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Cafe Hounding: Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza, San Francisco

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. – Mint Plaza, San Francisco
66 Mint St. (corner of Jessie), San Francisco, CA, 94103
bluebottlecoffee.net

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Blue Bottle Coffee is a household name for coffee geeks living or visiting San Francisco.  San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with James Freeman about a month ago. I have been frequented this cafe, both getting a latte at the cafe or buying their beans to bring back to my home in San Diego. The flagship Blue Bottle is at the Mint Plaza, not too far from Civic Center and Union Square. However, it is not located on the main streets so this place is ideal if you want a quick escape from the hectic people traffic on Market and Powell.

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The cafe is easy to spot if you know exactly where it is. Otherwise, try to locate a cute “blue bottle” logo on the wall of the building behind the Mint Building. Once you enter the cafe, you will find yourself in a craftsman-decorated 17ft-ceiling room with modern, industrial redecoration. Looking around, you will see glassware of Blue Bottle’s Kyoto-style coffee maker and other coffee-related appliances on cafe’s long countertop. It really makes you feel like being in a chemistry lab rather than a cafe, which is very cool.

I usually visit Blue Bottle in the afternoon of weekdays, and always find the cafe packed with customers. Sometimes, the line even goes beyond the entrance. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer your questions (including those related to the chemical reactions that might be happening in one of those glass beakers!). Since the cafe was very busy during the last time of my visit, I did not have a chance to talk to the barista although my latte was very good as expected. (Last month, my cappuccino was prepared by Sally, who had worked with Blue Bottle for 8 months. The drink was great, too.) Blue Bottle uses their 17ft Ceiling Blend for their espresso drinks. It mimics the Italian espresso blend but substituted robusta with high-quality organic arabica, resulting in a very smooth coffee with nice aroma. Blue Bottle also uses organic milk for their latte and cappuccino. If you are an ice-coffee guy, try Blue Bottle’s Kyoto or New Orleans ice coffee. (The Kyoto-style coffee takes over a day to prepare, slowly brewing drop by drop at room temperature.)

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In terms of its ambience, the cafe is good for those who want a short break with a cup of coffee. The high ceiling makes the cafe airy, open, and relax. People also meet here for some quick informal business discussions. Although the cafe seems to be crowded and people have to wait for their drinks at times, I never have problem finding a seat in this cafe. There might be just around 20-30 seats in total, all with communal high bars rather than individual tables. Customers tend not to sit for a long time. One of the reason is that this cafe is not laptop-friendly (no electrical plugs and no wireless internet). However, I concur that this is a good policy after all, given the size of the cafe and the number of customers it serves. This is the place that you can come to enjoy your drink, relax, and leave your work behind– at least for a short moment.

–Kris Hound

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Cafe Hounding: Peregrine Espresso – DC

Peregrine Espresso – Eastern Market

660 Pennsylvania Ave SE (between S. 6th St & S. 7th St)
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 629-4381

peregrineentrance

The illustrious Peregrine Espresso was my first real impressive specialty coffee experience in the Washington, D.C. area. It was quite a weekend for Cafe Hounding.  Upon my first visit to this Eastern Market located shop I was admittedly distracted by catching up with an old friend currently working at Commerce but I was quickly brought back into focus when I entered this fine establishment and saw the fresh roasted bags of coffee sitting at the entrance.

The ambiance is a pretty straight forward hipster look with chopped up doors hung on the wall for decor.  The lighting is good and it was packed with people taking up all of the available seating with their laptops (and there is a pretty decent amount of seating too!).  Granted, this was a Saturday at Eastern Market in the summer so this is probably about as crowded as it gets.

Peregrine Menu

The menu selection was very limited — a positive for me meaning that they do COFFEE here.

Latte Art at Peregrine Espresso

Latte Art at Peregrine Espresso

Let me emphasize the quality of the coffee here.  I entered and was able to choose between my very own personally drip brewed coffee from either Papa New Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya or Honduras.  All of these were roasted within the previous few days by Counter Culture down in NC and shipped same day up to DC.  I can attest that the quality control in that process seemed superb to me. One, because the Kenya AA that I drank in the store went down pretty good although not as delicious as the Kenya AA that Caribou carries (sorry guys :-/).  I’ll make a separate post on my experience with Kenya AA’s since it is probably one of my favorite single origins so I’ve tasted a lot over the years.

I also sampled an espresso to get my palate around their custom blend of espresso.  I must say, both the preparation of the espresso and the blend were sort of underwhelming on this visit.  I have heard so much good about Peregrine Espresso AND I was very happy that the baristas were both very knowledgeable of the entire industry and of competitive barismo  AND unpretentious.

They have free wifi and a decent amount of indoor and outdoor seating.  This is a great area of DC and thus, I’m sure they’ll do well for quite some time.  It’s a must check out if you’re passing through The District.  Thanks to David Flynn for his time and conversation while I picked his brain about specialty coffee.  Flynn came in 3rd this past Feb 2009 in the Mid-Atlantic Barista Competition along with other local area talent.  Peregine just opened in late 2008 and looks to have a lot of room to grow and prosper in the region.

Overall Rating: 3.4

Coffee Quality: 4.3, Cafe Ambiance: 3.6, Food: 1.8

–Maher Hound