Shop Spotlight: Kumquat Coffee, Highland Park, CA

In the small but vibrant neighborhood of Highland Park, there’s a coffee shop on York Blvd. that serves up coffee from roasters all over the world, has drink specials that are just as creative as they are delicious and plays classic cartoons in the back where a second espresso bar lives.

If this place sounds like a coffee nerds dream, then you are correct! The shop is called Kumquat Coffee and is one of the newer coffee spots to open up in the Highland Park area. Just make sure to not speed right past it on your way down York, though. The shop is small and is practically hidden by shrouds of trees, but once you spot it, it’s hard not to want to immediately go in and start taking photos and order a delicious drink.

The shop itself is bright and airy with plenty of seating for both people who want to sit and enjoy their morning/afternoon brew and for the folks who would much rather work in a peaceful environment rather than an office.

Aside from the welcoming interior of the spot, the coffee and baristas are just as amazing. When I went in, I was greeted with warm smiles from the two baristas behind the counter and a wonderful display of coffee options for me to pick from. The guy at the register told me that they are the only shop in the area that sells Fritz coffee, which is a roaster that is located in Korea! I had to go for the Costa Rican coffee from Fritz because when is the next time I am going to drink amazing coffee from a Korean coffee roaster?? (I mean…..probably the next time I go to Kumquat…but still.)

The coffee was everything I wanted and more. I woke up that day pretty out of it and this was just the thing to wake my ass up! It was crisp and refreshing with subtle notes of pineapple to it that intrigued my palette. I was very happy with my choice, but am looking forward to going back and trying their Ethiopian coffees (I heard that the Ethiopia Bensa is a real crowd favorite!)

Los Angeles is definitely a coffee shop city with small, tantalizing stores popping up almost overnight in every neighborhood, which makes it hard for me to pick which spot I try out next! There’s so much to see and so many coffee drinks to consume, but for now I am happy I re-started my #shopspotlight with Kumquat in Highland Park!

Coffee Tasting: Motorcycle Edition

It's been awhile since I've written coffee related columns but I am back and better than ever! (okay I really just have a day off from my hectic life but I'll take what I can get) 

SO a few weeks ago I was asked by my lovely boss Jean if I could help her and her husband Gary with a coffee tasting he was setting up. I said yes right away because I love a good coffee tasting and there was a unique twist to it: all of the coffee's being tasted were from shops around the country that also serve as motorcycle stores. It was a coffee/motorcycle crossover and I was all for it. I knew that there were cycling inspired roasters out there (look into Handlebar Coffee in Santa Barbara & Bicycle Coffee in Oakland) but this was the first time I was hearing about motorcyclists branching off and making their own roasting companies. 

The roasters Gary worked with for this tasting ranged everywhere from Portland, OR to Kansas City, MO. If the idea wasn't already cool enough, the coffee's we were working with were exceptionally good and had some of the most creative designs I have ever seen! I could blab on and on about the coffee tasting, how it goes and what key tasting notes everyone got from the coffee's, but I'll just link Gary's detailed story down below!

Big shoutout to Gary and Jean Boulanger for letting me shoot this fun event! It's at small gatherings like these where I love seeing how coffee can bring people together. Sounds super cliche and kinda silly, but I do believe that coffee is one of those magical things that can bring a group of different people together and be able to discuss it with one another. 

I'm hoping that the next few months bring me more days where I can lay down and type everything I love about coffee and roasting. It has been an interesting couple of months to say the least, but I guess all I can say is until next time my fellow coffee-loving friends! 

Coffee's from top to bottom: Cafe Moto from San Diego, CA; Moto Brew Coffee Co. from Seattle, WA; Blip Coffee Roasters from Kansas City, MO; Flat Track Coffee Co. from Austin, TX; Two Stroke from Portland, OR


Photos from top to bottom: Take a deep breath in and what do you smell? Smelling the coffee while it's both dry and wet livens our senses and gives us a preview of how it may taste; Wet grinds before the surface is broken and ready for tasting; Slurping the coffee delves our senses into a world of colorful adjectives that we can use to describe how the coffee tastes; vegetative, fruity, floral and chocolately are only a few of the words that are used when doing a coffee tasting. 

