Three people behind counter of a coffee shop
Heng Qiu (left) and his colleagues at Outset Coffee. Photo by Lingzi Chen, taken June 14.

Outset Coffee, featuring Asian-inspired creative coffee drinks, just opened its doors last week at 790 Valencia St., after a year’s search for recipes and a good spot. The site was formerly Earthbar, located between 19th and 18th streets.

Outset’s menu displays a wild array of ingredients, from fruits to tea, flowers to seeds, like durian, banana, green tea, osmanthus, black sesame and more — each turned into a specialty coffee beverage. 

“We always knew creative coffee is going to fit well with the SF culture,” said Heng Qiu, 26, head of coffee of the store’s parent company, “Fuji,” a two-year-old local food start-up. “People are looking for something new. People are more bold, more willing to give it a try.”

And for Qiu, who has lived in San Francisco for eight years, that’s also why Outset Coffee eventually landed in the Mission after looking at places around the city: “Valencia has a culture of being really creative and bold,” said Qiu. “It’s a destination people come after.” 

The idea to start an Asian-inspired coffee shop came up a year ago, shortly after Qiu joined the company with prior experience running a coffee venture in the Sunset that specializes in fruit lattes.

Qiu said he spent most of the past year doing market research, visiting major Asian cities and finding inspiration for the creative recipes; their Black Sesame Mudslide was Korean-inspired, and the Durian latte is Thai-inspired. 

Qiu’s most memorable trip was to Shanghai, which he described as “an explosion of coffee shops.” 

“I believe they have over 10,000 coffee shops, which is very dense,” said Qiu. “It’s insane and people are very competitive.” 

That level of competition, Qiu thought, has driven people to “think outside the box” and come up with “very creative concepts.” 

To learn, Qiu drank coffee — lots of it: “I remember trying over 40 cups of coffee that day,” Qiu said. “I was very much awake at 3 a.m.”

As a result, the store offers four categories of special drinks: Fruit lattes, which use fresh fruits as a natural sweetener for coffee neo-Americanos, which substitute water with citrus juice; coffee mocktails, which take a cocktail approach to coffee by mixing different elements; and hot specialties, which blend steamed tea and milk with coffee. 

So far, Outset Coffee has hired four other local employees, with two on every shift. For Qiu, the Valencia store also serves as an incubator for a bigger vision: “I just want to create drinks people really enjoy, and to really test the drinks,” Qiu said. “Later on, the long-term plan is really to build something that can scale by opening a lot more locations, going to different cities.”

During its soft opening, Outset Coffee is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. Hours may extend in the future. Creative pastries and regular coffee drinks are also available.

Customers who bring their own cup get 50 cents off and those who work in a store nearby get another 10 percent off.

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Lingzi is our newest reporting intern. She covered essential workers in New York City during the pandemic and wrote about China’s healthcare and women’s rights back in college. Before coming to America to pursue her dream in journalism, Lingzi taught in the Department of Chinese Studies in National University of Singapore.

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1 Comment

  1. they dont take cash. is this a new trend? i got turned away from the last couple boba places i went to too, same reason

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