A Day in San Francisco

Part of the fun of a journey is the unexpectedness.

In one of the previous posts, I mentioned that I still have not visited any famous coffee shops in San Francisco. Well, I decide to fix that.

Introduction

Since regular instruction of class was over and we were given this one week of time to prepare for final exams, I picked a free Saturday (May 4th), and planned out a day to spend in SF to visit some local coffee shops.

Well… not just coffee shops. There are quite a few places I wanted to visit in SF that have been stacking up throughout the past year; restaurants, shops, special events, but I never really got time to visit them. Obviously, I won’t be able to visit all of them in a single day, but I wanted to check off as many as possible from the list.

In order to accomplish that needs some serious plannings. I selected the coffee shops, restaurant, and other places I wanted to visit, searched up transportation routes, and put down a timetable. Nevertheless, From all my previous experiences, plannings, specifically those rely on strict schedules never worked out. Unexpected things always happen and ruin all plannings. Knowing that, I placed no hope that I will actually follow through the schedule.

And I indeed did not.

(So this is the first actual journal-like blog post that I will write. The style would be a bit different than my usual posts; a casual conversation style rather than a serious review, with a lot more random thoughts I had during the trip included. )

Amazon Go Store

575 Market St, Ste 150, San Francisco, CA 94105

It began exactly as I planned. Had some trouble to add value to my Clipper card as I still didn’t understand why the default option is set to $20, but everything else went smoothly. Left Berkeley at 10:39. The train departed on time. Arrived at SF at 11:20. That’s a good start.

Walked out of the station, and… Wait, there’s an Amazon Go store right across the street? This was something I always wanted to go. I thought there was only one Amazon Go store close to the pier, but apparently, there are multiple stores now across the whole city.

Well, I had to check it out. Went in the store, followed the instruction, downloaded the Amazon Go app, and began the automated shopping experience with no need for human interaction. It was fun. There’s a large selection of food and other groceries just like a normal store. The price also seems around other regular grocery stores’ level.

I did not really need to purchase anything. However, I have always felt the pressure to purchase something if I entered any store. Feeling this pressure, I picked up an Amazon exclusive chocolate bar, put it in my bag, and left the store. In hindsight, this was extremely dumb. I mean… There’s no cashier, and no one would actually know if I bought or did not buy anything. Anyways, the store was cool and did not regret spending 20 minutes here.

Some have questioned why Amazon, an e-commerce company, is opening up grocery stores. However, I feel like their willingness of innovation is what builds them from a online book store to one of the largest tech companies in the world.

Cafe X

578 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94104

I was quite confused about where the station is. Walked around where it is supposed to be on Google map and still could not find it. Looking around, wait, is that a robotic coffee shop?

Excuse me? How have I never heard of this before?

Inside the shop, there were two screens to select orders, and the coffee making robot arm in the back constantly waving around. The selections of coffee and other drinks are decent. Wide range of collections of espresso drinks with beans from Ritual and Intelligentsia. Ordered a cold foam cappuccino with almond milk. It is always nice to see milk substitution that does not cost extra. Now, I have to point out that iced cappuccino is not a thing, but I will save the grumble for another time. The robot arm took the coffee from the espresso machine, swirled it around, then delivered it to the pick-up window.

The drink is pretty good. No complaints. Probably one of the better espresso drinks I had. A balanced mix of sweetness and bitterness. The texture is also on point.

Some people on Reddit described this as the overpriced combination of a super-automatic espresso machine and the robotic arm that simply delivers that cup to you. I feel like this is a bit harsh, even though it is the truth. Is it overpriced? I mean… Yes. I feel like something without the cost of human labor should be cheaper. But… It was fun and I feel like it was worth the experience.

Intermission

At this point, I was already way behind my original schedule. And I still could not find the station. So I decided to abandon the schedule and do whatever time permits. After walking aimlessly around where the station is supposed to be on Google map, I finally realized that it is not a bus stop but rather an underground metro station.

TIL that besides BART, SF has another railway transit system, the Muni Metro.

After boarding the train, I was even more surprised to see that it only has an underground section, but also an above-ground section running on the streets. The exit area to the door of the train can transform base on the station location; if it’s underground next to a platform, it remains collapsed and leveled; if it’s a station next to the street, it can expand into a staircase. I feel like it is a very extra design, but at the same time, kind of genius?

