San Fran Buzzing Coffee Scene

San Fran’s riding the Third Wave, loud and proud. Whilst we’re on the subject, let’s take a small detour and explore the origins of the term. The First Wave takes its roots in post-1940s, when corporations mass-marketed instant, freeze-dried coffee, that invaded US households.

The Second Wave took off in the 1960s and 1970s with companies such as Peet’s Coffee & Tea of Berkeley and later Starbucks experimenting with espresso machines and darkly roasted ‘specialty coffees’, ‘incepting’ the idea in the minds of the masses that coffee is cultivated in various regions around the globe. Consumers relished their cup of Joe not because of the complexities of the brew itself but rather skimmed the surface of its secondary attributes: the caffeine buzz, the sugar rush from syrups, the comfort of holding a warm beverage while making idle conversation.

All hail the 21st Century and the birth of the Third Wave movement, led by coffee enthusiasts around the world who are intensely focused on producing high-quality artisanal coffee.  These coffee shops not only seek to build direct trading relationships with coffee farmers around the world, but also adapt the roasting and brewing methods to the bean to ensure your coffee truly is ‘good to the last drop’.

San Fran’s buzzing hipster coffee scene is alight with independent coffee shops and microroasteries specialising in small-batch, seasonal, uber-fresh coffees. You don’t have to be a coffee nerd to enjoy coffee at one of these places. The experience itself might even reveal itself as an epiphany: the white procelaine 7fl.oz cup, velvety layer of milk, topped with a rosetta leaf or heart design (the signature of a skilled barista) and an incredibly smooth shot of espresso. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Then again, you could go through the five stages:

  1. Denial: Yeah, Third Wave’s just a load of baloney. Ain’t nothing wrong with my Nescafé.
  2. Anger: Why are these underground coffee shops so impossible to hunt down anyway?
  3. Bargaining: Ok coffee geeks, where can I get my fix? Web-based coffee guides and iPhone apps are my only salvation.
  4. Depression: OMG I didn’t realise I was drinking fake coffee all this time! I’ll just wallow some more in my Syphon Yirgacheffe brew.
  5. Acceptance: This is the way coffee was intended to be. All is right in the world again.

Sightglass

Interestingly, San Franciscans seem more accustomed to darker roasts. Whilst the coffee was really hit and miss at some cafés, there is one place that will knock your socks off: Sightglass. At first glance, Sightglass appears to be an inconspicuous independent coffee kiosk on 7th Street, somewhat similar to what you’d find in the back streets of Soho. Take a look behind the veiled windows and you’ll see this HUGE rustic warehouse with vaulted ceilings and a mezzanine level. This vast space makes up the extension to their new roastery and brew bars. The sibling co-owners will effectively have expanded the shop to over 650 square metres. Not bad for a first Third Wave venture. I tried this place on two occasions, and sampled a Chemex Salvador single origin brew that blew my mind. The vibe of this place is really chilled out and the baristas are more than happy to share their wisdom on the various brewing methods they offer and the complexities of their freshly roasted coffees. Sightglass attracts more of the local crowd as opposed to the usual hipsters. The baristas skilfully operate a little $18,000 hand built espresso machine known as the Slayer and manage to pull a creamy and bright espresso, served with a side of sparkling water. Definitely worth the trek – it’s gonna be awesome once they completely renovate the space!

Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle on 66 Mint Street has loaded the cafe with a five-light syphon bar and offers a weekly menu of three single origin coffees. I was really excited about trying the syphon bar, however on my first visit it was shut. I must say that I don’t really get why this place is so popular. It reminds me somewhat of Monmouth in London. I wasn’t all that impressed by the filter – the barista looked more like she was haphazardly splashing water rather than pouring it in any methodical way. The result was a bitter brew as expected… there’s no point in having amazing freshly roasted beans if the execution is sloppy!  I sampled some Blue Bottle coffee around the city, notably at the MOMA where the ‘flat cap’ was a much welcomed improvement but still lacked the WOW factor.

Four Barrel


No fuss coffee shop at its best. Expect the usual coffee nerds to be behind the counters and a long queue of customers – both a very good and comforting sign. Keep walking a little further on and uncover the massive roastery – OH YEAH! You can observe them roast the coffee right there in the store as you sip away. This coffee shop on Valencia offers both pour-over and espresso bars with baked almond croissants, etc.  I sampled the Costa Rica El Tajo described on the menu as having lime and caramel aromatics, dulce de leche and rainier cherry notes. Tasty!!! Definitely a step up from Blue Bottle.

