KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Ritual Coffee Roasters, Living here just got better
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Monday, July 25, 2005
Ritual Coffee Roasters, Living here just got better

Since so many San Francisco residents are from other states and cities, among any group of friends we all have to deal with someone saying that where they come from the ______ (fill in the blank) is better. From New Yorkers you get the pizza and bagel jibes and from Pacific Northwesterners, you will always hear the heavy sighs about coffee.

Now there's a new complaint. The espresso at one very special place in the Mission is so good that it makes the above average coffee of Oregon and Washington a little less worth traveling there for.

Enter Ritual coffee roasters on Valencia between 21st and 22nd streets. Experiencing the sudden busyness that Delfina and Tartine experienced upon opening, Ritual has hit the local café scene with an unexpected gusto and fan base. Taking over the former space of one of my favorite stores, Home Remedies, in a space the size and shape of a dairy barn, this newcomer looks nothing like the dark grotto style coffee shops that inhabit the neighborhood. Equipped with free WiFi access, Ritual can sometimes look like a café for laptops and their humans.

Owner Jeremy Tooker, an energetic 26-year-old fellow with disarming boyish features and a passion for coffee self admittedly bordering on obsession, and partner Eileen Hassi, opened Ritual less than three months ago. Tooker wanted to open Ritual in part to protest the fact that Starbucks had just purchased the company he had moved here to manage. A native Portlander, Tooker used to live around the corner from Portland-based Stumptown coffee roasters, where, although he worked for Torrafazzione, he used to pick up his espresso before heading off to work!

Owner Jeremy Tooker (right) and Gabe, a medal winning espresso maker (left)

The first time I went to Ritual I was meeting my friend A.Z.O. whom I credit for teaching me how to appreciate espresso. A. comes from Seattle and took me to the temple of coffee beans and perfect, beautiful, creamy, decorated foam--Vivace--where I had a life-altering cappuccino. The irony is that caffeine has never been to me what it is to seemingly everyone I know. {A lanky boy with the metabolism of a hummingbird, I am the person hung-over cooks have always detested, especially at 6am.} Coffee has never been my lover, savior, or my nemesis. Never having been one of my addictions, I just like the taste. A. and I were meeting there because it was the new place in town but strangely enough when we stepped up to the counter to order the drink we would share, I recognized the name on the small sign behind the espresso machine. "Stumptown!" I exclaimed, "I just heard about it in Portland!" But neither of us could prepare for the smoove, delicious elixir from under the shade trees that stopped us in our tracks as we headed for Dolores Park.

After my first visit I couldn't stay away. Ritual's coffee is the beverage you don't want to finish. Like a good novel the last sip is bittersweet. And like a men's barber shop, who is pulling your shot makes all the difference.
When I tried to find information on Ritual all I could find was an uber nerdy chat site about coffee and the people who are passionate about all the fetishistic details, in lingo I couldn't understand. After spending hours talking to Jeremy and Brent Fortune, the owner of Crema in Portland (another café owner dedicated to using Stumptown's beans), I began to glean the impenetrable foreign language.

Here is the 411:

Stumptown has requirements for the cafés that use their coffee. The beans are roasted to order, overnight drop-shipped by Fed Ex, and expected to be used within ten days. Jeremy said, "In some places, whose name I won't mention, coffee is made with beans that have been sitting in storage for over a year." Different coffees de-gas at different rates and basing a business around a singular product means that it has to be the freshest, most aromatic it can be. Jeremy plans to install a small 5-kilo roaster when he has a minute to breathe. He plans on apprenticing and working closely with Duane, the owner of Stumptown, to learn how to roast green beans.

Ritual is Stumptown's first customer in San Francisco. Both Jeremy and Brent emphasized that they go out of their way to support this small and conscientious company even though it makes their profit margins tighter.

During my day of interviewing, listening, photographing, drinking, and savoring I realized that singular ingredient driven industries--wine, chocolate, cheese, olive oil, etc.--have tiny finesses and similarities that make understanding why certain brands stand out. At Ritual, Jeremy is paying attention to the temperature and pressure of the water and the gram weight in a 'dose' of espresso. He is aware that he and other workers vary slightly so that alterations are made accordingly, and he's mixing different beans that have been roasted at different temperatures to create particular flavor profiles for the drinks. He has specifically picked Clover dairy for a perfect marriage. Although I took in more information than I could possibly include here, what I came away with was how seriously the people at Ritual take their craft, and that always attracts me.

