By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer
This past winter I found myself in London looking for good coffee. Walking along Monmouth St. in Seven Dials, I was shivering from the cold (it was around 15 degrees Fahrenheit at the time) when I came across a rather long line (or “queue”) outside an impossibly quaint shop. Monmouth Coffee Company, the sign said, and staring at the brave souls in the queue I thought, “That must be excellent coffee indeed.” I got in line, braving the cold, but the line moved quickly, and I soon found myself in a coffee lover’s paradise. The shop was tiny, with narrow antique booths that were packed with young intellectuals and elderly singles, enjoying a paper with their coffees. A team of young, energetic women who were quick on their feet and master baristas rushed about, taking orders and making coffee with dexterous hands. Inside, it was anything but cold. I ordered a plain black coffee, the day’s brew from Pasajquin (Guatemala) and was immediately blown away by both the coffee’s flavor and appearance. It was so dark as to seem thick, and though at first slightly bitter, a small amount of creamy milk from a local dairy farm turned the cup into a coffee lover’s dream. “Wow,” I thought, “So this is what good coffee tastes like.”
Until then, I had been making a weak daily cup at home with a Bodum French Press and beans from Trader Joe’s, which has a good selection of beans from all over the world, both organic and free-trade. Once I returned from London however, I have been looking for equally impressive coffee shops here in the States. There’s something special about enjoying a professionally brewed cup at a coffee boutique, and I was happy to find that my own San Francisco Bay Area took coffee just as seriously as London. Here at Big City Chefs, the general consensus is that a meal, whether out on the town or served to a client at a private dinner party, is not complete without a dessert and coffee pairing. And though dessert often takes center stage, for some, the coffee is the real treat. So we’ve been scouring each of our markets for the best beans in town, so that we might replicate that wonderful coffee boutique experience in our private chef clients’ homes, whether in Los Angeles or New York. One microroaster and brewery that has been gaining notoriety across the country is the Blue Bottle Coffee Companu, featured recently in the New York Times. A small company from Oakland, California, they specialize in artisanal microroasting and their website offers instructions on how to brew the perfect cup at home. Our private chef clients from coast to coast really enjoy the experience of a cup of Blue Bottle with their final course.
For the adventurous like me, it’s fun to discover the stand-out specialties of each coffee shop, so that we can bring real regional flavor to our dinner parties. In my local San Francisco Bay Area, Ritual Coffee Roasters specializes in a “sweet tooth espresso,” brewed from a single source. The flavor changes each month, with March’s Sweet Tooth offering being from Gedeo, Ethiopia. Philz Coffee specializes in custom blends made with three times the amount of beans in your average cup so that you’ll be “as high as a plane!” Four Barrel Coffee is another popular spot in San Francisco with a strong following on Yelp. They sell distinct blends directly from their website along with coffee brewing equipment. Now that I’ve got my list, I’m going to try them out and further educate my coffee palate!