Best cafe in Davis

I’m a coffee guy. If a cafe (coffee house) doesn’t have good coffee, it doesn’t exist in my mind. So what is the best cafe in Davis? Temple or Chocolate Fish… in Sacramento.

Mishka’s downgrade

Reader Rin left a comment a while ago about how Mishka’s really doesn’t deserve its A- high end, I have to agree. Another undrinkable cappuccino and that annoying chocolate covered espresso bean that melted onto the cup brought reality back. The milk was practically boiled and the “foam” was scooped and kind of shaped with a spoon. Gross. C+ at best. Get rid of the silly espresso beans and focus on training the baristas, the investment will provide gains beyond measure.

Davis continues to stagnate.

Sacramento cafe breakdown

Edit (Oct 25): Added initial scores for each cafe.

I haven’t stepped foot in a Davis cafe in a while. I don’t believe I’m missing anything and it feels good to take a break from self-inflicted bad coffee. Instead, I’ve been enjoying myself by going out for coffee at the trinity of Sacramento cafes: Temple, Old Soul, and Chocolate Fish.

Temple

Atmosphere

One or more parameters are invalid in request

Temple represents the kind of cafe I’m most familiar with. Based in the shell of an old bookstore, people sit in focused spots of light which makes you feel as if you have your own little space in the dark. Of course, that couldn’t be farther from the truth since, when packed, it’s impossible not to overhear your neighbors conversations. Local art hangs on the wall, some of it actually really good.

Coffee

While my main complaint in the past was the excess milk in their drinks, they have since added a “traditional” 6oz cappuccino size and the Gibraltar. A Gibraltar is named after the glass it is served in, with equal parts espresso and milk. Customers of Blue Bottle will recognize this drink. They offer a blend and a single origin for espresso. I usually go with the single origin.

Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend their whole bean. I must have really bad luck, but every time I try them they taste kind of stale. For some reason, my bags didn’t have roast dates on them, but I saw that others do. Next time, I’ll wait until I have a fresh batch for sure.

Quality and Consistency

As with any cafe, consistency mostly lies in the hands of the barista. Obviously, when a cafe hires a brand new barista who doesn’t have much experience or training, the quality and consistency will probably take a dip if they’re making your drinks. For the majority of the time, Temple’s baristas pump out very well executed milk drinks.

Score

A


Chocolate Fish Coffee

Atmosphere

One or more parameters are invalid in request

While the interior seating is somewhere between couch potato or too-tall-for-most-people tables, they have a very nice patio area with plenty of large tables and benches. The art is limited to large photo prints that never seem to change.

Coffee

Chocolate Fish also offers cappuccinos in the traditional 5.5-6oz and larger 8oz sizes (hint: go with the traditional). Since they just recently started roasting, I’m surprised at how high the quality is. I’m always impressed with their coffee, each one very distinct in their flavor profiles which speaks volumes for the coffee sourcing and roasting both.

Quality and Consistency

On par with Temple and most other good cafes, including the odd dud. You can feel confident that your drink is crafted with care, the baristas all seem very passionate about coffee.

Score

A


Old Soul

Atmosphere

One or more parameters are invalid in request

Ever since I lived in Davis, I’ve heard talk of this “Old Soul” cafe full of brick and steel in some alley in downtown Sac. Drinking a cup in Old Soul is like chilling in an old warehouse with a living room off to the side. You will probably love it or hate it, but I think it’s kind of charming.

Coffee

You have your typical set of drinks on the menu here. The one standout is their homemade chai, which is tea, not coffee. I’m talking about tea here, confusing, I know. I haven’t had a chance to try their whole beans for reasons I will go into shortly.

Quality and Consistency

The first time I had a drink at Old Soul, I could see why people recommended it. It wasn’t amazing, it was actually kind of rough, but I could see the potential. After that, the drinks only got worse. Not too much worse, but definitely not on the same level as even the first rough cappuccino I had. Old Soul suffers from the same consistency problems as a cafe that doesn’t uphold their standards very well.

Now, I know this could all be because I’ve had relatively few experiences at Old Soul, so I could just be experiencing some newly hired baristas. It’s possible.

Score

B- to B+

Roasted Chocolate Fish

Chocolate Fish Coffee has recently begun roasting their own coffee. I’ve only had two cups so far, but it is one of the tastiest coffees I’ve brewed at home in a long while. Go visit and have a traditional cappuccino (the smaller one) and buy some beans.

Food Co-Op DNE Pachamama

Someone finally responded to my question about who exactly ran the coffee counter in the Food Co-Op. Answer: Not Pachamama, get your effin facts straight.

That’s not really what the General Manager of Pachamama said, but he did seem kind of eager to distance himself from it. Apparently they did run it in the beginning but not since March 2009. He seems genuinely frustrated that the beans are not being respectfully brewed into decent coffee. I guess nobody sets out to serve bad coffee, there’s just too many variables in between that one doesn’t have control over.

Oh look, a new cafe page on the Davis Food Co-Op. It’s actually about a month old, I’m just slow in posting this.

