Our new Bay Area contributor Leif Haven was on hand last weekend for Linea Caffe's private debut. We join him for this, the world's very first look inside Andrew Barnett's hotly anticipated new roaster/retailer. The cafe opens to the public on Wednesday, September 18th.
I stopped by Linea Caffe on 18th, just north of Mission at San Carlos, on Saturday morning after graciously being offered an invite by Andrew Barnett the night before. In a moment of serendipity I received said invitation while in Mission Chinese, where this project, a collaboration between Barnett and Anthony Myint and the Mission Street Food crew, was conceived. I don’t think I need to articulate how excited I was to get a chance to taste some coffee sourced, roasted, and brewed by Barnett, the founder of Ecco Caffe, and new foodstuffs from the burgeoning Mission Street Food empire.
This was a preview event for VIPs and investors, who had helped the café meet its Kickstarter goal, but somehow I managed to sneak in. The café is clean, small, and simple. There is no brewed coffee. The shop is of course equipped with a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, paired with Mazzer Robur-E and a Major-E grinders. Barnett and his retail manager, Rita Kaminsky, were there personally cranking out drinks at the new cafe. Clover milk and Califia brand almond milk are the milks of choice.
The espresso I tried at the preview was made up of coffees from Brazil and Ethiopia; the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe was sourced by Coffee Shrub, and that will remain stable for the foreseeable future, but the Brazilian coffees represent a broad range of high quality Brazilian producers, including Fazenda Rainha (2011 1st place Brazil CoE winning farm), Fazenda Sertaozinho, FAF, Santa Terezinha (another 1st place Brazil CoE winner) and Camocim. The inclusion of these Brazilian coffees represents Mr. Barnett's long history cultivating direct trade relationships for his former company, Ecco Caffe, and the knowledge he's gained through years of involvement in judging Cup of Excellence and World Barista Championship competitions. Other than espresso based drinks, tea will be provided by Elevation Tea, a new brand helmed by Wes Wang. Mr. Wang, a partner in Mission Chinese in New York, is originally form Taiwan and a very passionate tea enthusiast. Linea Caffe will be the first place in the world to offer Elevation Tea to the public.
While this is most definitely Linea Caffe, it also plays host to both Lt. Waffle and GreenSalads.org in true Mission Street Food restaurant-in-a-restaurant style. Salads and waffles are available, to-go or to stand – an outdoor seating area and standing bar are still in the works (that’s what the Kickstarter paid for.) Also like other Mission Street Food related endeavors, this one has a charitable streak: GreenSalads.org, the salad side of the menu, will donate $1 from each salad to 350.org, a non-profit that seeks to build a grassroots movement to solve climate change. Rounding out the menu are chocolates from Dandelion, a well-revered chocolatier located nearby in the Mission District.
Both Barnett and Myint told me variations on the same origin story: Barnett was a regular at Mission Chinese, which is how he connected with Myint and developed a sort of mutual admiration. The plan coalesced around the idea of creating something small. Since Myint and his wife/business partner Karen Leibowitz recently had a child, there wasn’t supposed to be any big projects in the works, but Myint managed to squeeze in work on developing the Linea Caffe / waffle / salad concept.
Initially the team thought to stick the café in the Duc Loi grocery store, where Mission Burger existed up until last year. When Duc Loi wasn’t amenable to that arrangement, they found this little space right behind the market. It’s less than 300 square feet, so even standing room is at a premium. This is the polar opposite of many of the other cafes in the city that boast titanic dimensions. You can rest assured that no one will be asking for the wifi password at Linea.
Barnett is roasting the coffees for Linea at Highwire Coffee in Emeryville, just across the bay. Highwire also rents time on their Probat to Wrecking Ball; there's a lot of delicious coffee passing through that drum. While current Linea offerings are from Brazil and Ethiopia, there will be coffees from Guatemala and El Salvador on the menu in the future, and they’re sure to be primarily award winning and reserve coffees sourced directly through Mr. Barnett's considerable network of green coffee contacts.
Again, I visited during the shop's investor preview, and Mr. Barnett made a point of telling me my shots weren't quite dialed in yet. This was perhaps a bit of up-front humility, but it also reflects the fact that my visit happened on the very first morning of semi-public service at Linea. Absent from the bar was master barista Tom Baker, and both Mr. Barnett and Ms. Kaminsky said that they were expecting the espresso to settle down as the brand new machines were broken in. I’m sure that by Wednesday, Barnett will have found the transcendent and accessible espresso experience he’s been chasing. He's certainly created the right space for it.