How To Make Coffee: Hario V-60

I woke up to a cloudy sky and rain silently dripping against my window this morning and for some reason  this calming duo made me want to get out and be productive! What better way to start off a busy day than to grab a cup of coffee right? I walked to the train station near my place and took the train to Mountain View to grab a delicious brew at my shop. While I was there, I was immediately inspired by my friend Brockway who was making a pour over for a customer. How cool is it that there are so many different ways one can make a cup of coffee? I watched closely as he carefully poured  ground beans into a V-60 funnel and inhaled deeply as he started to immerse the coffee with hot water. A pleasant aroma of flowers and chocolate filled my nose and made my body tingle with happiness. What fascinates me most about the making of coffee is that it is truly an art form in itself and watching a barista make your drink is mesmerizing. Thankfully I grabbed my camera before I walked out of the house, so I started to shoot my friend as he gracefully transitioned from one finished pour over to the next. 

Below is a little how-to on making coffee using a V-60. These brewers are a fun way to make hand crafted coffee while looking extremely cool while doing so. The V-60 is perfect for someone who is looking for an exact extraction with their coffee and is patient in the process. This brew method takes about 3-5 minutes to make depending on what region of coffee beans you are using. I wouldn't suggest this method for anyone who is short on time or is hasty with their coffee making routine. 

To make your coffee you will need a Hario V-60 brewer and filter (duh), grinder, almost boiling water (about 205°F), 20 g of coffee,  scale, timer and your favorite mug!

1.) First, start out by picking your favorite coffee beans. For reference and timing purposes, Latin American coffee's tend to drain faster than African coffee's.

2.) After you have picked your beans to use, get a bowl and put it on your scale. Tare the scale out and pour about 20 g of beans into the bowl. Set the bowl aside, place your V-60 on your scale, place filter in the brewer and slowly rinse the filter with hot water. We wet the filter so that no papery tastes find their way into your coffee!

3.) While the water is dripping through the filter, grind your beans at #7 on a Ditting grinder for Latina American coffees and #7.5 for Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees. We grind African coffees a bit coarser since they are more dense. 

4.) Place your ground coffee in the filter and make sure that there is no left over water in your brewer. Tare the scale once more and get ready to start brewing! 

5.) Start your timer and  slowly pour in concentric circles to 50 g. This is our bloom and helps to de-gass the coffee beans. 

6.) At 45 seconds (your bloom should be done by now), pour to 160 g using the same concentric circular motion. Also be sure to have a steady hand over your coffee. Since we want to take our time with this method, it is best not to rush with your pouring and instead be nurturing with it. 

7.) Maintain the brew level by pouring in 40 g increments all the way to 315 g. The best pours have fines sticking to the side of the filter and the spent grinds have a flat surface to them. 

8.) After 315 g have been reached, your coffee should be all drained by 3 minutes and 30 seconds. If you are using African coffees, the time may differ depending on how steady you were with your pouring.

Now that you are all done you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fresh cup of delicious V-60 coffee! 

Shop Spotlight: Bliss Coffee, Redwood City, CA

After a rough couple of weeks being tied down to work and job applications, I finally have carved out time again for myself! Woohoo! It's been awhile since my last post, so I am very happy to be back writing about coffee and the culture surrounding it!

At the start of this week, I sat myself down and basically had a pep talk with my inner voice. I've been very stressed out by work and job applications and have not been giving myself time to do what I am passionate about. I basically told myself that I need to set time for my work and for my "me-time" activities such as going to coffee shops and blogging about them. One of the stores I have been itching to go to is Bliss Coffee in Redwood City. This quaint little town is nestled between the bougie city of Palo Alto and the bustling outskirts of South San Francisco. Getting to Redwood City is usually a piece of cake, but today it was more of a trek than a fun little excursion. It is currently stormy as all hell here in the Bay Area and driving up took a bit longer than expected. There is nothing a little techno music and inner persuasion cant fix, so with that I slowly inched my way up north. 