Chocolate Fish

It turns out that Temple is NOT the closest good coffee to Davis, Chocolate Fish Coffee is closer to Davis by about a mile. Located at the corner of 3rd and Q, they’re conveniently located right off the freeway but not surrounded by much else. They offer their cappuccinos in the curiously large 8oz (which Temple and Old Soul also default to) and the traditional 6oz (the size of choice for me). Ritual and Chocolate Fish labeled beans are for sale, both of which are very good. The baristas are all well trained and the coffee has been consistently excellent. Unfortunately, they are located in a very business casual part of Downtown Sacramento, which means most of their clientele are people who go home around 4:30pm, which means they close at 4pm :(

A more thorough comparison between the Chocolate Fish, Temple, and Old Soul is needed, but I can say right now that Temple is still your safest bet for both good coffee and great atmosphere.

Meanwhile, in Davis…

I haven’t seen the “good” Mishka’s baristas in a while, no offense to the current Mishka’s baristas. Have they moved on? Have they taken different shifts?

Common Grounds. Tried it a few times. Meh. The baristas are friendly and hard workers, I’ve never seen baristas with that much energy. The coffee, unfortunately, is just about average.

CoffeeSnobYolo?

I finally escaped the coffee desert of Davis, but I’m still stuck in the Yolo county. Moving sucks, but it was worth it.

While I’ve had plenty of time to write up the Pepper Peddler review, I’m still waffling on posting it. Here’s the gist of it: better than from the co-op (freshness), light roast and roaster’s blend(!) were my top picks, but I could still barely taste the bean. For all three roasts and the blend, a certain harshness, almost chemically, permeated everything. The roast process and not the bean was at the forefront of my nose and tongue. It may be because of the way Alex roasts, or the equipment, or that particular bean was just boring. Overall, it’s still one of the better ways to get your fresh coffee if you want to buy from a Davis roaster.

Summer is here, and Davis is stupidly hot. On the bright side, iced coffee tastes better this time of year. If you ever get some beans that are past their prime (two weeks+) or that you just don’t enjoy straight, you can try making some New Orleans style iced coffee. You can use good beans too, but New Orleans iced coffee uses milk and sugar so it’s much more forgiving.

Cold brewed coffee is best for this, I use a Toddy, but I’ve seen other very similar cold brew systems out there.

  • Make your cold brew coffee concentrate and pour about 4 ounces into a glass with 2-4 ice cubes.
  • Add about 4-6 ounces of good milk (like Straus or Clover whole milk) and about 2-3 tablespoons of simple syrup (just dissolve equal parts sugar and water on the stove and let cool).
  • Mix or just twist the glass around a few times to swirl that stuff. You may want to adjust your proportions to fit your taste, I just eyeball it every time.

You could use regular brewed coffee for this, but I find cold brewed coffee to come out way smoother and generally more suited for iced coffee.

Coffee, I enjoy it.

I was recently called out by a reader, was I just spouting terms and trashing cafes and coffees without actually having real experience with good coffee? Well, no, but I can see how I could come across that way. We had a nice conversation over email and he advised that I talk about coffee I enjoy rather than just coffee I hate.

In Davis, I have been enjoying the occasional Mishka’s cappuccino and macchiato, depending on the barista. I’ve also had the pleasure of getting a flight of the Pepper Peddler’s current bean. Alex, the Pepper Peddler himself, contacted me after reading my last post on the Roaster’s Blend sold out of the Co-Op. Despite my trashing of the fruits of his labor, he was perfectly polite and described his process, purpose, and philosophy, and then offered to get me some freshly roasted beans of all roast levels.

I’ve done a full double blind cupping of all the beans with another cupper. I’ve also had a few days to just brew a few and enjoy them on a daily basis. I’ll be posting a full review later, but regardless of the results, Alex is a stand up coffee guy who is passionate about what he does. By offering a single origin at a time, his customers have a chance to discover differences in each bean. He’s also very eco-friendly with his bike powered roasting and delivery, reusable coffee jars, etc. I’m more interested in the coffee, but if you’re into that stuff, it’s a plus.

One coffee that caught my attention recently is the Bali Natural Kintamani from Coffee Emergency. Incredibly fruity, fruits of all kinds… almost a fruit punch. Very in your face fruity, berries, melony, all out sweetness, yet still pretty balanced out of a french press. Their Kenya AA is also pretty solid right now. Overall, I’ve very rarely been let down by Coffee Emergency. The few times that I am, it is most likely just due to personal preference.

Pachamamamama no more at the Co-Op?

Reader lleve Dwight notified me that the Pachamama Cafe in the Food Co-Op is no longer run by Pachamama employees, it is run by the Co-Op Deli employees. I’m not sure how this would affect the quality, but I cannot imagine it being an improvement.

Basic Hygiene, steam wands need it too

Dear Konditorei,

Please clean that nasty steam wand. Don’t wait until it has over a hundred layers of milk turns brown, it’s too late. Clean it right after you use it.

Love,
Coffeesnobdavis