Wrecking Ball, Union Street

A Kalita Wave filter just finishing brewing at Wrecking Ball in San FranciscoWrecking Ball started life as a coffee roaster in San Francisco around 10 years ago. However, the coffee shop is a relatively new venture, having only been open for a couple of years when I visited in February 2017. It’s in Cow Hollow, slightly off the beaten track for the average tourist, west of North Beach/Russian Hill. However, it’s easy enough to get to on one of the many bus routes that criss-cross the city.

The coffee shop is an interesting space, underneath an old townhouse in what, I believe, was the parking garage. This gives it very much a basement feel, although it is directly accessible from the street via a long, corridor-like passage that slopes slightly upwards. It’s easily the smallest of the speciality coffee shops I visited on that trip, with three benches and three chairs inside and three small tables on the pavement outside. I admire the consistency!

As you might expect from one of San Francisco’s leading roasters, there’s a range beans for sale or to try, with a blend on espresso, along with decaf, and several single-origins, two of which are available as pour-over (Kalita Wave), one on cold brew and another on bulk-brew.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • When I rule the world, parking in front of coffee shops will be complete outlawed!
  • That's a better view! The stairs on the right lead up to a townhouse...
  • ... while what we want is here: a coffee shop in the house's old parking garage.
  • It's Wrecking Ball, by the way, another San Francisco roaster/coffee shop!
  • Inside, there's a long, thiin, gently-sloping corridor running back under the house.
  • Three stepped benches run along the left-hand wall, matching the corridor's gradient.
  • The view looking back towards the door. The slope is pronounced, but gentle.
  • Another view of the benches. Along with the tables outside, this is the bulk of the seating.
  • Beyond the benches, Wrecking Ball opens out to the right to form a basement-like space.
  • There's an L-shaped counter with the till and espresso machine at the back...
  • ... while on the right, three chairs provide a great view of the pour-over station.
  • Looking back from the main area to the corridor and the door.
  • Immediately after the benches, there is a set of retail shelves on the left-hand wall.
  • These have bags of coffee, all roasted in-house, for sale on the top...
  • ... and merchandising and coffee-related kit on the bottom shelves.
  • There's a range of coffee for sale, including decaf and espresso blends...
  • ... as well as multiple single-origins, including a Guatemala (left) & Indonesian (right).
  • More single-origin coffee, this time from Colombia.
  • The decor's predominantly very austere white, except for the wall on the left at the front.
  • A closer look at the magnificent pattern on the wallpaper.
  • The obligatory light fitting shot.
  • Meanwhile, to break up the all-white austerity, there are flowers by the espresso machine.
  • To business. You order at the till which is right at the back.
  • The wonderfully-concise menu hangs conveniently on the wall behind the till.
  • To the left is a small but tempting selectoin of pastries, cakes and eggs.
  • Meanwhile the espresso machine, and the flowers, are on the right on a 45 degree angle.
  • The obligatory bulk-brew filter machines are neatly tucked away to the left.
  • Wrecking Ball uses barista milk, organic milk formulated specifically for baristas.
  • However, I was after neither espresso nor milk. Instead, I wanted pour-over...
  • ... which has half of the counter dedicated to it, including these in-built scale units.
  • I selected the Sulawesi from Indonesia. Step one, set everything up and zero the scales.
  • Step two, rinse the Kalita Wave filter, pre-warming the carafe in the process.
  • Step three: allow the coffee to bloom by pouring a small amount of water on the grounds.
  • Then we wait.
  • Next, the filter is filled up almost to the top...
  • ... and then left to filter through a little...
  • ... before being topped up again.
  • Each time, the barista uses short, controlled pours moving the kettle around the filter.
  • Again, the Kalita Wave is left to filter through a little between pours...
  • ... before being topped up again.
  • This is similar to the continuous-pour technique I see a lot with V60s...
  • ... and very different from the fill-it-up-once technique that's the other common one.
  • The gap between the pours is very short...
  • ... with a small amount added each time, just enough to bring the level back to the top.
  • I lost count of the number of top-ups that went into my pour-over...
  • ... but it was easily six or maybe seven.
  • Basically, the barista kept going until the target weight of water had been reached...
  • ... and then the remaining water is left to filter through.
  • All that's left is to serve the coffee...
  • ... which Wrecking Ball does in a large mug...
  • ... rather than presenting the customer with the carafe and a cup on the side.
  • And there it is, my Kaltia Wave pour-over, ready to drink.
  • I'll leave you with my coffee casting a watchful eye over its surroundings.
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On the southern (ie shady) side of Union Street in Cow Hollow, Wrecking Ball can easily be missed, with its modest store front under a flight of steps which lead up to the townhouse above. The thing that most easily gives it away is the row of three small tables, each flanked by a pair of chairs which face the street. The entrance, which consists of a large, square window, with a door in the right-hand side, is at the left-hand end, under the balcony at the top of the steps.

The door leads to a long, wide corridor which runs back under the house, sloping slightly upwards. There is a flight of three stepped benches on the left, each slightly higher than the one before, matching the gradient of the corridor. These make up the bulk of the interior seating and is pretty unique: I can’t think of another coffee shop with seating like this.

The corridor leads to a basement-like area at the back. Alternatively, depending on your point of view, the corridor just gets a bit wider on the right. Either way, this is the main space, dominated by a large, L-shaped counter which runs along the back and down the right-hand side. The till and cakes are at the back, the espresso machine, a two-group La Marzocco Strada, is in the corner at 45⁰, while the right-hand part of the counter is given over to pour-over, with a custom-built set-up including built-in scales. You’ll find the last of the seating here, three chairs, one for each set of scales.

The interior is very modern, with a clean, austere white décor, enlivened by some magnificent wallpaper on the left-hand wall of the corridor. Despite this modernity, the building is quite old (by San Francisco standards), something which is revealed by a closer inspection of the back wall.

This, by the way, is just a coffee shop. Wrecking Ball roasts in a large facility inside what I think is an old warehouse on Folsom Street, roughly equidistant between Sightglass and Sextant. I had wandered past a few days earlier without quite realising where I was and spotted the roaster through the open doors. Sadly, you can’t go in, but you can (literally) say hello.

Normally there are two baristas on duty at the coffee shop, but when I popped in, one of the staff members was new, so there was a third barista there, providing training. I’d caught them at a quiet moment and so was the only customer. Never have I felt more outnumbered by the staff!

Naturally I took a seat at the brew-bar and ordered a pour-over (Kalita Wave). The two choices, which change every month or two (basically when the current one runs out) were a Huehuetenango La Sierra from Guatemalan and a Sulawesi Toraja Toarco Jaya from Indonesia. I selected the Sulawesi, which was made using a continual top-up pouring method (see the gallery) and served in a mug. It had plenty of body, but was smooth, subtle and well-balanced, holding its own even when cold. It also made a change from the Ethiopian and Rwandan coffees that I’d enjoying on the trip. In fact, on a trip dominated by African coffee, it was great to see Wrecking Ball offering some different origins.

2271 UNION STREET • SAN FRANCISCO • CA 94123 • USA
www.wreckingballcoffee.com +1 415-638-9227
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Wrecking Ball (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Counter, Bench, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi No
Sunday 08:00 – 18:00 Power No
Chain No Visits 1st February 2017

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