Ritual Coffee


Walk a little further on Valencia, and you’ll hit Ritual Coffee. This place is like Marmite: you either love it or hate it. I’m not so keen on the ominous black panes and tired furniture. The coffee was OK, but doesn’t go any further. I do however dig their heavy drinker loyalty card!


San Fran Food Scene

I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I travel to the States, I always seem to return with a suitcase twice as packed as when I left. So it comes as no surprise that my recent trip to the Golden State was no exception. This time, I returned armed with an arsenal of cookbooks, patisserie catalogues on the best bakeries in the Bay area as well as a flurry of bakeware and cooks’ tools I simply couldn’t resist to pick up on the way.

The city’s food scene is intricately woven into San Franciscans’ everyday life. The rich mosaic of cultures, its proximity to organic, farm-fresh and sustainable ingredients ensure there’s a myriad of ways to delight a gastronome’s senses. Local chefs are more like revolutionaries with Alice Waters leading the Slow Food Movement and Thomas Keller preaching the virtues of using fresh local produce. It was refreshing to see a community so adamant about using fresh, organic ingredients.

Though there are over 4,000 restaurants to choose from in SF, I just wanted to share with you some of the gems I uncovered on this trip.

Country Bread

Throughout San Francisco’s history, waves of immigrant communities arrived on its shores, bearing culinary secrets that have shaped the city’s food culture today. The French settlers for instance introduced the art of sourdough bread making. Today, Chad Robertson at Tartine Bakery in the Mission has preserved this longstanding tradition and is entirely devoted to artisanal bread making. A queue wraps around the café in the late afternoons, Wednesdays through to Sundays, when the loaves come out of the ovens. It is most certainly worth a visit, whether it be to indulge in a Valrhona chocolate brownie or a beautifully puffed almond croissant and walk over to Ritual Coffee or Four Barrel on Valencia to grab a coffee. A steady stream of locals keeps this café buzzing throughout the day. The video below reveals their all encompassing passion… nay, obsession for bread.

Breakie and Brunch

Ok, there’s nothing more that I love than a delicious start to the day… and SF has one of the best places for breakie and brunch – The Grove, on the corner of Chestnut Street and Avila. Mostly, it’s the people who come in on Saturdays, in their relaxed Cali attire and the entrepreneurial vibe that really made this place even more awesome. Sit back with a supersized freshly squeezed OJ whilst you ponder what dish to select from the menu. Whether you’re in the mood for French Toast topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup, the most delicious plate of huevos rancheros, or breakfast burritos, The Grove is THE place to go. Trust me on this. It’ll seriously be hard to find another brunch place that could even come close to rivalling it.

Cupcakes

Kara’s Cupcakes is a cute little bakery in the Marina district. I always enjoyed popping in haphazardly, only to find myself confronted with a hundred decisions and indecisions – should I try the carrot cupcake or the peanut butter and chocolate cupcake, or perhaps a chocolate velvet cupcake… the answer was of course all of them!!! The icing was so light and fluffy. In fact, the icing for the chocolate velvet had the texture of a mousse. You can select regular or mini sized cupcakes. It was seriously good but seriously dangerous as you run the risk of getting hooked!

Asian Fusion

Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant communities also made their mark in San Francisco’s food scene. In particular, chef and co-owner Charles Phan at The Slanted Door is focused on using organic ingredients to create the fresh and fragrant flavours of Vietnamese cuisine. What started off as a family-run restaurant has grown into an avant-garde restaurant. Located in the historic Ferry Building, it’s still the town’s hot dining destination. San Franciscan based architect Olle Lundberg’s custom designed the interior, inspired by the imposing Bay Bridge. Floor-to-wall glass walls offering diners a scintillating view of the Bay.

Italian

I absolutely loved the hustle and bustle at Italian restaurant and wine bar A16, revered for its delicious wood-fired pizzas and experienced sommeliers. Named after a highway that winds through Campania, the food is inspired from Southern Italy and the neighbouring towns of Napoli. It’s located on my favourite street in the residential neighbourhood of Marina (Chestnut Street biensur). Go for an early evening stroll around the shops and pop in for dinner (reservations are a must otherwise you might be stuck waiting for 1h30!).

