Without permission: SF ‘Coffee roasters are surfers riding waves of energy’

Bradley Allen, a roaster at Four Barrel Coffee with Philip Stewart and Ben Hool. Photo by Tanya Jo Miller

The Drupe is Dope at Four Barrel

In San Francisco, if you’re looking for a drink, camaraderie, and conversation, don’t look to your local bartender. Instead, go to your local barista.

At 9:30 a.m., Bradley Allen, 48, is performing a one-man show, starring: coffee! He’s the man behind the slow bar at the Four Barrel Coffee roaster at 15th and Valencia.

Allen says the coffee that Four Barrel carries will break your heart, because the taste is so beautiful you’ll want it to last. “But, like life itself, it’s fleeting.”

Allen grinds up selections of coffee and offers discerning sniffers a chance to smell. If they like what they smell, he’ll use the pour-over method to brew up a cup for around four bucks.

One such discerning palate is Philip Stewart, 31, from Germany. Bradley tells Philip that he recently met a fellow coffee roaster from Germany who works at Five Elephants in Berlin.

“That’s two blocks from my house!” Stewart enthuses. The global coffee culture, they agree, is more close-knit than people realize.

In fact, Stewart wants to create a “coffeeport.” It would be a document, much like a passport, where you’d get a stamp from every coffeehouse you visited. “But don’t put that in the story,” Stewart warns me, “or someone will steal the idea.”

I laugh, saying he’ll never actually do it, right? But he assures me he’s very serious about the idea.

“If I put it in the story, though, it’ll be forever memorialized that it was your idea, Philip Stewart from Germany.” He agrees that proof would be helpful.

Now Ben Hool, 19, from Wales, joins the group. His last name used to be Holovic, but they shortened it during his family’s short stint in Ireland on the way to Wales. He says his maternal grandfather was in the Hitler Youth and his great-grandfather was an SS soldier. His father’s side is Jewish.

These are the kinds of things you learn about people hanging around the slow bar at Four Barrel.

“If you want to go to Columbia,” calls out Allen. “I can take you there!” He says that coffee began in Ethiopia and it grows wild there. But then, to everyone’s surprise, he admits that he actually loves tea more than anything.

“Why choose just one?” Allen asks. “You can have the Sequoias and the sea otters.” Meaning the mountains and the ocean. Sea otters, he tells me, are actually in the weasel family, as is the wolverine.

“I don’t want to sound all Portlandia,” Allen says, “but we have met the cows that our cream comes from.” These cows and this cream are from Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma.

The coffee bean is a fruit. “Drupe, if you want to be nerdy about it,” Allen says.

Allen asks Stewart how you say “fruitiness” in German, and Philip consults a friend. They decide on “fruchtigkeit.”

I make my way to the friend, Max Stockner, and ask him about his stay in San Francisco. He says he likes the bike culture here. There may be more actual bikes on the road in Berlin, but here, bikes are more celebrated. He’s surprised, however, by the rents. In Berlin, you could get a decent two-bedroom for about $1,300 a month. Here, he says, you’d have to be “super-rich to afford any two-bedroom.”

And speaking of money, I check my phone and realize I’ve spent longer at the slow bar than I planned to and my parking meter has run out. Allen says that their coffee varieties change so frequently, that they offer a “snapshot of a certain point in time.” And with that, I snap a picture of the gang and move on.

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