Mr. Espresso Opens The Caffè in Downtown Oakland: Continued

Following its long tradition of Italian coffee on the West Coast, The Caffè in downtown Oakland begins a new era for Mr. Espresso.

BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Photos by Hardy Wilson

In part one of this article, we learned about the history of Mr. Espresso, founded by the Di Ruocco family in the mid-20th century. Today, we’ll discover the family’s new venture, The Caffè.

By the turn of the last century, Mr. Espresso had enjoyed a loyal following for more than two decades. Today, the brand supplies over 300 businesses throughout Northern California and beyond with oak-wood-roasted coffees that are ethically sourced from all over the world. 

The next generation of Di Ruoccos continues to meet the demands of the ever-changing specialty-coffee industry. Siblings John, Laura, and Luigi Di Ruocco are proud to carry on their parents’ vision, and they recently celebrated an exciting milestone. The opening of The Caffè by Mr. Espresso marks the company’s first-ever retail location. The debut of their new café had been planned for 2020, but the pandemic and permitting issues delayed the project until the middle of this year. 

A line of people sit at the long wooden bar.
Guests enjoy coffee and conversation at The Caffè’s Italian-style coffee bar.

Opening Party

On Sunday, May 22, the Di Ruoccos invited friends and family to a party commemorating the opening of The Caffè, which is located at 1120 Broadway on the first floor of the Key at 12th, an office tower complex set amidst Downtown Oakland, Calif.’s bustling cosmopolitan scenes. The Caffé buzzed with activity as guests streamed in throughout the afternoon.

Many of the invitees could be seen admiring the attractive surroundings and chatting it up with a cup of coffee in hand. Others made friends or reunited with old ones. John, Laura, and Luigi kept pace by answering questions about The Caffè’s design and introducing longtime Oakland coffee professionals to attendees. Trays were brought out, piled high with savory foods like prosciutto cotto sandwiches with Crescenza cheese, mixed greens, and agrodolce onions, or sweet treats such as farro deliciously spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, honey, and macerated fruit—items that are currently on the café’s everyday menu.    

Tradition and Innovation

Another highlight of the opening-day festivities included guests sampling from the debut coffee menu. The excellent barista staff kept the coffee drinks flowing and talked over coffee options with invitees. The menu, which hangs prominently over the coffee bar, presents a wide range of drinks recalling Mr. Espresso’s continuing dedication to innovation and quality. The hazelnut praline shakerato—dark-roasted, foamy, and ice-cold—was a crowd favorite. The cold brew tonic, brought to a bubbly crescendo by Fever Tree Tonic Water and a splash of orange bitters, kept guests enthralled. For those who wanted to keep things old school, plenty of Italian-style espresso came across the bar, served in elegantly designed demitasses. Their rich flavor was elevated by the addition of a bit of sugar and the opportunity to join others in conversation.  

Under a large wooden sculpture on the ceiling, guests mingle with drinks and talk to Laura.
Laura Di Ruocco mingles with guests inside The Caffè’s stunning modern interior during the opening party.

Modern Italian Design

The star of the afternoon, however, was The Caffè’s unique design, a modernist approach that intersects beautifully with the Italian café aesthetic, something that is purposeful in its objective. The shop’s design is framed by a high ceiling from which a blonde wood installation art piece hoovers and flows downward to cradle the space below. On the other end, polished concrete floors add a fitting layer of luster. The decorative motif also features copper and light oak countertops, which highlight the presence of stunning Faema espresso machines that feel futuristic in form and function. The centerpiece, however, is The Caffè’s 17-foot oak-wood bar, which helps the café operate like a traditional Italian coffee bar. 

Anyone who has ever enjoyed coffee in Italy knows that things are done differently there than in American cafés. Typically, customers do not wait in line. Instead, they pay for their drinks at a register near the front door, walk up to the coffee bar and order much like they would order a drink at a bar in the United States. Subsequently, enjoying an espresso is meant to be a respite from the world outside, a chance to take a quick break, enjoy a delectable drink and engage in conversation. It is in this way that The Caffè’s design is purposeful. It melds the tradition of Italian coffee culture with the best that specialty coffee in America has to offer.

Luigi leans over coffee pots behind the espresso bar and talks to guests seated at the bar.
Luigi Di Ruocco in deep conversation with a guest at The Caffè.

Ready to Rock

According to Luigi Di Ruocco, who is thrilled to have the business open for the busy summer season, “Our new flagship store combines our unique perspectives on coffee and roasting while personifying our Italian background,” something that gives coffee lovers various reasons to drop in. 

The Caffè is sure to help drive what is already one of the West Coast’s most vibrant coffee scenes, showcasing a marriage of ambiance and craft-coffee drinks. 

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.

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