Verve Coffee Roasters

2101 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Finally arrived at 12:45. This is my most anticipated coffee shop to visit. I was a bit shock by the number of people inside the shop in a Saturday afternoon. The general atmosphere is nice just like many other third-wave coffee shops, good for both working and chilling. I do find the use of warm color schemes and the incorporation of cacti and other plants give the shop an interesting “Californian” feel to it. Walked around for five minutes and finally found a spot to sit. Put down my bag and jacket, now it’s time to decide what to order.

Having been ordering Verve’s coffee subscription for almost half a year now, I have tried quite a lot of their coffees. Being in their actual shop, I would like to try out something new. One thing on my mind was the nitro flash brew, but that is more suitable for an after-meal drink. For a coffee drink that pairs with brunch food but also demonstrates their brewing skill, I would choose a pour-over. Browsing the menu, the PNG Kuta Peaberry caught my attention.

Verve marks their espresso blends yellow, African origins red, and Latin American origins blue. This PNG Kuta Peaberry is colored in violet purple. As the color (and the name) suggests, it is not from African nor Latin American, but rather from Papua New Guinea. Most specialty coffees are not from Asia-Pacific origins; Java in Indonesia is certainly popular, but it is mostly used in espresso blends. Furthermore, the grade peaberry is something quite rare and special. I mentioned it in footnote 5 in Impressions of Coffee Shops in Reno and Boise (Part 2), but I have never tried it myself. Basically, peaberries are mutated coffee beans where rather than having two normal flattened seeds, the cherry only develop a single seed. The larger size and the corresponding richer flavor make peaberry coffee a popular item in the coffee community. It is definitely interesting to try it to see if it’s worth the hype.

So, I ordered the PNG Kuta Peaberry pour-over, with a breakfast sandwich with added prosciutto. The breakfast sandwich is one of the most picture-perfect foods I have seen. A nice, rounded poached egg decorated with chives, sitting in the nest of prosciutto meat and melted cheese. The poached egg is perfectly cooked with running egg yolk, and the prosciutto is tasty.

Now the coffee. The brewing method is quite intriguing. Brewed on a Kalita Wave 155, instead of using a traditional gooseneck kettle, they employ a special sprinkler, like a tiny showerhead. I feel like it may give a better control over pouring precision and water flow rate. The coffee was served in a glass container with a cup to pour in to ensure a better mixing of the flavors. The initial note I got is maple syrup. It is full-bodied, rich and flavorful, with buttery smoothness. There are bits of smokey notes in it, which remind me more of Latin American origin coffees. One of the descriptions says “persimmon,” which I find to be quite fitting.

Finished the food and worked on the draft of this post for a while. At 1:30, it was time for the second course. Went to the counter and got the nitro flash brew; initially, I was going to get it in a can, but I could not reject the temptation of having it in a wine glass. The foam on top provides a nice texture to the drink. The taste is vibrant and clean. The first impression would be a vinegar-like acidity. Then when it slowly ceases, leaving a milk cream-like sweetness. I think the taste is most similar to apple cider. If I would have to guess, it’s probably a blend between Kenyan and some Latin American origins. (And I would be almost correct; it is a blend between Ethiopian and Colombian.)

Working on a practice final while finishing the drink, I stayed at Verve till around 2:30. At this point, I felt that I was in such a caffeine high stage that I should not consume any more coffee. Did a quick calculation of my caffeine dosage today, I realized that it was on the edge of the safe daily consumption level. Did not feel like risking my health, I decided to save the other coffee shops for next time.

Shreve & Co.

150 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94108

But before I got back, there was one more place I would want to visit. When browsing the Nomos Glashutte website weeks before, I found out that there are several authorized dealers in SF. One of them is Shreve & Co., located close to the Montgomery BART station. I have much love and respect for Nomos’ design and watchmaking. Coming from the town of Glashütte, Nomos provides minimalist Bauhaus designs with in-house movements at a relatively affordable price. For something that I would probably never convince myself to purchase, I still would like to try on some of their watches.

