In San Francisco, it sometimes seems as if one could blindly hurl a rock and hit the storefront of a specialty coffee shop. And yet, in the ever-expanding world of tech, where companies offer nearly everything to their employees, specialty coffee has found a new place to stretch. Major players like Twitter and Facebook may pride themselves on the steaming cups of exemplary joe made available to their employees at any time of day. But for those companies that haven’t invested in providing in-office caffeine, a new, relatively sparsely occupied niche has opened: the mobile coffee cart. Simply put, the mobile cart, adorned with an upscale espresso machine and all of the necessary coffee-making accoutrements, wheels the experience (and the drinks) of specialty coffee right to your doorstep. And taking the lead is Hedge Coffee.
Married couple Alex and Olga Sobal—immigrants from Belarus and Russia, respectively—started Hedge Coffee in December 2015 (just two scant months ago) to fill the catering-sized hole in the San Francisco coffee market. The goal, as Olga says, is to provide “great coffee anywhere.” The Sobals found that, though there were some mobile carts serving the needs of San Franciscans, none of them seemed to focus enough on quality. Alex Sobal, the quality-control expert at Oakland’s Mr. Espresso, saw a business opportunity. “We position ourselves,” Olga says, “as the first specialty coffee catering company. We always tell people, ‘Don’t expect skim sugar-free vanilla lattes—it’s not what we do.’ ”
Purchasing a Barista Capsule from Capsule Mfg., the couple used their respective skills—Alex comes from an architect background, while Olga has a master’s in journalism—to build not only an attractive coffee cart, but one equipped to dole out consistently fantastic beverages using beans sourced and roasted through Mr. Espresso. And the result is something to behold.
I visited the couple’s Hedge Coffee pop-up at the Ampersand flower shop and event space in the Mission. (Though corporate coffee service is their intended moneymaker, the duo is still working to get the word out.) Alex Sobal, thick blond dreads hanging to his mid-back, stood behind their gorgeous reinvention of the coffee cart. Sporting a glossy off-white veneer with the simple, elegant Hedge logo in black lettering, the beautiful cart features a remake of the vintage Faema E61 espresso machine and a Mazzer grinder on its flank. Upon close examination it seemed that everything had been tweaked down to the smallest detail—matte-black milk pitchers matched matte-black bags of coffee and the matte-black FETCO brewer tucked away behind the Faema, all of them offset by the cart’s clean surfaces and the splash of bright red espresso cups lining the top of the E61. The Hedge logo—two asymmetrical columns of white, embossed letters on a black background—was designed by Alex. “We have saved so much money doing all the creative work ourselves,” he says, adding, “Creative thinking in general helps to solve problems…creatively.” Everything they’ve done is informed by the mobile-coffee-cart experience they envisioned.
A specialty coffee cart is not just defined by its appearance, of course—the coffee it serves is paramount. And Hedge Coffee does not slump in that regard. In the vein of Mr. Espresso, the coffee turned out from this beautiful cart is dark and rich, whether with milk and/or sugar, or nothing at all. Somehow, the coffee feels classic, a refined throwback to an espresso that existed before terms like Third or Fourth Wave coffee came along. Which fits what the Sobals are doing, as their coffee cart, tucked among the sprawl of flowers when I visited, is a reinvented nod to the simplicity of the past.
And though coffee carts are frequently just segues to brick-and-mortar shops, Alex and Olga don’t plan on heading down that path. “We’ve never really thought about [having a cafe],” Olga says. “We were thinking about renting a small place for tastings, but we want to be more flexible with our time—and having a physical location requires all of your time. And, well, we aren’t ready for that yet.” In the meantime, the couple looks to spread the word of what they’re doing while also hoping to grow beyond the single unit, adding more carts and becoming what Alex Sobal refers to as a “mobile coffee company.” For now, the pair are doing what they can to fill this gap in San Francisco’s otherwise crowded coffee market. And they’re doing it with a style and charm all their own.