Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names of San Francisco speciality coffee. Now a chain of three shops (one of which is a bakery) as well as a roaster, this branch, in the Mission, is the original. It was also, for a while, the main roastery as well. These days, roasting takes place at a dedicated facility in Oakland, but the old roaster is still there at the back of the store. In fact, the space is neatly split in two, with the coffee shop in the front, and the old roastery, now used for storage, training and cuppings, at the back.
Four Barrel is unusual in that it has two counters. The main one is in the middle of the store, offering the Friendo Blendo seasonal house-blend on espresso, along with decaf, plus a rapidly-changing single-origin on bulk-brew. There is also a wide selection of cake on offer if you are hungry. Alternatively, to the left of the door, is the “slow bar”. This offers five single-origins on pour-over and another on espresso. The slow bar has limited hours, only opening from eight until three in the week and until six at the weekends.
One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.
So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…
The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King’s Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.
This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.