What makes Nomos one of my favorite watch brands? I absolutely love their rendition of the minimalistic Bauhaus style design and their restoration back to the more “classic” small watch size in this age where everyone is trying to make fancier and larger designs. For someone with an extremely small wrist size, this is very appealing.

Walking into the store, I was surprised by the varieties of watch brands they offer. Besides the common famous brands like Rolex and Omega, there are also many less popular yet still prestige brands like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and even A. Lange & Söhne. After walking around a bit, I found the relatively small corner of Nomos with a very comprehensive selection of watches.

Orion 33 Midnight Blue. Simply stunning. The blue dial is mesmerizing. I was never too impressed by the original Orion design, but this combination of dark blue and gold changed my mind. A touch of gold in the stamped indices and the hands and nothing more. A balance between simplicity and sophistication.

Tangente 33 Champagne. The champagne color in the dial is almost unnoticeable, but this splash of gold accent gives a nice warm tone to the design. The slender typography of the numerals, the simple and sharp hand design, combines with the thin angled lugs build a geometric elegance of the watch.

Club Campus. A sporty-looking piece. The combination of the Arabic numerals in the upper dial and the Roman numerals in the lower dial presents a unique asymmetric design. The broad and rounded bezel gives a robust feel to the watch, even though in reality it is still a pretty small watch.

I also tried out some of the larger 35 mm or 38 mm models. Did not take any picture as they simply could not fit on my wrist. These 33 mm models do indeed look small in person; however, combining with the thin bezel and the long lugs, they fit and look perfectly on the wrist.

I was a bit anxious about if the dealer is going to ask me to purchase it on-site. However, she simply asked me if there are any important occasions coming up and gave me her business card. That was nice.

(Maybe I will post a review of some of my watches. I thought it would be something very difficult to write about, but I have actually quite enjoyed writing about the design here)

Conclusion

Remember in my previous post I said I will never write something this long again? Well, I just did… I will try to keep it short next time.

Overall I had a fun time there in SF. Did not do everything I wanted to do there, but encountered some pleasant surprises. Part of the fun of a journey is the unexpectedness. Maybe it is worth a while to not be restricted by plannings.

Postscript

A friend of mine has strongly requested a review of a certain product. I really do not want to write it. But since he has promised that he will frame it on his wall, I guess I will fulfill his wishes. I don’t feel like having a whole new blog post just for this product, so I will include it here in the postscript.

Here we go.

Purchased on April 27th in an Asian market in SF. He then asked me to try it out. The drink’s name is Pokka cappuccino coffee drink. Let me first get my complaints out. I cannot stand the abuse of the word “cappuccino.” Why does it need to be on everything? Because it is Italian and sounds fancy? This drink itself simply has nothing to do with cappuccino. Also, I would not consider it as “coffee drink” but rather coffee-flavored drink.

It is packaged in an elongated can, with a nice espresso beans background and captions that say “real brewed” and “from coffee beans.” These captions seem to be used as the selling point of the drink, even though they are supposed to be the lowest standard of any coffee drinks. I mean… What else can it be? Made from chocolate beans?

Now the taste. Here’s why I described it as a coffee-flavored drink rather than a coffee drink. They are more similar to soft drinks with all the artificial sweetener added. Coffee flavor? Sure. Milk? Maybe. I feel like the texture is even a bit weak, more like the result of being diluted with water. Honestly, I think I would prefer the Starbucks bottled frappuccino over these.

So, do I recommend it?

Well…

Why should my harsh words prevent one from enjoying something they like? Why should one listen to my suggestions rather than trying what they truly enjoy? Why should I be qualified to review them? Who am I to judge?

If one truly loves this drink, I am happy for them. If one likes to buy iced cappuccino from Starbucks every day, that’s great. If someone enjoys a simple cup from a Keurig machine, that’s also great. If someone likes to add triple cream and sugar to their coffees, keep doing it.

Who am I to critique or judge something that’s not right in my eyes but enjoyed by others?

Sometimes I feel like the coffee community, I included, is scaring beginners away by constantly telling them what they should do and should not do. Not everyone cares about every small detail in making coffee. Some people just want a cup of coffee in the morning. And what is wrong with that?

So, don’t let anyone prevent you from enjoying what you like or being who you are, especially not me.

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