I recently had the privilege of going on an overnight trip to the Napa Valley, where I had several meals at Thomas Keller’s various more affordable Yountville eateries (Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bakery, and Addendum). My wife and I ordered coffee with the dessert course, and were bowled over by the excellence of the brew.
With the veritable explosion of ‘artisanal’ coffee roasteries over the last eight or so years—many of which got their start in the Bay Area—it’s no surprise that they’ve been a mixed bag. In my experience, many prioritize fluff over flavor, with storefronts and espresso carts that look like they’re just waiting to be photographed and blogged about regardless of the quality of the drinks they serve. Hip logos and wax-mustached baristas abound, but that does not a drinkable coffee make…
I’ve tried many of them, and have determined that I dislike almost all of them with the exception of Blue Bottle Coffee. I vividly recall when I was first given a half pound of Blue Bottle ‘Bella Donovan’ as a gift from a friend almost a decade ago because the force with which the flavors hit me were a revelation. They were well-balanced, with an elegant simplicity I’d never before tasted in a lighter roast. Having grown up in Berkeley, CA, I was used to the dark roasts of Peet’s coffees, and my palate had settled into favoring that kind of robusticity, and I’d never imagined that a lighter roast could pack such a nuanced punch. Needless to say I was hooked, and took to having Blue Bottle priority shipped to Ann Arbor, MI from Oakland, CA as often as I could afford to do so.
Now I’m back in Oakland, and admit to taking the easy access to Blue Bottle a little for granted. I still drink Peet’s quite often. I was reawakened to the joys of superb coffee at Ad Hoc. We immediately asked our server where the coffee was from, and he told us it was from Equator Coffee in San Rafael, CA, the roastery where Thomas Keller and his staff have put together blends for each of his eateries: French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc.
We stopped on the way home from Napa and picked up a pound of Equator at a local stockist, Berkeley Bowl. We plowed through that and placed an order on the Equator website to take advantage of some offerings unavailable elsewhere. A friend and I split pounds of the Per Se and Ad Hoc blends, and a pound of the single-origin Brazilian Fazenda Sertaozhino.
I’ve been drinking the Per Se blend for the last few days, and have tried it in both an AeroPress and as drip coffee (which you see above), and prefer the drip for this particular blend. I don’t want to categorically say that I prefer Equator over Blue Bottle just yet, but they’re definitely the two best coffees I’ve ever had.
Those with fatter wallets than I, and who want to try a true side by side comparison, both Equator and Blue Bottle have recently roasted their own batches of Lorie Obra’s famed ‘Rusty’s Hawaiian’ Ka’u (a close neighbor to the more famous Kona region) which are available for $25.75 and $30 a 1/2 pound respectively.
If you do so, I’d love to hear the results…