On a recent trip to the West Coast I got a chance to sample a wide variety of SoCal’s best beans. From the star studded LA Mill to the critical darlings at Go Get Em Tiger, my taste buds can testify that California knows how to party.
But the surprise star of my trip was the Santa Barbara shop The French Press.
I had arrived in LA with a fistful of recommendations, but when I hit the beach in SB I had only my wits and my iPhone to guide me.
There are a handful of well reviewed shops in SB but I never made it past The French Press. After I took my first sip of the house roasted Peruvian, I knew I would spending as much of my vacation in their shop as I possibly could.
I had five different drinks over the course of forty-eight hours, and also purchased a bag of that Peruvian to hand grind and drink on the beach.
Here are some thoughts on what I sipped.
The Pour over
My first go through I kept it simple and ordered a pour over. I asked the nice lady to make me a cup of whatever she was excited to serve, and she came back with a sweet and nutty little bean that paired just perfectly with the pecan roll I splurged on. The Pacaybama is a washed Peruvian, and if The French Press had an online store up and running I’d order a pound of it right now.
This was the single best cup of coffee I drank on the West Coast.
The Single Origin Shot
Following the practice of many finer third wave shops, The French Press offers a house espresso blend and a rotating single origin espresso.
The Rubial Salazar, a washed Columbian, was the featured single origin during my trip. It’s floral and sweet.
I noticed at several finer shops out west that tamping is getting lighter. I didn’t get a chance to measure the pounds of pressure with anything but a casual glance, but the baristas’ I was seeing couldn’t have been applying the once ubiquitous thirty pound tamp.
The French Press continued this trend, and the espresso they pulled was so light that even my cream and sugar loving companion enjoyed the straight shot. It started out great, but I let it sit just a minute too long though, and by the end it had chilled and the floral notes were tasting just a touch sour.
The French Press is also another example of the trend in finer shops to weigh the dose of every shot. EVERY SHOT. They seem to believe it’s the only way to get consistently excellent espresso, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Which brings me to the shakerato. The shakerato is an example of the cocktail style drinks that or all the rage these days.
While some shops get real fancy with this type of drink using cocktail ingredients like bitters or who knows what, the Shakerato at The French Press keeps it simple. Two ounces of espresso, some simple syrup, and an ounce of water. They pour it into a martini shaker so it’s beyond ice cold when it comes out. The serve it with a drop of fresh lemon juice from the wedge they place on the side of the glass.
This drink is a cool taste of heaven. I’m not big into sugary drinks, but this was balanced by the strong tastes of their house espresso and the tiniest bit of added acidity from the lemon. The citrus also opened up the tastes in the espresso.
The Milk Drinks
I’m not much of a latte man. I had several sips from my companions drink. It was well done, but I still thought it had way too much milk in it, which is why I ordered a Gibraltar.
Like Macchiatos and Cortados, the Gibraltar has an even espresso to milk-foam ratio – about two ounces of each.
It may be my imagination, but the Gibraltar at The French Press was also served at closer to 110 degrees, a temperature which showcases the natural sweetness of the milk-fat.
The Arnold Palmer
And just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, the barista insisted I let him make me something for the road (Makes sense, between the drinks, the great food, and the bag of Pacaybama we had just dropped about a hundred dollars, so the guy wanted us to come back).
Instead of doubling down on the coffee he served me an Arnold Palmer. He poured it with about 30% lemonade and 70% tea. The lemonade was nice and tart, and the tea surprisingly fruity. I couldn’t quite decide if I was picking up hints of mango or peach, but it was a sweet and surprisingly complex take on the old summertime favorite.
The next day I ordered an American, made with the house espresso. It had a great chocolaty flavor, like a brownie.
The Pacaybama on the Beach
I wan’t ever able to get quite as much out of this coffee with an actual french press as I wanted to. It’s still an excellent bean, but I think the flavors leant themselves to a pour over. I’d have liked to try a Clever or an Aeropress, but with traveling my supplies where limited.
It was still a damn fine pot of coffee.
For our last visit, on our way out of town, I couldn’t resist getting another cup of the pour over.
The French Press is opening a third Santa Barbara location in a few months, and will have their online store ready later this year. Meanwhile, keep up with them on Facebook, and be sure to swing by Santa Barbara if you are on the West Coast.