When I got to Redwood City, the sky cleared up and literally a ray of sunlight was hitting the shop I was about to go into. Seeing this definitely made me happy that I chose to come here even with all the obstacles that I had to overcome. Walking inside Bliss Coffee I was greeted by soothing jazz music, plenty of seating and warm smiles from the baristas behind the bar. I was a bit overwhelmed with all the yummy options that beckoned me from their menu such as their nutella latte and VB latte. The two sounded enticing, but I chose to go with my usual pour over coffee. What i like about Bliss is that you have options to your coffee. They serve up Street Level from Verve and Gamut from Chromatic for the espresso while also having a range of coffees from both vendors for pour overs & drop coffee. Big Giant Coffee Roasters is also served here and is the shops own roaster! I love when small coffee shops have a variety of coffee beans from all over and being able to see them proudly serve their own roasted beans was very inspiring. 

Drinking my Chromatic Aleta Wendo Sidama pour over, I sat and observed the store. Though it may be small, Bliss offers up a mighty punch with their extensive drink menu and friendly staff. I'm always hesitant to take photos in coffee shops solely because some people don't like their photos being taken. The sweet barista behind the bar however started talking with me about my camera and my blog, which gave me the okay to shoot away. 

Bliss Coffee is a true gem to the already pleasant Redwood City. Even though it may be a trek for me coming from San Jose, I would not mind taking the train up just to have a nice conversation with the baristas while enjoying a delicious, hand-crafted coffee. 

Shop Spotlight: Sue's Gallery Cafe, Saratoga, CA

Saratoga is a beautiful little town located off of the west side of Santa Clara Valley that is known for its popular wineries and abundant hiking trails. Though the town itself  may be small in size, it boasts a plethora of great shops and restaurants for locals and visitors alike to take part in. I go to Saratoga  every couple of months to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Jose to unwind my mind and take pleasure in the serenity that is found there. My favorite spots to collect my thoughts are either at the botanical gardens that are filled with lush vegetation or Sue's Gallery Cafe. 

When you pull up to Sue's, you are greeted to a welcoming little shop that has plenty of outside seating and is a perfect spot to meet up with friends or family. Walking inside the cafe is like a breath of fresh air. The decor is minimal yet soothing and the array of grey and rust-colored handmade mugs makes you want to swoop one up and take it home with you! The cafe has everything a coffee snob like myself loves: a nice environment to get work done, a friendly staff and an amazing list of drinks that range from Kenyan pour overs to silky matcha lattes. If you are like me and sometimes are slow to pick what you want, the staff at Sue's are happy to talk with you about your flavor profile and what type of coffee or non-coffee drinks you tend to go for. The shop serves up Sightglass Coffee which is a favorite among the coffee snobs up in San Francisco and also serves a decent amount of yummy pastries and toast options for foodies as well. 

Whether you are in Saratoga to enjoy the scenery with friends  or take time for yourself, Sue's Gallery Cafe is one place you do not want to miss on your journey to the hidden gem of the Santa Clara Valley. 

Shop Spotlight: Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz CA

As you drive down 41st Street in sunny Capitola, you will probably notice one of these three things: palm-tree lined streets, locals either riding their bikes or skateboards and a line wrapped around the original Verve Coffee shop.

Verve Coffee Roasters is located in various locations around Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Japan and now Palo Alto. With a wide selection of coffee beans and aesthetically appealing shops to go around, Verve is one of the top coffee roasters in the nation. Their Instagram account boasts over 132k followers that include dedicated coffee snobs and Instagram models alike. Whether you are a coffee lover or not, you have probably heard of Verve or stepped inside one of their many locations. The one I went to yesterday is one of their original spots and is located in the small surf town of Capitola. The shop itself is roomy and bright and welcomes guests in with chilled out surf rock playing overhead and friendly staff members that can help you in your caffeinated decisions.