Mexican

Go to Nopalito – dig into traditional Mexican food with an organic twist! While there are so many Mexican taquerias scattered around the Mission, Nopalito will leave you wanting to come back for more. This hip restaurant is great for an afternoon bite to take in a bit of the chilled Cali vibe or a casual dinner. Organic Almond Horchata was deeply infused with cinnamon and the hibiscus water was refreshing after a long walk about the city. My favourite dish there was the beef empanadas – so fragrant and spicy, enveloped in a golden pastry… mmmmmmh! The handmade corn tortillas were amazingly dense and perfect to scoop up left over chicken mole. Really a must.

In a nutshell, San Fran’s food scene offers diners such a diverse range of cuisines that will satisfy just about any foodie’s cravings. Just let yourself indulge in pastries, cupcakes, third wave coffee and amazing food from all over the world…. and walk it off by climbing up and down SF’s hills!


Orange Blossom & Almond Biscotti

You can whip up these orange blossom & almond biscottis at a moment’s notice. They keep very well for weeks in an airtight container. This recipe was inspired from my childhood travels to Tunisia. As the Mediterranean sun retreated in the afternoons, I’d indulge in a refreshing ‘citronnade’ (freshly squeezed lemonade) and dip one of these almond biscottis known as ‘boulou’ in the land of the Touareg, and enjoy the cool breeze under the shaded veranda of my grandfather’s home.

The crunch of the toasted almonds and sesame seeds coupled with the delicate perfume of orange blossom water makes these biscotti a perfect late afternoon treat with coffee or in the summers with freshly squeezed lemonade.

Follow the next few steps and reward yourself with this treat in a moment of peace & tranquillity, away from the madding crowd.

Ingredients (makes 20 biscottis)

  • 500g plain flour (sifted)
  • 11g baking powder
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs of orange blossom water (alternatively 1tsp orange blossom extract)
  • Few drops of tepid water if need be
  • 75g freshly toasted almonds
  • 25g freshly toasted sesame seeds

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and caster sugar in a large bowl.

3. Add the vegetable oil and orange blossom water.

4. Attach the dough hook in an electric mixer, knead for 5 minutes until the dough forms a souple and smooth dough

5. Add the toasted almonds to the dough and mix by hand using a wooden spoon

6. Take a small amount of dough in the palm of your hand, form a circle

7. On a clean work surface, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds and delicately roll the dough with your fingertips to form a small log so the seeds coat the surface of the dough. At this point, it’s really important that you work with speed and are agile with your fingertips so that you don’t incorporate too much heat into the dough. This would result in the dough becoming sticky and slightly harder to work with.

8. Place your biscotti onto the baking sheet and repeat until you have used all the dough

9. Bake for 30-35 minutes. As they bake, let yourself bask in the fragrance of the orange blossom water wafting out of the oven.

10. Remove from the oven and let them cool off on a cooling rack.

Let your imagination run wild and experiment with different flavour combinations. How about adding sultanas, or combining pistachios with rose water, chocolate with orange zest? Possibilities are endless! That’s the beauty of the culinary world… it’s a blank canvas waiting for you to make your mark.

Bon appétit mes amis.


Syphon Brewing

There’s nothing better than a beautifully brewed Syphon coffee and almond biscottis to awaken your senses and face the winter blues head on. I had been flirting with the idea of experimenting with Syphon brewing for a few months now. A brand new Hario TCA 3 cup Syphon adorned my kitchen counter on a Sunday morning, beseeching me to reveal it in all its glory.

Syphon coffee makers, also known as vac pots and vacuum brewers, made its grand debut on the coffee scene in Germany and France in the 1830s and remained popular until the mid-20th Century. This brewing technique remains relatively niche, having been safeguarded and propelled into the 21st Century thanks to coffee geeks around the world.

I sampled my first Syphon at Penny University in London last summer. The sensorial yet scientific nature of Syphon making is enthralling and I strongly urge you guys to give it a go.

Syphon brewing method

1. Grind: Measure 20.4g of coffee beans and grind (slightly finer than an aeropress/filter grind). I used Sightglass Coffee’s Rwanda single origin beans for this brew.

2. Water: Fill the bottom chamber with 340 ml off-the-boil water (preferably filtered).

3. Heat: Place the heat source underneath the Syphon maker and gaze intently as the water in the lower gas chamber transforms into a vapour and forces the water to travel up the tube to the upper glass chamber, passed the cloth filter.

4. Saturate: The full saturation of the coffee grounds takes place in this upper chamber. Once the water reaches a temperature of 93°C (200°F), carefully pour the ground coffee and stir to create turbulence and saturate the grounds. All the while, take great care to adjust and control the heat source to ensure the water remains in the top vessel, without boiling it.

