"I want to be sedated," Joey Ramone sings from a record player as I walked into Four Barrel, a new cafe in the Mission. I was thinking the exact opposite, "I'm here to be caffinated." Still a bit jittery from my morning cup, I had come by to check out the hot new center of coffeegeekdom and risk possible heart explosion by drinking both a double espresso and one of their single-coffee offerings.
Four Barrel, a project of one of the co-founders of Ritual Coffee Roasters, Jeremy Tooker, has received a lot of buzz from blogs such as Eater and Man Seeking Coffee. I arrived slightly before noon, expecting a mob scene similar to what Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza had its first day (think lines out the door, coffee luminaries lingering over the siphon bar) but only about two dozen people were there. Perhaps this is due to the cafe not garnering a section front spread in the New York Times, as Blue Bottle did. Oh well, my gain, I guess.
Four Barrel's space is huge, its a long, open warehouse-looking building that has an industrial sensibility with concrete floors and exposed wooden-beam ceilings. Small tables for two or four line one wall, with additional seating at long tables along the shop's street-facing windows. The front half of the cafe is for customers, the back half is where one roaster currently sits, with another reportedly set to join it. There's some art on the walls, but the real attraction is what's behind the shoehorn-shaped main bar in the center of the space.
Four Barrel has two La Marzocco Mistrals, with three-group heads each. These beasts are sexy. Like, Ferrari sexy. Grrrrr....you can imagine them purring as you approach the counter. They were also stocked with naked portafiliters, which allow you to witness the beauty that is crema bubbling and streaming out of the machine. You can't just walk into any old restaurant supply store and buy a Mistral, you have to order them individually from Italy. A poster on Coffeed.com said this is a mid-life crisis machine. I agree -- forgo the corvette and splurge on one of these babies, and you won't need Viagra.
Moving along swiftly, as my friend Cath would say after an awkward exposition, the coffee is supplied by Stumptown. They're using Stumptown's Hair Bender espresso blend in the Mistals. I was hoping to try some single-origin espresso, but they're not offering that yet.
Hair Bender is a blend of five different coffees from the three major growing regions of the world, according to Stumptown's website. It the small cup it smelled a bit woody, and I was getting some else really funky, like Thai spices. Not sure if my brain was just quitting on me, but it had a very unique aroma that smelled like a Thai dish, like some sort of basil-garlic meal. Maybe I was totally misreading this, and perhaps your giggling and thinking, "this douchebag is just making stuff up" but it's what I wrote down in my notebook at the time, so therefore it must be true. In the mouth, this blend has a chewy sweetness and a chocolate milk consistency. No bitterness at all.
I also ordered a cup of French press coffee. They were only offering the El Salvador Los Planes. This cup had a satisfying fruit finish, maybe melon, or sweet green grapes. A touch of pencil shavings.
After letting these coffees linger on my tongue for a bit, I walked over to the main bar area to drop off my mugs, and spotted Tooker, bouncing an infant on the counter. He said he hopes to do cuppings in a few weeks when he has more employees, and a large stand near the front of the cafe will eventually have a express French press lane, as well as individual presses for different coffee offerings. I almost asked if I could work there. I seriously wanted to hop over the counter and go to town on one of those Mistrals, just try working with a real machine for once, and see how I could do. Instead, after mumbling about the coffee offerings, I asked about the Clover, whether he'd want one here after having it at Ritual.
"I hated the Clover," he said. "Made it taste too much like tea."
After that, with the coffee and espresso starting to kick in, I felt an overwhelming urge to run the 2-miles back to my office, and took my coffee in a cup to go. (This feeling didn't wear off anytime soon, in fact, it's more than 12 hours later as I'm tying this, unable to sleep, at 2a.m.)
This is a nice cafe and if it does develop into a place where coffee aficionados can come by and learn more about the beans they buy, develop their cupping skills, and try some excellent coffees in ways they haven't before, then Four Barrel will certainly stand out among the budding crowd of specialty roasters here in the SF Bay.