Treat yourself to some of the excellent drinks offered on the bright side of the Bay.
BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Feature photo by Derick Daily via Unsplash
Oakland, Calif.’s burgeoning food and drink scenes long ago emerged from the shadows cast by its famous neighbor to the west, San Francisco. The East Bay has evolved into a top-tier destination for food and coffee lovers, and specialty coffee in Oakland is no exception. With cafés and roasters coming to life again in a post-pandemic world, the coffee community in this city is set to thrive.
We recently spent a couple of days in Oakland and discovered that the downtown area has a mega concentration of cafés and roasteries. Here are five standout drinks we encountered along the way.
The ‘89 at Snow White Coffee Bar, 3824 Piedmont Ave.
Snow White Coffee Bar is a tiny café tucked away along a row of businesses on Piedmont Avenue. The quaint shop has a neighborhood vibe and welcomes guests seven days a week. Their commitment to delivering high-quality drinks is readily apparent to even a newcomer. They offer pourovers, espresso-based drinks, signature drinks, and a light assortment of pastries. Space is limited inside, but the outdoor seating is great for those who want to enjoy their coffee on-site.
The barista helped me zero in on a drink that was both tasty and off the beaten path. We started by sampling a variety of drinks from the menu, some of which carried interesting names like the Nitro Bomb, the Oakland Chill, and the ‘89. The ‘89 is a shaken espresso drink served over ice. It consists of Clutch Espresso from Roast Co Coffee, simple syrup, and organic half-and-half from Humboldt Creamery. In terms of taste, the ‘89’s magnificent flavors are brought to bear by the nutty boldness of the espresso and the over-the-top creaminess of the high-grade half-and-half. Kudos to all at Snow White Coffee for offering this tasteful drink to the public—especially Zack, a talented barista and kind host.
Chagaccino/Spicy Chai Latte at The Wooden Table Café, 2300 Broadway
Have you ever heard of a half chagaccino/half spicy chai latte? Well, I hadn’t. It took stumbling across the Wooden Table to find out about this interesting combination. The Argentinian café and bakery offers a full coffee menu, an array of empanadas, and their signature alfajores, which are elegant treats made from shortbread cookies.
Extract from chaga mushroom has long been used for its purported immune-boosting properties. At the Wooden Table, they mix Nubio Espresso from Due Torri Coffee and dehydrated chaga powder by Renude (which is spiced with cacao, cinnamon, and vanilla) into a cappuccino-like drink called a chagaccino. The mushroom flavor dominates, so it is not for everyone. The barista, however, hedged against the shroomy taste by fusing it with a spicy chai latte. The results were wonderful and took a while to process. I would try it again simply because of its unique taste. The chai flavor added an aromatic charm to the chagaccino, while the spicy tang pulled the flavor bomb in a tasty direction. The drink is definitely a curiosity, yet the flavors lingered, deliciously, on my palate long after I’d left the shop.
Allspice Latte at Highwire Roasting Company, 5655 College Ave.
Highwire Roasting Company’s location in Rockridge Market Hall sits in the middle of one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city, and features Oakland at its craft food- and drink-driven best. Locals can be seen carrying away all sorts of treats from the market. There are fresh meats, wines, and of course, trays full of Highwire Coffee drinks. Among the great features of the café are the outdoor tables, which let customers sit back and watch the world go by, including more than a few dogs and their owners out for a walk.
Highwire Coffee Roasters’ seasonal drink menu contains a bombshell of flavor that is perfect for the cooler seasons. The Allspice Latte is made with house-made allspice syrup, milk, and the Core, an espresso blend that delivers bright citrus notes and a chocolatey finish. The latte is zesty in all the right ways. Allspice syrup delivers its complex flavors subtly, while the sweetness of the milk and the groundedness of the espresso remains at the front. It was the perfect treat for melting into a sidewalk seat to relax.
Mexican Mocha at Café Santana Roasting Company, 4100 MacArthur Blvd.
Delicious, unyieldingly thick, and full of heavenly chocolate goodness—that sums up the Mexican Mocha at Café Santana Roasting Company. A highlight of my visit was meeting Richard Santana, the owner, who answered many of my questions about the shop. Another highlight included the presence of tiny ghosts and goblins; my visit took place on the Saturday before Halloween, when the businesses in the Laurel section of the city invite trick-or-treaters. Consequently, a super-cute parade of happy kids and their doting parents kept making its way into the café.
The mocha at Café Santana contains the house espresso blend, steamed milk, and Ibarra Chocolate. It takes skill to adequately combine the ingredients, pull shots of espresso, and whip the drink into shape. The results are a deeply balanced combination of chocolate and medium-roasted espresso flavors suspended in steamed milk. The Mexican Mocha contains enough delicious gooeyness to satisfy a sweet craving, perfect for pairing with a not-too-sugary pastry. These left me grateful for the serendipity of having added a last-minute stop to the day’s schedule.
Sparkling Americano at Farley’s East, 33 Grand Ave.
Farley’s has two locations: The original is in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, while Farley’s East is located on Grand Avenue in Oakland. The shop buzzes with activity and functions as a hub for the surrounding community. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat or play a board game with friends. The café’s website describes Farley’s as founded on a simple principle: to make the places where we serve coffee better places to live and work.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon, I remembered a Sparkling Americano on the menu at Farley’s East. The drink wasn’t on the overhead menu, but Peter and O’Shione offered to make one anyway. What resulted was a yummy, on-the-spot version of their Sparkling Americano with a couple of add-ons for depth of flavor. The drink went down refreshingly smooth, crisp, and delicious. The flavor was anchored in the bright sweetness and mild acidity of the Bright Side Espresso Blend, a medium roast sourced from Guatemala, Brazil, and Ethiopia. Sparkling water, a touch of lavender syrup, and a thick lemon wedge elevated the drink to all-star status.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eddie P. Gomez (he/him) is a freelance writer based in Modesto, Calif. When he is not substitute teaching kindergarten classes, he wanders from city to city, perfecting the art of the food and coffee adventure.