That long stretch of Highway 5 in California has some stellar coffee options.
BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Levi Meir Clancy for Unsplash
The San Joaquin Valley in California has long been a global leader in agriculture, though the region largely exists as a backdrop to the state’s better-known cities and landscapes. Only recently has specialty coffee appeared en masse throughout this fertile stretch of land that runs from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Things have changed for the better with the proliferation of specialty-coffee destinations in the cities that dot Highway 99. Entrepreneurs have brought with them unique visions of specialty-coffee’s regional future. Here are three cafés that have contributed to the growth of this flourishing coffee community.
Trail Coffee Roasters – Stockton
Situated near California’s largest inland port in Downtown Stockton, Trail Coffee Roasters is well-known to locals and coffee aficionados throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Northern California. The company’s long history began when owner Bing Kirk ended up trading coffee in Central America during the ‘70s. Two decades later, Bing acquired a stake in Cerro de Jesus coffee farm in Nicaragua, which is still the company’s main source of green coffee.
Kirk’s stepdaughter, Gianna Vacari, oversees operations at the 3,500-square-foot flagship café and roastery, a vibrant space where the architectural charm from over a century ago resurfaced wonderfully after move-in renovations in 2018; the company also has another location in nearby Lodi. One of the best reasons to visit the Stockton roastery café is the laid-back atmosphere and the array of nooks in which it is possible to drink a morning cup of coffee.
Caffetino – Modesto
Gianna Fairchilds and Giovanni Sacco always knew they would return to specialty coffee after finding their niche as baristas at the legendary Tony Serrano’s café in Modesto over a decade ago. During their time away from specialty coffee, the brother-and-sister duo would often visit San Francisco to explore coffee scenes at places like Ritual Coffee Roasters.
When the opportunity to open their own café in the San Joaquin Valley finally presented itself at the height of the pandemic, they seized the moment. They opened Caffettino, an artisanal boutique that shares a space with their family-run organic food store in Modesto. Speaking on the café’s formation in mid-2020, Giovanni shares, “We knew it was time to jump in, so we did, aiming for a crowd that would be passionate about specialty coffee.”
Ever since the company added a Mill City 3-kilo roaster and set up a diverse coffee menu last summer, customers have been lining up out the door. What makes Caffettino worth visiting is the café’s focus on cutting-edge drinks, which appear on their fixed menu but also on a rotating daily option. During my visit, I experienced the soothing richness of a Tahoney—espresso, tahini, local honey, cocoa powder, and steamed half-and-half.
Hi-Top Coffee – Fresno
Hi-Top Coffee in Fresno buzzes with excitement during peak hours, a testament to Spencer and Karsyn Suvanto’s dedication to creating a vibrant third space in the city’s Tower District. The café opened four years ago, and the company has been clear about its mission from day one. They want to curate the best coffees in the world while focusing on innovation across all levels of production and marketing. Hi-Top Coffee recently introduced a series of recyclable tins for their coffees. The aesthetic packaging is as pleasing to look at as it is good for the environment.
Describing Hi-Top Coffee’s foray into the roasting side of the business a couple of years ago, Spencer explains, “When we put our two Loring roasters into production, everything changed. People knew we were serious about coffee.”
One of the best reasons to visit Hi-Top Coffee is simply that it is a fun place to see and be seen. Whether customers stop in to work or to watch the world go by from the comfort of a bar stool out front, they will feel welcomed by the eclectic Tower District and appreciated by the staff at Hi-Top. These are just a few of the coffee shops to visit in the San Joaquin Valley, but you are sure to find many more!
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.