Tag Archives: Baristas

Cafe Hounding: Verve Coffee

Verve Coffee Roasters
816 41st Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Phone: (831) 475-7776


Awesome service, attention to coffee, and people.

Kris checked this place out when stopping through Santa Cruz while galavanting through California per usual.  The life of a professor… The atmosphere at Verve is relaxing in true Californian style.  Plenty of natural light and wood and metal decor reminiscent of Urban Outfitters in its layout.  The shop is located only a couple of blocks from the Pacific Ocean, which undoubtedly adds to the tranquil feel.

The beans are roasted next door in their own facility – it appears they also sell wholesale across the country. Check out their website to make sure. Verve is among the most raved about roasters in the continental US and their baristas are talented enough to consistently make a splash at the annual SCAA barista competitions.  Unfortunately for Kris, during his visit the top baristas were actually in Houston competing in the SCAA annual competition on the national stage.  The staff are super fun and friendly and the wifi is very, very free.

Two paws up for this place.  We look forward to continuing to sample their coffee throughout 2012!

– Cafe Hound


Cafe Hounding: Cafe Grumpy – New York, NY (Chelsea)

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) West 20th
224 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212 255 5511

Best coffee in New York; possibly the entire Atlantic Seaboard.

They began roasting their own beans in September 2009 (at Greenpoint roastery in BK, New York). Before that, that only bought wholesale from the best roasters in the United States (including Novo Coffee, Intelligentsia, Ritual Roasters, Blue Bottle, Counter Culture).  Both Kris and Maher visited Cafe Grumpy in October 2009, their initial visit to this location.  The clean and bright interior of the locale is very appealing and it becomes immediately apparent that Grumpy is very serious about coffee and about great customer service.  The baristas all are very well trained and coffee knowledgeable.  The machines are all of excellent caliber and the cleanliness is very impressive.

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) from the front.

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea) from the entrance. Old friends catching up inside.

There is no wi-fi here and the philosophy of the management is that people come to Grumpy to socialize, drink coffee, and NOT get lost in their electronic equipment.  Given the popularity of iPads and smartphones these days, I’m not entirely sure that the management is completely batting back the gadget-aholics.  That said, the quantity and volume of conversations here is noticeably more than in many other shops visited in DC and elsewhere.  Without a much surprise, during this October trip Kris and Maher visited at least five shops – including Abraço, Everyman Espresso, Mud (East Village), Juan Valdez – and Grumpy easily bested the rest.

Cafe Grumpy cappuccino with latte art included 🙂

Coffee here was plentifully available in retail whole bean variety and drinks were made carefully and wonderfully.  UPDATE:  In November 2010 a friend recently brought me a pound of ‘Heartbreaker’ from New York.  This is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to try their self-roasted blend (formerly custom blended by outsourced roasters).  It rocks as espresso.  Not bad for drip coffee but wouldn’t recommend it.

Blue Bottle has recently opened its own location in New York and now Grumpy is roasting its own beans.  As the top of the specialty coffee segment broadens its customer base, competition among the best is increasing.  Following the increase in market size and competition among the major players, there has been a very interesting diversity of business strategies employed by the big names. More to come on this…

– Maher Hound

Cafe Hounding: Caffe Calabria – San Diego

3933 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104

Caffe Calabria is one of a few hidden gem roasters in San Diego, CA.  Located in a unique section of town known to locals as North Park; it has the charm of an Italian espresso bar mixed with a ‘work-in-progress’ pizzeria and the edge of North Park mixed in for good measure.  The owner, Ernie, got his start manning a coffee cart at the local hospital.  Over time he developed a passion for roasting and has grown his business via carving out a niche serving the local restaurant and coffee shop market with his fresh roasted beans.

The Roast Master, Jesse, is a very cool operator with a keen sense of knowing when beans are ready to eject from the large industrial roasting machine they have in the back of the shop.  They have plenty of outlets, a rustic and open space, and a great – although limited selection – of sandwiches/paninis.

The “work-in-progress” has evolved into quite an attractive space over the past three years but has yet to reach the goal of an authentic pizzeria.  The most impressive piece within the restaurant is a pizza oven brought piece by piece from Italy and reassembled in the store.   Also, the art work is mostly done by local artists and the clientele is quite an eclectic mix of hipsters, students and locals (there is plenty of overlap between the three).  Before some of the sales staff left, there used to be free cuppings every morning at 8am – not sure if this is still firm policy.  According to store staff, the pizzeria should be opening very soon on Thursday and Friday evenings.  Unfortunately, many a café squatting afternoon was prematurely ended at Calabria – they close their doors to business at 3pm.

Their espresso is tops in San Diego, with only Bird Rock spending more time and effort in perfecting the pull.  Both the blend that Calabria uses and the training of their baristas is well above average for the specialty coffee world.  It’s well worth stopping by this location just to get a well made drink.  Calabria delivers some of the best quality roasted beans in San Diego AND has the well trained baristas to prepare top quality drinks too!

A portion of their beans are purchased from renowned importer, Elan Organic Coffee, now of the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe.  Calabria wholesales to many local coffee shops and other retailers such as Café Mono (Mission Beach), Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy in San Diego.  Check them out and tell them the Café Hounds sent you!