Even though this shop is not as big as their Pacific Avenue location, which tends to be one of their most Instagrammed shops, the 41st Avenue store still holds a certain charm that simultaneously oozes coolness and relaxed vibes. Being the coffee snob I am, I pondered over their extensive menu of coffee, latte and alternative drink choices and chose to go the one on one route. The one on one, as the friendly barista was telling me, is one of Verve's most popular drink options because it gives the consumer a taste of regular shot of espresso and a shot of espresso with steamed milk on top. This gives the customer a chance to not only see how the espresso tastes by itself, but also how it pairs with milk. The one on one that I sampled was made with their limited seasonal blend called Mersha Mersha. The espresso was tart and juicy, almost like a red cherry. It went down smoothly and tasted phenomenal when paired with steamed milk. I am usually not one to drink espresso straight up, but an exception was made when I drank the first sips of the Mersha Mersha.

Verve, like many other coffee roasters in the nation, work together with the farmers that supply them with their coffee. Even though Verve may seem a bit more popular on the social scale than some smaller roasters, they still are true to themselves and where they come from and also stick to ethical way of buying coffee beans. If you are ever in Santa Cruz, LA or even Japan, I would highly recommend Verve not just for the aesthetic appeal, but for the great coffee and the wonderful people that work there. 

Shop Spotlight: Academic Coffee, San Jose CA

What once used to be a deserted laundromat on Second Street has now blossomed into a classy cafe for local downtown San Jose residents to enjoy. Academic Coffee came to the bustling tech city of San Jose a few months ago just as a pop-up shop that lived inside Five Points bar.

Even though it was relatively hidden at first, the coffee shop gained traction fast for its delicious pastries and rich coffee. Now nestled in on the corner of East William and South Second streets, Academic is the perfect place for great coffee in a cool atmosphere. With its artsy blue and black murals lining the walls and a porcelain coffee machine beckoning guests to come in, the shop is the latest attraction for downtown residents to get their caffeine fix. Some crowd favorites include their mint matcha latte or their silky nitro cold brew. For black coffee lovers like myself, I love their drip coffee which comes from Temple Coffee in Sacramento.

Aside from their delicious drinks, Academic also proudly serves up pastries from Third Culture Bakery and Alexander's Patisserie while also having food specials on the weekends. With a hip yet relaxed vibe, friendly staff and incredible coffee choices, Academic Coffee is the newest addition to the every-growing downtown San Jose scene that will definitely continue to prosper well into the new year. 

A Warm Welcome

I started my career in coffee almost three years ago when I walked into the spacious quarters of Red Rock Coffee. Located at the heart of downtown Mountain View, Red Rock Coffee was everything I thought a coffee shop should be like. It was grand and had plenty of space for patrons to work, had an incredibly friendly staff behind the bar and of course served up a mean cup of joe.

When I came to Red Rock to put in an application, I thought to myself "wow, this place is amazing but I may have to be a coffee connoisseur to be able to work here." Even with that mentality in my head, I made it to the final interview and got hired on the spot. My first few months working at Red Rock were filled with basic training and learning the ropes of opening and closing. I was a register girl but would always watch the baristas on my down time as they danced together to make beautiful cappuccinos, lattes and Gibraltar's.  

My fascination with the craft of coffee grew more and more each time I came into work, and soon enough I was on my way to Four Barrel Coffee to get proper training to become a fancy barista. My first trip to Four Barrel was an experience that meant so much to me. Being able to work one on one with a highly skilled coffee trainer was a little daunting at first, but as the day progressed I started to feel comfortable asking questions about extraction and milk texture with the expert. After my fist training process, I was off and running. I was put on bar the next week, which came with its high and low moments. Because I went to training I thought that everything I knew would immediately stick in my mind. That was not the case, however, and  I struggled a bit at first being alone on bar especially during the rush periods.

Throughout the next months, I became more confident in asking questions about things I still was unsure of and started to become more comfortable being alone on bar even when drinks were flowing in. Today, I am training others who come in with questions and always love teaching both coworkers and customers alike about coffee and what it means to be a "third-wave coffee shop".

Before working at Red Rock, I only thought that coffee was a corporate thing and that Starbucks was the end all of the coffee world. Working at an independent shop has opened my eyes to a world filled with delicious coffee from around the world and beautiful people who share the same love of the craft as I do. I will always attribute Red Rock to my passion for craft coffee and I hope that this blog opens others eyes to the vast and wonderful world of specialty coffee and coffee culture.