Where to Get Coffee in San Diego: An Interview with Adam Pike

Coffee in San Diego

As Bill Murray observes in The Life Aquatic, Kentucky is a landlocked state. But everyone needs to visit the coast sometimes, and whenever we have the option we head west. We caught up with our friend Adam Pike, a former barista and native Californian, and asked him where to get coffee in San Diego.

You’re from Socal. That means you’re a surfer, right?

Not exactly. While I have been known to sponge board a bit, I am not sufficiently adept to walk on water. But I have seen it done!

What is your experience in coffee?

Really, I’m an average Joe. While I do recall as a wee lad braving the occasional espresso shot from a street cart or throwing a few scoops of Yuban into the ol’ Mr. Coffee, coffee and I started going steady over when I began my first semester of college. I quickly discovered that as the quality of the coffee, roast, and brew improved, the beverage required less raspberry syrup, chocolate sauce, and even milk.

My cousin and I acquired a wholesale account with a local San Diego roaster and, in addition to supplying coffee to a few business accounts and friends, we enjoyed a steady stash of coffee at home. The account came with a relationship with the roastery. Through that relationship I learned about cupping, varietals, regions and saw my first competitive brewing events.

My love for Central America has taken me on a few excursions into rural Honduras, where I came to see the beautiful plant in vivo and actually meet and participate in the lives of the folks who cultivate the fruit we crave. I have worked in two cafes as a barista, most recently at Quills Coffee in Louisville, KY. I also enjoy the occasional popcorn popper home roast.

Where should we go for coffee in San Diego?

I’m so proud to say that coffee excellence in San Diego has grown significantly in recent years, with more growth to come! While a respectful nod to earlier pioneers is justified, I want to bring special attention to the three cafes to which I would recommend a visit while in town.

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters

Dark Horse Coffee in San Diego
Where coffee shop meets minimalism one finds Dark Horse. Decked with shadowy shades of dark wood evoking a blacksmith vibe that is downright 1885, the concentrated space offers seating for maybe a dozen customers and displays its coffee offerings scrawled in chalk on a transverse beam overhead. An efficient manual brew bar offers a relatively quick option for tasting an impressive array of coffees. The space is a refreshing respite from the bloated laptop farms nearby.

Dark Horse is stabled in the Normal Heights segment of Adams Ave, home to various small concert venues, antique shops, and one of the best used book stores around!

Coffee & Tea Collective

Coffee in San Diego
Conspicuously located among the contiguous storefronts of El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego’s major urban thoroughfare, is the roastery-laboratory know as Coffee & Tea Collective. The cafe pursues utmost excellence from origin to cup, providing customers with a drink that has survived rigorous trial and testing.

The cafe’s design, the work of architect Shawn Benson, reflects the characteristically creative core of the North Park neighborhood. The palette is nearly overwhelmingly white, but relieved by dynamic textures including a giant pegboard wall that gives a sense of movement and fluidity to the space, leaping with an occasional red fixture. The coffee is brewed and served on natural wood surfaces, an organic bridge between the science and living dynamic of the cup. Coffee & Tea Collective neglects no detail.

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

Bird Rock Coffee in San Diego

While it may seem a no brainer to mention Roast Magazine’s 2012 Micro Roaster of the Year, La Jolla’s own Bird Rock Coffee Roasters delivers more than a noteworthy brew. This is a cafe that lives to serve its beachside community. A skilled barista delicately pours over a Chemex while the espresso bar unflinchingly adds whipped cream to a mocha at a customer’s request. The whole bean catalog is arranged along the bar in spectrum from the less to more developed roasts which includes a french roast option. Doors and windows are wide open, allowing the sidewalk and cafe space to communicate freely.

I enjoyed the Colombia Pedrigal de Cauca on Chemex and a sample of their Monkey Bite Espresso.

How is coffee shop culture in San Diego different from other cities? Does that laid back surf culture carry over to the cafe?

Perhaps my favorite attribute of San Diego is that each of its distinctly different neighborhoods is unique. As you can guess by the descriptions above, the cafes are all products of their neighborhoods and the nuances of each community make up each cafe’s substance. Also, the year-round fair weather has a major impact on cafe design, aesthetics, and possibilities for outdoor seating.

Do the Chargers have any hope of making it to the playoffs this year?

You know it! Go Bolts!


View The Coffee Compass Map in a larger map

Photos from Creative Commons, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, and Annie’s Gluten Free Grub.

6 thoughts on “Where to Get Coffee in San Diego: An Interview with Adam Pike

  1. I cant believe Zumbar isn’t addressed in this article. Started around 2006, they may prefer to stick to their medium roast profiles despite the light roast craze that has been ravaging down from Seattle to Portola in Costa Mesa, but from what I’ve had – they pull some of the BEST espresso shots and know their craft. And they do it very well.

    From what I hear, they recently opened up a new location in Escondido, but the original location can be found in Sorrento Valley off the 5 near UCSD.

    1. Hey Joe,

      I don’t think Adam wanted to excluded anyone, he just wanted to focus on these three shops. We’ll be sure to check out Zumbar next time we’re in San Diego.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

      -The Compass

      1. Didn’t mean to point a finger or complain, I’m just a big fan of zumbar despite not having time to go there anymore.

        Just thought I’d put it out there in case you guys haven’t been there. Sorry for sounding a little obtuse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.