The Ballad of Stanza, San Francisco’s New Multiroaster

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We join our intrepid co-founder Zachary Carlsen on the streets of San Francisco…

…the day after Barista Nation, a Sunday, and there’s this thing that happens when we travel, where you can’t stop moving, not even to write or dump photos from a memory card. Because if you stop moving then you’ll miss the chance to see as much as possible and have even more to write about, even more to photograph. It’s kind of a vicious cycle, day after day spend in media res, with the ends and beginnings of things unclear, but anyway I’m making my way through the crowded sidewalks of the Mission District on a Sunday, at like 16th and between Guerrero and Valencia, just past the infamous Pork Store, when I spot the A-Frame chalkboard outside of Stanza Coffee that reads “Get Yo Ass Inside”, and I oblige.

Stanza is the newest and only multiroaster coffee bar in the Mission District (can we start calling it San Francisco’s Coffee District yet?). It sits a block away from a chocolate shop that serves a full espresso menu of Four Barrel, which is two doors down from a bakery that serves a full espresso menu of Sightglass. How does Stanza stand apart? “We don’t have a single coffee roasted in San Francisco,” the enthusiastic founder, part-owner, and General Manager Aaron Caddel tells us.

The espresso offerings that Sunday were the espresso blend from Seattle’s Herkimer Coffee and the single origin “Hartmann Honey Espresso” from Denver’s Novo Coffee, on display in Mazzer grinders aside a new three-group Slayer V2 espresso machine. The day’s single cup V60 offerings were Olympia Coffee Roasting Company‘s Pablo Zuniga Colombia micro-lot and Counter Culture Coffee’s Baroida of Papua New Guinea.

The Slayer shipping crate hangs proudly on the wall.

The Slayer shipping crate hangs proudly on the wall.

The space was formally a hookah bar and the new owners kept a lot of the decor. Perhaps accidentally, the aesthetic works. It’s charming and refreshingly different. “We still haven’t had an opening party,” Aaron confided in us, “We’re waiting for some things to come together.”

Some things include backyard seating. They’ve finished a ramp leading to four big open tables in a quiet courtyard, a welcome respite from the traffic on 16th. Other things involve the menu, which is still evolving, but contains at least one wrinkle we’ve never seen a high-end cafe pull off before: Mr. Caddel welcomes home roasters to share their coffee at Stanza. He hopes to begin showcasing coffees roasted by hobbyists, which the Bay Area has many (in part due to Sweet Maria’s, the Oakland-based homeroaster’s mecca).

“We cupped 70 coffees last week,” Aaron told us, as he and his crew work to find the next line-up. They take the selection process very seriously. “There are roasters in the area that do a week of only Kenya coffee. I would love to offer a menu that for one month highlighted Portland roasted coffees, or New York roasted coffees.”

Stanza’s original Haight location opened in April 2012; it serves wine, and exclusively features Counter Culture Coffee. The new location is a bit of a social experiment. “People are surprised to find great coffee coming out of Nebraska and Billings, Montana. They say ‘wow! I thought only San Francisco had good coffee!’ There’s a lot of really good coffee roasters out there we can experience and learn more from.”

While Stanza Coffee Bar looks beyond the Bay Area for roasted coffee, the company does make a point to celebrate local machinists, bakers, and tea-purveyors. The pour-over stand was designed by Aaron and built locally. They have a lineup of tea from Chinatown’s Red Blossom Tea. Stanza serves Pepples Organic Donuts, pastry from Thorough Bread, and sweets from a newcomer called BATCH Baking.

There’s always a critic in the bunch. A snark-ladened Yelp reviewer commented “Wow, coffee from exotic locals like Kansas or North Carolina. Huh? Locovore [sic], not!” For “locol” roasted coffee, said reviewer might have to walk a half block away, but for someone who wants to try outstanding coffees from award winning roasters based in cities around the country, Stanza stands out.

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