I may be naive in thinking this, but those of us who work with organic and perishable products must have a reverence for it that humbles us and, in turn, helps us to treat it with care and respect. That, to me, is the essence of craft. And in the end, an incredible cup of warm delicious espresso can be savored at Ritual, in the presence of a passion so grand, you don't have to fly away to experience it.


Blogger missmobtown said...

It really is that good. Nobody who doesn't care a whole lot about coffee could make coffee that good. Customer service gets an A+, too. If only it felt slightly less crowded in there...but that's a good sign, right?

7/26/2005 5:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blue Bottle! Locally roasted, exquisite coffee! You will not be disappointed. I'm having Blue Bottle coffee shipped across the country to me during my sad time away from the Bay Area.


7/27/2005 7:47 AM

Blogger wendygee said...

Bay Area Bites blogged about Blue Bottle back in April. Check out Stephanie's Blue Bottle post.

7/27/2005 10:04 AM

Blogger Peter said...

Look. I like Ritual and Stumptown as much as the next guy, but there's no way that the Northwest can diss the Bay Area when it comes to coffee, considering we've had PEET'S FUCKING COFFEE roasted here since, oh NINETEEN SIXTY-SIX.

8/04/2005 10:19 PM

Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

Peet's is definately a reason for living in the Bay Area. But they are now a major corporate chain and the reality is that traing hundreds and hundreds of staff all over the country is quite different than the likes of Blue Bottle, Stumptown or Vivace. All you need to do is look on Craigslist to see all their help wanted ads. It's over the top how fast their expansion has taken place. and for me, personally, it's too bitter.

8/06/2005 12:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for peet's for a total of 6 weeks.

past tense being the operative phrase. the beans taste like they have been sitting there since 1966.

8/12/2005 9:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ritual has awesome espresso, but way too many laptop lurkers. I counted 18 the last time I was there. And that was at 2:20pm on a Monday. (!?) Awesome espresso, though!

the Blue Bottle. ... Wow. I don't know exactly what the guy there made me, but it was amazing. Some sort of iced mocha with no sugar in it, but still really sweet. Sunday Morning is the best time to go there, because the best baristas are working.

The best coffee if you aren't getting an espresso drink, is at Philz gateway market at 24th and South Van Ness in the mission. Each cup made by hand, special handmade blend of coffee, secret powders, mint leaves, crazy atmosphere. you must go here if you love coffee.

8/16/2005 4:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review, written with subtlety and passion (appropos, no?)

As for Peet's, they've re-emphasized freshness in recent years (online orders are pretty much roasted just prior to shipping), BUT that charred roast profile works for drip/french press only. Espresso is all about the oils and too dark a roast burns that texture and flavor away; that's why the Stumptown's and Vivace's (and Blue Bottle's) of the roasting world emphasize lighter to medium fresh roasts for espresso drinks.

The laptop users at Ritual can be a problem but if you're ever without a seat, speak to Eileen or Jermey who will politely find you a spot to sit.

11/08/2005 1:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, don't forget the other '3rd wave' espresso house, Cafe Organica (Central at Grove) where they are equally passionate, with several grinders going with different roasts from the best local and PNW roasters.

11/08/2005 1:25 PM

Anonymous The Roasters said...

Peet's has nothing on stumptown. Peet's has become just anouther corporate coffee chain. It's as inconsistant as all the other big guys.

12/07/2005 8:59 PM

Anonymous Zanzibar said...

Best coffee i've ever tasted, hands down.

12/11/2005 12:28 AM

Blogger swag said...

'3rd wave' coffeehouses? How pompous have we become as a society that our coffee houses now must belong to specific 'waves'?

Ritual is great. Organica is great. Blue Bottle is great. I still miss the best days of Torrefazione in its prime, though -- at least for the space.

Philz Coffee is absolutely wretched for espresso, though. And if you ask what beans are in their blends, you often get adjectives in response -- not nouns. It worries me that they don't even know. As a result, Philz is to good coffee what Benihana is to good Japanese food. One you peel back "the show", the end product isn't really anything to write home about.

3/11/2006 4:27 PM

Blogger SF Photorama said...

Sounds too tasty...I'd for sure be going soon!

3/25/2006 5:34 AM


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