Sacramento's Specialty Coffee Week is good to the last drop
The city’s inaugural weeklong event gives cafes and roasters the chance to educate—and caffeinate—local coffee drinkers
Since Monday, coffee lovers have been tasting new roasts, admiring latte art and sipping coffee-infused cocktails—all as part of Sacramento’s first-ever Specialty Coffee Week, which runs through Sunday, October 19.
Given the city’s affinity for culinary-themed weeks, a coffee week seems like a no-brainer. Over the past few years in fact, Sacramento has gained a national reputation for excellent coffee— In 2013, Coffee Review, self described as “the world’s leading coffee guide,” placed Sacramento in the country’s top 12 coffee cities, giving props to more than 50 roasts from Temple Coffee, Old Soul Co. and Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters in the past four years. It also ranked one of Temple’s crisp, chocolatey Ethiopian coffees as the very best of 2013.
That’s essentially why Specialty Coffee Week exists. Sean Kohmescher, owner of Temple Coffee, wants to show off the city’s fabulous, ever-growing coffee scene. It’s both for the converted coffee nerd and the curious newcomer. And ultimately, it’s about education.
“There’s still a huge amount of the population who think they’re drinking coffee, but it’s actually a milkshake,” he says. “I think a lot of beautiful things will eventually be learned, but it doesn’t take one person. It takes an entire community.”
So when Kohmescher decided a couple years ago that Sacramento needed its own coffee week, he rallied the troops. Chocolate Fish’s Edie Baker jumped on board to help organize, and together they propositioned countless cafes, roasters, bars and restaurants to come up with a creative way to showcase the almighty bean. And they delivered—more than 20 businesses are putting on nearly 40 events over the course of the week. Most events are one-time only, but some places are offering specials every day. Magpie Cafe, for example, is serving a coffee crème brûlée made with Chocolate Fish espresso.
Citrus Heights-based micro-roastery Entimos Coffee Roasters will host a live roasting demo, with little to-go gift baggies, on Saturday, October 18. It’s part education, part tasting and an excellent representation of the week as a whole.
“Roasting is science, chemistry and magic all rolled into one,” says co-owner Matt Dittemore. “We’ll geek out as much as people want to.”Coffee explosion
Dittemore moved from Portland, Ore., to Sacramento about 12 years ago. He describes Portland as a place “where coffee was everything” and Sacramento, at the time, as a place “where there was nothing.”
Missing his expertly crafted caffeine fix, he bought some home roasters and started experimenting. Then he met another Portland transplant who was doing the same thing.
After friends kept pestering them for beans, the pair formed Entimos Coffee Roasters, a micro roast-to-order company.
Obviously a lot has changed in 12 years. Temple wasn’t open yet back then. Would Dittemore insist on home roasting if he relocated to Sacramento, say, today?
“With all this great coffee around now, it’s hard to say. Now I just enjoy the craft of roasting so much,” he says. “It’s almost therapy.”
Temple’s 2005 opening ushered in Sacramento’s third wave coffee scene, which Dittemore and other roasters agree has “tremendously exploded” since then.
For context, the first wave of coffee is generally thought of as the 19th-century Folgers days, when coffee was finally brought into the homes of the masses. Second wave is attributed to Peet’s Coffee in the 1960s, and later Starbucks, and the beginnings of cafe culture. During this time, beans were imported from countries with specific characteristics, and were then darkly roasted. The third wave is characterized by light roasts—coffees that show off nuances—with an emphasis on sourcing directly from farms.
Local writer William Burg actually traces Sacramento’s craft coffee history back to 1928 in his book Midtown Sacramento: Creative Soul of the City. According to Burg, the first gourmet cafe was Falor’s Coffee Bar, which roasted on-site daily in small batches. It closed in 1975, unable to compete with cheap alternatives.
Java City was Midtown’s iconic cafe in the ’80s, roasting its own beans and boasting a super social atmosphere. But Coffee Works in East Sacramento actually opened earlier in 1982, and it stands as Sacramento’s oldest still-running roastery.
Fast-forward to 2002 and Naked Lounge quickly found a following, launching the careers of those who would go on to found Temple, Old Soul and Insight Coffee Roasters.
Along with Chocolate Fish, those four players are quickly expanding throughout Sacramento—and making headway off the grid. Old Soul at 40 Acres in Oak Park is a mainstay of the neighborhood. Temple has a location on Fair Oaks Boulevard. Insight recently opened in Pavilions Shopping Center.
And though none have approached the suburbs yet, some independent businesses have popped up with similar ethoses. Roseville’s Bloom Coffee & Tea uses highly-rated beans from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz. Shady Coffee & Tea in Roseville serves Entimos. Java Mama in Folsom serves Chocolate Fish. Pachamama Coffee Cooperative has a cafe in Davis. The list goes on.
Are we approaching over-saturation? Is there a craft coffee bubble?
Kohmescher in brief: “We’re nowhere close.”Room for all?
Coffee Works coffee director John Shahabian considers his cafe-roastery “wave two point five.”
Coffee Works built off Peet’s Coffee and went further, building relationships with farms and producing lighter roasts when no one else was locally. But Coffee Works employees still bag blackened French Roast beans behind the counter and love to blend—a rarity in the current single-origin-obsessed third-wave landscape.
“It’s a matter of taste, and I absolutely respect if you like dark coffee, bold flavors and sharp, peppery notes,” Shahabian says. “I think that’s awesome and you shouldn’t scoff at it … We blend the mentalities.”
Oh, the scoffing. If not the tattooed baristas and minimalist decor, third wave coffee shops have become nationally known for snooty attitudes. That’s not so much the case in Sacramento. Starbucks dark roast lovers and Temple drinkers—and everyone in between—seem to coexist peacefully.
It helps that people like Lucky Rodrigues, co-owner of Insight, make specialty coffee so approachable. And to those who are still scared, he teaches free classes weekly—roasting, home brewing, tasting. Yes, free classes beyond Specialty Coffee Week.
At a recent class, he said even people who consider themselves coffee connoisseurs are often daunted when it comes to brewing a simple cup at home.
“It should have the same level of intimidation as making your own pancakes,” he said.
And then he explained said simplicity, with a fun attitude and no pretension.
Temple and Chocolate Fish also hold regular classes—with a fee—and artisan coffee proponents agree that more education is always better.
“Once people become knowledgeable—whether it’s about their tasting palate, or where coffees come from, different varietals, different regions and farms—the ritual we do every single day just becomes more exciting,” Kohmescher says.