Yep, perfect. Again, please.
The coffee bar, my friends, has been raised. When this happens, as I’ve seen before, I get one part ecstatic, one part nervous.
Let’s just quickly recap what’s happened to coffee in the past, oh, few centuries or so. First, there was Folgers (founded here in SF, no less) – then there was Starbucks – now there’s everyone else amazing like Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Ritual etc. But then there are the people, like Phillip Ma, who go and get their hands on the best of the best coffees and throw diamonds at it. The result ends up like Ma Velous, one of SF’s brightest new coffee bars.
Allow me to explain a little more about them diamonds, but first the coffee. Ma, the owner of Ma Velous, recruited the top dogs for his coffee menu. He has Intelligentsia, he has Ecco, but then he goes and get’s a world renowned micro-roaster from Norway, Tim Wendelboe. Whoa; never heard of that guy until now, but apparently he’s quite the coffee sh*t. While I was in there recently, a coffee geek from Blue Bottle stopped in to check the place out. He was quite impressed with this particular coffee, not to mention the jaw-dropping machinery. To really achieve the fancy status these days, you got to roll out some serious Benjamins on the behind-the-counter equipment. For Ma Velous, that means a custom La Marzocco espresso machine, two kinds of pour-over methods, French presses, a Siphon and a Chemex. That’s six ways to get your beloved brewed Joe. I opted for the classic latte, considering I was also having a muffin and, of course it was perfect. I’d shudder to expect anything less with a package this impressive. They were using classic Black Cat Intelligentsia espresso – one I’ve had many times and one I adore. Put that underneath of cloud of pure, creamy, bliss foam and I’m done. I hadn’t seen Intelligentsia in SF until then and although Ma tells me you can find their French Roast at Specialty’s, multiple people dog on it and says it tastes horrible.
So there I was, floating on my latte cloud, enjoying my muffin (from Sandbox Bakery) and loving hearing my neighbor from Blue Bottle go off about all the stuff he knows about the industry. This is what’s so great about these kinds of coffee bars; they take the when-in-Rome attitude and show it off. If this world can produce exquisite coffee and machinery, then let there be the cafes to showcase it all. Plus, it gives the top-tier coffee geeks somewhere to go and celebrate.
Hearts of palm could be local - we've palm trees
And as if the coffee details didn’t sell you, they have wine and a tightly localized food menu. I’ve been in there twice and they’ve only been open a few days so it’s tough to come to any official conclusions with the food, since it’s still being worked out. They had a limited menu of cheeses, a soup and two salads from which to choose, in addition to the pastry case. I went with a Romaine salad with hearts of palm and apples. Simple, but nice. I really appreciate the coffee, salad, baked-good combo if you haven’t noticed. I had a glass of wine the second night they were open too and of the list I remember, there were some good by-the-glass options that weren’t in the double digits.
And lastly, the design. Remember the diamonds? Sitting in this place is as if you’re living amongst the pages of contemporary art magazine, (which I look at all the time, considering that’s my partner’s line of work). The chairs, the fabric covered bench seating, the tables, the mural, the sconces – don’t even get me going on the bathroom – it’s all so meticulously thought out. Again, I’m all for the opulence, but it can be a bit much for some. Consider the few other customers who stopped in while I was briefly there. A total of four women came in (one pair, two singles) looked around, then left. The reasons for them leaving can be easily explained – they could have just wanted to check it out, for example – but I knew a few of them worked near by. One in particular was casually dressed, and once inside, her body language seemed to indicate she was uncomfortable, she smiled sheepishly to the owner, whom she seemed to recognize, then she mentioned she worked in the building next door, but then left.
Then there was the couple who came in determined for coffee. A middle-aged man approached the counter. “Uhh… a cup of coffee for me and whatever she’s having,” he says while motioning to his female partner. They were obviously in a slight hurry and didn’t come to talk about the latest single origin Ecco was doing.
The nice, young, woman barista paused. Uh oh. Coffee here doesn’t just shoot from a spout – there’s a menu now, buddy. Saddle up.
“Ok, well, we have a few kinds and a few different,” the barista starts. The man stares at her blankly. “Ok, are you just in for something quick? I’ll just get you what’s in our French press…” she says.
“I think I’ll have a cappuccino?” the female partner orders without confidence.
And there in lies my nervousness, as mentioned much earlier. Will they be back? Or the woman who works next door? Something tells me probably not. Does it really matter? Well – when potential regulars and obvious coffee customers feel awkward buying what’s being sold – that could spell trouble. Let’s hope there’s more of SF who’s ready for what Ma Velous is doing. I know I am.