Around an hour and a half northwest of Yosemite National Park sits the small Gold Rush era town of Sonora, California. This is the heart of the Mother Lode, a literal gold mine that brought thousands of miners to California in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush. Without Sonora, there might not be a California; and without California, where espresso culture first took hold in the United States, there may never have been a Peet’s, a Starbucks, and eventually, a Third Wave.
Sounds like a pretty chill place to open a contemporary coffee shop—and that’s exactly what’s happening right now in Sonora, where Union Coffee soft opened earlier this summer and will celebrate their grand opening this fall.
As told to Sprudge by Troy Carle of Union Hill Coffee.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Union Hill Coffee started in 2014 at a small, indoor farmers’ market. We wanted to make sure that our rural community was excited about good coffee before signing a lease on a brick-and-mortar space. We then looked for a commercial space for two years before finding a space that would work well. After nearly a year spent remodeling the space, we opened in Sonora, California earlier this summer, in the center of a town founded during the Gold Rush. Sonora is in a county of 54,000 people, located an hour and a half northwest of Yosemite National Park.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
Our building was built in the mid-to-late 1800s when Sonora was a town devoted to gold mining. It was a photography studio in the early 1900s and was the location of the local newspaper in the 1930s. In turning the space into a cafe, we worked hard to blend modern and historical elements that recognize Sonora’s “rough and tumble” Gold Rush heritage to give our take on the modern cafe aesthetic. All of the lumber used for tables, benches, and the walls was sourced from a local sawmill that cuts logs from the forest nearby. Hand-cut, 16-foot sugar pine slabs were used for the benches. The pine wood on the walls still shows the circular saw blade marks from the mill. The cabinets and bar were built on site and we bent the table frames by hand. Complementing this local lumber are Italian geometric tiles similar to those used in the Parisian subway, and a zinc bar top custom-made for the cafe. On one wall of the cafe is a hanging garden of plants. The response to the minimalist design has been great.
What’s your approach to coffee?
We are excited about straightforward, good coffee. Over the last few years, we looked up and down the West Coast for a roaster that would be the best fit for this approach. We went with Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. and we couldn’t be happier. Their coffees are excellent and they’ve been really great to work with.
We offer an espresso drink menu and drip coffee made in small batches.
We also use Kilogram Tea, INNA shrubs, and Clover milk products.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We opened at the Farmers’ Market with a La Marzocco GS3 AV. It is still working really well at the shop. We have a Mazzer Kony E for espresso and a Mahlkönig EK 43 that we use for espresso, batch, and retail grinding. For drip coffee, we use a Curtis D60GT to make 40-ounce batches throughout the day.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We had a soft opening in June and will have a grand opening this fall.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
We would like to thank Mike B, a retired contractor who worked tirelessly for eight months without pay. He enabled us to tackle several projects that would otherwise be outside of our budget.
Photos courtesy of Troy Carle and Robbie King.