5. Brew: Gently steep for 50-60 seconds.

6. Turbulence: Remove the heat source. The water vapour will contract and return to its liquid state. The water in the top vessel is drawn back into the vac pot, as the air is sucked back down filter and the grounds are ‘vacuumed’, resulting in turbulence and bubbling. This signals that your brew is done.

7. Dismantle: Carefully remove the top vessel from the vac pot and place it in the stand.

8. Indulge: Let the coffee cool slightly, to allow the complex aromas to develop. Indulge in a balanced, clean cup of coffee.

The following Intelligentsia video will help you guys visualise this process:


Vanilla Butter Pound Cake Anyone?

Let’s go back to the basics.

The history of pound cake dates back to the early 17th Century in England, however only rose to stardom a hundred years later when the recipe was divulged in most American and English cookery books. Pound cake almost inevitably conjures up the notion of a rich, dense, moist, buttery yet light cake, perfect for a teatime treat.

Getting to grips with the ingredients…

As the name suggests it, pound cakes are prepared with 1 pound of eggs, flour sugar and butter biensûr! It is a great starting point to learn the basics of patisserie.  The ingredients are so simple, n’est-ce pas? The fate of your pound cake therefore lies in your mixing technique. Unlike sponge cakes, that are light and fluffy, we should be ever so grateful to butter for giving pound cakes their rich and dense quality. Too much butter is a no-no as it results in a heavy and solid pound cake, which is definitely not what you’re after. And so, the obvious question prevails: how can you capture the rich, dense and moist flavour while preserving the light texture of the pound cake? The answer is hidden in the recipe below. Notice how we are balancing 3 whole eggs with 3 egg yolks. The eggs are incorporated ever so gradually in the mixture and the additional 3 egg yolks are key to creating an emulsion to help retain the moisture and air in the mixture. All your ingredients must be at room temperature or else if they are too cold, the air in the mixture will disappear into outer space.

What I love about pound cake is that it can be as plain or as versatile as you’d like! The original pound cakes were baked with dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices. I enclose below the recipe of an absolutely delicious vanilla pound cake to start you guys off. Use it as your base to explore further creative options. How about Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake, Walnut and Raisin Pound Cake or perhaps go for the wild card: Basil and Tarragon Pound Cake and Lavender Honey Pound Cake?

I chose to bake a Vanilla Butter Pound Cake, served with homemade strawberry and rosewater sorbet. Why don’t you guys try to serve it with a dollop of lavender cream or fresh berries to balance out the sweetness of the cake.

Onto the recipe…

Here’s what you’ll need, using an 8 x 4 inches (20 x 10 cm) loaf pan. Don’t forget that all ingredients should be kept at room temperature.

  • 3 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut lengthways (scrape the beans)
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1/2 pound (227g) butter
  • 1/2 pound (227g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 ounces (200g) light white flour, sifted
  • Melted butter for the loaf pan
  • Baking paper to line the loaf pan

Step 1

Start by brushing melted butter on the inside of the loaf pan and line the loaf pan with baking paper to avoid the cake sticking to the pan. Set aside.

Step 2

Place the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla beans, vanilla extract and water in a bowl. Break up the eggs without beating them to incorporate air.

Step 3

Place the butter in a mixer bowl and beat using a paddle attachment for 2 minutes.

Step 4

Add the sugar gradually and continue beating for another 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy.

Step 5

Continue beating the mixture while adding the egg and vanilla mixture ever so slowly over 5 minutes.

Step 6

Add the teaspoon of salt and fold the sifted flour incorporating it in small batches.

Step 7

Pour the mixture in the loaf pan and bake at a low temperature 350˚F (185˚C) for approximately 1 hour. Insert a wooden skewer through the centre of the cake to gauge if the cake is fully baked. The skewer should come out clean. Remove the cake from the loaf pan and let it cool to room temperature.

And voilà! It doesn’t get much simpler and satisfying than that. Wrap in cling film and store at room temperature for a week… if it survives that long without being devoured! Give it a shot and do let me know how you get on.

PS: The scene below from Sleeping Beauty came to my mind as I was baking away in the kitchen and humming to the theme song. As Fauna, the Good Fairy, ‘gently folds’ her eggs into the mixture, it reminded me of how misleading recipe books can be!

Enjoy viewing the video clip. A très bientôt mes amis!


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