The seventh annual San Francisco Coffee Festival took place last month at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture.
BY EDDIE P. GOMEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos by Eddie P. Gomez
The San Francisco Coffee Festival celebrates coffee culture with food, crafts, and a parade of activities. At the 2023 event, which took place November 12-13 at the Festival Pavilion in the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, a six-foot-tall coffee cup, emblazoned with the festival logo, greeted attendees at the entrance. Nearby, a stage featuring live music added to the upbeat tempo reverberating throughout the pavilion. With iconic views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, the venue was packed with attendees and exhibitors from Northern California.
A gorgeous Airstream camper, also situated near the front entrance, allowed San Francisco-based Fellow to welcome guests with a massive display of coffee-brewing equipment and a chance to play a game of ring toss. Winners of the ring toss took away their choice of a stylish travel tumbler or a bag of freshly roasted Onyx Coffee Lab beans.
Heirloom Latte Art Champion—A Galloping Horse
In a neighboring room, Heirloom Coffee Roasters, the first brand to roast 100% regeneratively farmed coffees, including the world’s first commercially available ROC-certified coffee, hosted their Third Annual Latte Art Competition. The competition gave fans the opportunity to watch seasoned baristas create top-level latte art designs in hopes of advancing to Sunday afternoon’s championship round.
Andrew Choi received the $1,000 prize at the latte art competition with his galloping horse latte art design.
Over the course of the two-day event, “Coffee Convos” gave center stage to industry professionals as they engaged on some of coffee’s most contemporary topics. One popular panel on Saturday, “Labor or Love?” featured Devorah Freudiger of Equator Coffees, Eileen Hassi Rinaldi of Ritual Coffee, Lauren Burns of Voyager Craft Coffee, and Maria Fernandez of Red Bay Coffee as they discussed transforming a love of coffee into career opportunities.
On Sunday, another popular panel, “Old Dog, New Tricks,” was led by industry luminaries Kenneth Davids of Coffee Review, George Vukasin of Peerless Coffee & Tea, and Jay Ruskey of Frinj Coffee. They discussed alternative processing methods such as anaerobic fermentation, carbonic maceration, and fruit maceration, and whether they are disruptive to the industry, passing fads, or trends that are going to have a long-term effect on the future of coffee.
The Caffè—Cà Phê Sua with Matcha
The Caffè provided one of the festival’s most inspiring drinks, a dazzling fusion of coffee and matcha foam called Cà Phê Sua with Matcha. The first retail location of legendary Bay Area roaster Mr. Espresso, The Caffè opened last summer in Downtown Oakland. The mod Italian-themed shop continues to hit its stride with a world-class drink menu and an emphasis on craftsmanship.
The Cà Phê Sua with Matcha results from an ongoing collaboration with top Bay Area chefs who are asked to design some of the shop’s seasonal drinks. Chef Tu David Phu, who gained national attention on Top Chef, created this flavor bomb. The Cà Phê Sua Matcha brings together the pronounced dark-roasted flavors and caffeine kick of Vietnamese-style coffee by using a meticulously crafted cold-brew concentrate, condensed milk, and the velvety smoothness of matcha foam, leaving signature-drink lovers wanting more. What seems at first like a combination of impossibly disparate flavor bases ends deliciously with an unforgettable mingling of flavors.
The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room—Blackberry Coffee Tonic
A visit to The Crown in Oakland showcases a facility that is one of Northern California’s premier coffee destinations. The carefully curated space offers an innovative coffee menu and an array of educational opportunities ranging from learning how to roast coffee to personal consultations geared toward developing one’s sensory skills. The seasonal drinks on offer consistently bring together thought-provoking flavor combinations that channel the creative abilities of the lab’s baristas.
The Crown’s staff showed up to the San Francisco Coffee Festival with some spectacular drink samples. One swept us away with its light and fruity effervescence. The Crown’s Instagram feed describes The Blackberry Coffee Tonic this way: “Blackberry and coffee reduction meets a splash of cold brew, with Top Hat tonic. A refreshing coffee mocktail, served on the rocks.” A balance of the reduction, cold brew, and tonic put this mocktail into hyperdrive, without the weightiness of a traditional espresso tonic. On an afternoon when palate fatigue was a tangible thing, the Blackberry Coffee Tonic was a refreshing escape from the litany of bold espresso drinks.
Habibi Latte—Equator Coffees
Equator Coffees, the Marin County specialty-coffee trailblazer with a history dating back to the mid-’90s, continues to expand throughout the Golden State, recently adding a third shop in the Los Angeles area to complement its legion of Bay Area locations. A visit to any of their cafés presents a menu of notable selections, so It was no surprise that the team at Equator Coffees showed up to the festival with some seriously great samples. The effort the staff put into helping me explore and unpack the Habibi Latte’s unique qualities also made for a great experience.
Tigerwalk Espresso, a fruit forward, medium-roasted blend of coffees from Colombia, Kenya, and Brazil, solidly anchors the Habibi Latte. The drink combined the complex flavors of cardamom and clove with the sweetness of vanilla syrup, orange blossom water, and steamed milk. The Habibi Latte is worthy of slowing down for long enough to relax and savor the combination of flavors. It was a reminder of why lattes persist as the canvas on which so many cafés reach a palate-bending level of craftsmanship.
A year ago, Postscript was just getting off the ground. Back then, the new café had recently opened in San Francisco’s Jackson Square. So, it came as wonderful news when the staff mentioned that Postscript is currently thriving as a juice bar, specialty food shop, and full-service café. There’s also a roastery on site, an effort led by specialty-coffee stalwart John Laird formerly of AKA Coffee.
A drink on Postcript’s menu caught my attention after it was recommended by one of the baristas on duty. The cortado, which promised the perfect balance between espresso and milk, came out in full force, boldly and unrelenting. Postcript’s Haiku Blend, made of washed Guatemalan and naturally processed Ethiopian coffees, is a tasty and special one. It delivered a sweet and fruity espresso forwardness that was wonderfully complemented by Clover’s whole-milk creaminess.
Temple Coffee—Ethiopian Nano Genji Pourover
The sun was already low on the horizon when the crew from longtime Sacramento coffee giant Temple Coffee made the last batch of pourovers for the day. Sampling a single-origin pourover—my favorite coffee drink of all time—had eluded me at the festival. I was also thinking of the long ride home into the Central Valley, so the coffee tumbler from Fellow that I’d won in the ring toss proved invaluable.
Stopping for a bite to eat on the way out of San Francisco allowed my taste buds a much-needed break from coffee. As the Bay Area faded into the distance of my rearview mirror, I reached for the tumbler filled with the pourover from Temple Coffee. Its great flavor reminded me, all over again, of how I’d been smitten by the fruity notes and floral aromatics of African coffees during my first cupping. A beautiful coffee needs only water and careful preparation to express itself.
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.