Giulietta Carrelli learned how to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Carrelli, owner of Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club, tells me this from behind the gunmetal bar of her second of three Bay Area coffee bars, where we met to talk coffee, Trouble’s origin, and its recent expansion to West Oakland.
A man two seats down the bar drinking a latte says ocean swimmers are crazy, jumping into 36-degree water without a wetsuit on. But Carrelli just laughs. Then corrects him.
“Forty nine,” she says. The water’s usually 49 degrees.
As we talk, climber Royal Robbins stares down at us from a cover of a paperback copy of Basic Rock Techniques on a shelf above a sticker-plastered La Marzocco; beneath him, one of Carrelli’s old skateboards sits, thrashed. These objects all hold importance. They are carefully curated mementos of Carrelli’s life, and none are more carefully selected than those in her West Oakland shop.
Trouble’s third location is just a few weeks old. At the corner of 15th and Willow in West Oakland, about a 15-minute walk from the BART stop of the same name, the first things you notice once inside is the size. Unlike the other Troubles—each closer to 200 square feet—West Oakland’s 1,600 square feet feel expansive. The ceiling is high and the windows and doors are always open.
“Every other store in the neighborhood is closed off,” Carrelli explains.
Trouble is instead welcoming. She uses words like “safe,” and “pure,” and “important” to describe it.
It’s all white inside, because, as she says, “What’s more punk than an all white shop?”
Though there’s a sign at the register admonishing use of electronics, that’s meant for the time you’ll be waiting in line. Photos inside the shop are encouraged, as Carrelli notes that within the bright, white space, “everyone looks good”.
If Trouble’s Ocean Beach location, in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district, is Carrelli’s baby, the second storefront is her clubhouse, for when Carrelli needed a cup of coffee on a Saturday or Sunday but couldn’t contend with the crowds at Ocean Beach. Oakland, then, is the realization of Trouble’s intent—Trouble Coffee is a destination on its own, now, one of many destinations.
Carrelli insists that hers are not coffee shops at all, but art installations, they are places to go to that serve up a seriously mean menu of coffees and treats. By menu, of course, we don’t mean anything you can read printed up. You’ll have to talk to your barista about that, a move that’s entirely intentional.
People flock as if to Mecca for Trouble’s porterhouse-thick slabs of cinnamon sugar toast, fresh-cleaved Thai coconuts, espresso drinks and tall, dark drips. One of the few places in the whole Bay Area where you’ll find them, Trouble serves beans from Intelligentsia—a two-bean Brazilian blend called “The Hammer.”
Carrelli still ocean-swims now, by the way, along her old stretch of the Pacific off the coast of China Beach. But these days her time is split between there and a new haunt, a public pool within walking distance of the Oakland shop where the lifeguards play loud music and dance. Like West Oakland, it’s just her speed.