Four Barrel Coffee, Valencia

My decaf cappuccino in a beautiful, handleless cup at Four Barrel Coffee, San Francisco.Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names in 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 batch 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.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Four Barrel Coffee on the leafy Valencia Street at the north end of the Mission, San Francisco.
  • It occupies a wide store front, with seating outside, plus plenty of bike racks.
  • The front, however, is rather anonymous: I walked past the first time! Let's go in.
  • Four Barrel goes a long way back. And I mean a long way! This is the view from the door.
  • Turning around, the door & its flanking windows, providing plenty of natural light at the front.
  • To the left of the door there's a four-person window-bar, tucked in behind the 'slow bar'.
  • There's another four-person window-bar to the right of the door.
  • The bulk of the seating continues on the right-hand side, with long, communal tables...
  • ... followed by two-person tables. Check out the artworks on the wall.
  • These continue down the right-hand wall past the counter. Yes, that's right, there's more!
  • Beyond the counter, a bar runs almost the full width of Four Barrel.
  • We're now about half way back. Beyond the final seating is the Four Barrel roastery.
  • There's one more place to sit, a little one-person bar on the left-hand side.
  • This neat stag's head is a hook for a chain, designed to close off access to the roastery.
  • The roastery is a large space at the back, although it's no longer used for production roasting.
  • This means that the lovely old roaster only gets fired up every now and then.
  • These days the space is largely used for storage, training & cuppings, like this one.
  • The view from the back, looking over the counter towards the doors at the front.
  • One of the nice things about Four Barrel is that there's plenty of greenery about.
  • I was particularly taken by these...
  • ... while these adorn the front of the counter.
  • Interesting choice of decoration. I thought it was four barrel, not four heads...
  • With its beautiful cups, Four Barrel's retail shelves also double as decoration.
  • The staff, by the way, have access to a large vinyl library and a turntable.
  • To business. The counter dominates the middle of the store...
  • ... while to the left is a very minimalist set of retail shelves.
  • These have all of Four Barrel's output for sale, including the Friendo Blendo espresso blend...
  • ... which has the components listed on the back.
  • There is also Four Barrel's extensive range of single-origins. Here, an Ethiopian Goljo.
  • The business end of the counter, with two tills, one to the left, the other to the right.
  • In the middle is the cake selection, looking very tempting.
  • There are also two espresso machines, this Kees van der Westen on the left...
  • ... and this two-group Kees van der Westen Spirit on the right.
  • At back, parallel to the tills at the front, is the bulk-brew facility.
  • There is one single-origin on bulk-brew at a time, but it can change several times a day!
  • The main coffee menu hangs from the ceiling above the counter...
  • ... although it looks remarkably different from the back!
  • The first time I popped in was late one Monday evening, when I needed decaf.
  • I love watching espresso extract...
  • ... particularly when it's into such goregous cups.
  • My decaf cappuccino. Once again, isn't that cup gorgeous.
  • The latte art held its pattern really well by the way.
  • I returned two days later when I decided to sample something from the slow bar.
  • Okay. That's not a great sign.
  • Still, it's a chance to look around. There are five single-origins on pour-over, one on espresso.
  • The slow bar has a little silo on the counter for each of the five single-origins on pour-over.
  • Beyond that, at the back, there's a single-group La Marzocco espresso machine...
  • ... with retail shelves above.
  • I selected the Ethiopia Goljo. Step one, rinse the filter paper for the Beehouse Dripper.
  • Step two, weight the beans. A healthy dose there!
  • Next, grind the beans using the ubiquitous EK-43.
  • The coffee goes into the filter paper and we're ready to go.
  • Hot water, by the way, comes from the trusty Marco boiler at the back.
  • The all-important first pour, to let the coffee bloom.
  • Followed by the main pour, which fills up the dripper.
  • Now we just have to wait...
  • ... while the coffee drips through.
  • The final step, serve.
  • My coffee, in its mug.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

On the east side of the wide, leafy Valencia Street at the Mission’s northern end, Four Barrel Coffee fits a mould I was beginning to recognise after visits to Sightglass and Sextant (although, in fairness, Four Barrel predates them both). Occupying what feels like an old industrial building, it’s long and wide, with a low, wooden ceiling, giving way to an A-framed roof about hallway back. A more utilitarian space than either Sightglass or Sextant, it has its own particular charm.

You can sit outside, where tables line the far side of the pavement, next to the busy street, or sit inside where there’s plenty of seating. Either way, you’ll have to head inside to order. The front of Four Barrel is all glass, double doors deeply recessed in the centre, leaving space on either side for a four-person window-bar. On the left is the slow bar, followed by retail shelves, while the bulk of the seating’s on the right. First, long, narrow tables project from the walls, then as you near the counter, these are placed by short, narrow tables from the walls. The seating continues past the counter, by now reduced to two-person tables.

There’s more seating behind the counter, a long bar running almost the full width of the store, separating the coffee shop from the old roastery. This has a simple layout, with a vintage Probat, complete with external gears/chains, taking pride of place in the centre. On the occasional day it’s in operation, sit at the bar and watch it in action. The remaining space is given over to storage, while right at the back, another counter with espresso machines and bulk-brew equipment is used for staff training. There are small windows in the back wall and regularly-spaced skylights in the A-frame roof.

The counter’s almost an island, but is attached to the left-hand wall. The front part of the store is open and uncluttered, allowing you direct access to the counter from the door, with plenty of space to wait. Just as in Sightglass, there are twin tills, one to the left, the other to the right, with the cake in the middle. Each till has its own Kees van der Westen espresso machine, while the single-origin for the bulk-brew is displayed next to the tills. Be warned, however: this can change two or three times a day!

My first visit was on Monday evening, when I stopped by for a decaf cappuccino. This was served in a lovely, handleless earthenware cup. Rich and sweet, it blended perfectly with the sweetness of the milk to make a very rich, smooth drink, the excellent latte art holding the pattern to the bottom of the cup. I also had a Kovignamann, a rich pastry made of dense croissant dough, enriched with butter. Although very sweet, it wasn’t sickly sweet and was very, very tasty.

I returned two days later to try the slow bar. During my visit, this had six single-origins (five pour-over through the Beehouse Dripper and one espresso), all of which were Africans, chosen, said the barista, because that’s what he likes. You order your coffee here and, if you don’t want to watch your pour-over being made, take a seat and the barista will bring your coffee to you. This is in contrast to the main counter, where the predominant American practice of hollering your name until you come to collect your coffee is still in force.

I selected the Ethiopian Goljo, which was a very smooth, well-balanced coffee that tasted just as good cold as it was hot. Definitely worth returning for!

375 VALENCIA STREET • SAN FRANCISCO • CA 94103 • USA +1 415-896-4289
Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Roaster Four Barrel (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Tables, Bars
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 07:00 – 20:00 Wifi No
Sunday 07:00 – 20:00 Power No
Chain Local Visits 30th January, 1st February 2017

You can see what fellow-blogger Bex, of Double Skinny Macchiato, made of Four Barrel when she visited as part of her own one-day whirlwind tour of San Francisco.

Liked this Coffee Spot? Then check out the rest of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to San Francisco.

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