located in Santa Cruz. Some San Francisco cafes and restaurants also sell Verve coffee and beans. See the Fully Caffeinated map for details.
Verve on Facebook

Weaver’s Coffee and Tea
John Weaver was a master roaster at Peet’s Coffee and Tea for years and was trained by Alfred Peet. He started his own roasting facility in 2007 in San Rafael. Weaver’s Coffee and Tea distributes widely in the Bay Area.
John Weaver’s Blog
Weaver’s on Facebook
Twitter: @WeaversCoffee

Mr. Espresso
The first and only roaster in the United States to roast coffee beans exclusively over a fire fueled by Oak Wood. Carlo Di Ruocco began selling espresso equipment to Italian restaurateurs across the Bay Area in 1978. In 1980 he officially began commercial roasting in tiny batches. Today Mr. Espresso is a main provider of espresso equipment, service, training and coffee to numerous Bay Area restaurants and coffeehouses.
Mr. Espresso
696 3rd Street in Oakland
Mr. Espresso blog
Mr. Espresso on Facebook
Twitter: @OakWoodRoasted

Wholesale and Online Coffee Roasters

Roast Coffee Co.
The Roast Coffee Company has a roasting plant in Emeryville, where they roast small batches of coffee daily. Their coffees are organic, shade grown, and fair trade whenever possible. Each batch is roasted to order for their wholesale customers, which include Whole Foods and Spruce. They also take online orders.

Roast Coffee Company is located at 1552 Beach Street, Emeryville
Where to find Roast Coffee Company coffees
How to order online

Scarlet City Coffee Roasting
Located in Oakland, Scarlet City Coffee Roasting focuses on roasting only single-origin beans to “their fullest flavor potential.” As a woman-owned, organic and green certified company, Scarlet City tries to promote coffees grown, milled or imported by women. You can purchase Scarlet City coffees at Berkeley Bowl West, Cafe Biere, and Blackbird Cafe at the Marin Farmers’ Market.

Scarlet City Coffee Roasting
Scarlet City on Facebook
How to order online

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, food history and celebrities, restaurants, bars, cafes, tea and coffee

About the Author ()

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise's Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.
  • V

    Sightglass is also tapping into the vegan community to start offering vegan pastries. And they don’t charge the extra 50 cents for vegan milk – which I think other cafes could learn from.

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Thanks for letting us know about this, V.

  • Smiley

    Nice article, but Third Wave coffee isn’t necessarily focused on single origin for espresso, it has more to do with the quality of beans, very freshly roasted, and not overly roasted so the flavor of the beans comes out more than the roast.

    Also you really need to mention Sweet Maria’s, one of the biggest players in the area. http://www.sweetmarias.com/

    Cheers

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Smiley — Thanks for the info. When I did my research the people I spoke with really focused on the single-origin aspect, so I in turn focused on that in my post. I’m not surprised to hear, however, that the espresso is more lightly roasted as the natural flavors really come through nicely.

    Also, I wanted to include Sweet Maria’s in the post, but I don’t know where they get their beans (i.e., if they have relationships with farmers or buy from importers or both) and they didn’t call me back when I left a message. I’m seriously thinking of getting my hands on a whirley pop and trying my own roast, however.

  • J

    Although Blue Bottle and Ritual seem to be receiving much of the attention here, primarily due to their location in SF, Barefoot and Verve do an excellent job at roasting and preparing their coffee. The Verve shop is one of the best cafe layouts that I have visited – with reasonable prices and an relaxed atmosphere. Some of the elitist attitudes of their barista’s felt at Blue Bottle and Ritual have turned me off from their cafes, but their beans are still top notch. Barefoot also has an excellent cafe, although their location could be better. Their owner and roaster often frequent the shop to answer questions and even classes on using home espresso machines.

    Great article – it’s always good to see my favorite roasters receive their due praise.

  • Cheryl

    Modern Coffee in downtown Oakland (in the Tribune tower on 13th) also offers coffees from at least 2-3 local roasters every day on their shop from Verve, Four Barrel, Temple Coffee, Barefoot, etc. You should check them out as well. The owners are very passionate and knowledgeable. And they make awesome cappuccinos.

  • sue

    Living in LA there’s no shortage of coffee – but the trick is finding GOOD coffee. I have discovered that nothing down here compares with WEAVER’S coffee…and worth stocking up when I go up North and bringing it back home. It’s also easy ordering it on line from their web site. It arrives FAST and FRESH and not any more expensive than my previous fave – Peets. I’ve become a WEAVER BELIEVER and have converted many of my LA friends too! So imagine my delight and surprise when I found out that they opened a retail store where they do their roasting?! HIdden away like the precious gem that it is, you can find them in San Rafael. It’s worth the search and drive – because you can actually watch the master himself, John Weaver, working his magic roasting the beans in the back, while ordering coffee drinks and stocking up on the freshest beans you’re ever going to find! LOVED IT!!

  • Mar

    Nice article.

    You should also check out CATAHOULA COFFEE in Richmond. Their coffee is excellent and the atmosphere at the cafe amazing.

    http://www.catahoulacoffee.com/

    Tim, the owner, is a very nice guy who takes his job very seriously and loves to create community as well as share his passion for coffee.

    http://www.catahoulacoffee.com/

  • http://www.moderncoffeeoakland.com kristen

    hey denise, it was awesome to read about your recent adventures with bay area coffee, yet another reminder of just how blessed we are to call the Bay Area home. i’m actually one of the owners of Modern Coffee in Downtown Oakland and want to extend an invitation to you to come check out our shop sometime. we’re a coffee taproom of sorts, featuring our favorite coffees from some of our favorite roasters. our mainstays are Ecco Caffe, Four Barrel and Verve, but we’ve proudly been caught showcasing other standouts! we always have two espressos available, a rotating brewed coffee of the day, and all of our coffees are always available by the cup. we also cup either coffee or tea (we’re just as crazy about tea as we are about coffee) every Friday at 12:30.
    we’d love for you to stop by next time you’re in the neighborhood.
    thanks again for writing such an inspired article!
    cheers,
    kristen nelson

  • Emma C.

    I can almost smell the aroma!Thanks for posting the recommended Wholesale and Online Coffee Roasters, most specifically organic coffee brewers. This will definitely make my Saeco espresso machine, happy!

  • brenda

    “Third Wave” is a complete marketing crock. As if good coffee never existed before 2003.

    Congratulations for this falling hook, line, and sinker.

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Kristen — I love that you carry a variety of coffees and teas and allow customers to compare them. What a great way to showcase the amazing roasters in our area. Thanks so much for the invitation. I’d love to stop by and will try to do so soon.

    Hi Mar — thanks for the tip about CATAHOULA COFFEE!

  • http://www.sweetmariascoffee.com Byron Dote

    Hello Ms. Lincoln,
    I was just emailing Bay Area Bites when I came across your article on 3rd Wave Roasting. I handle the marketing end of things over here at Sweet Maria’s and was disappointed to hear that you never received a response when you were writing your article last summer. Would I be able to interest you returning to the topic coffee to cover home roasting, it’s benefits and how we serve the community of home roasters with our unique website? We could also share with you how we obtain some of our coffee through our Farm Gate buying program, directly from farmers and through brokers. Feel free to visit our website where there is tons of info on home coffee roasting. Please let me know if this is something you would like to move forward with. I could set up a time for you to do a quick interview with Maria or someone just as knowledgeable.

    Byron Dote

    Sweet Maria’s Coffee Inc.
    1115 21st Street
    Oakland, CA 94607

    510 628 0992 phone
    510 628 0919 fax
    http://www.sweetmarias.com

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