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San Francisco Bay Area

Iron Coffee SF: Battle Gibraltar (Blue Bottle)


Coffee & Tea San Francisco Bay Area

Iron Coffee SF: Battle Gibraltar (Blue Bottle)

grayelf | | Nov 20, 2008 08:28 AM

Some of you may recall that when we last visited the Bay Area in April, I discovered the Gibraltar, a coffee beverage rumoured to have been created by Blue Bottle. I recognize that BB and some of the other “fancy” coffee purveyors don’t get universal love but as this was my favourite cafecito ever, I wanted to revisit it this trip. On our first morning (Friday, Nov 7) we sauntered down the hill to Blue Bottle’s Mint Plaza outpost (Jessie and Mint, near Market and 5th) to sample their version of the Gibraltar and try out their breakfast. We arrived to discover a beautiful high ceilinged airy room full of coffee seekers with the music of Ibrahim Ferrer playing in the background – by far the most relaxed café atmosphere we have yet encountered here.

There were also a number of people noshing on the poached eggs on ACME bread offering, so we bellied up to the bar (literally) and dug in, whilst gazing in awe at the Rube Goldbergian contraption in front of us that makes Kyoto iced coffee at the rate of one cup every 48 hours or something equally wild. The eggs’n’toast hit the spot, simple and tasty for $7.50. The breakfast menu is short but sweet (brioche, waffles, oatmeal). SO had his usual latte ($3.50) and I of course sampled the Mint Plaza version of the Gibraltar, which is made with the aptly named 17 Foot Ceiling espresso. It was, I thought, a tad more bitter than the Linden Lane Gibraltar of memory but altogether very satisfying indeed. The fellow who took my order noted that the Gibraltar is on their “secret” menu, making me wonder if one could order it animal style :-).

The next day we targeted the Blue Bottle on the side of the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market even though we’d heard the lines at the front one were shorter, reasoning that the view of the Bay Bridge would make any wait easier to take. The reports of lineups were not exaggerated but the time passed pleasantly enough. Then, the moment of truth: how did the FPFM Gibraltar stack up against Mint Plaza? I thought this one was the harshest of the three (none are beverages for coffee wimps which makes me wonder why I like them so much as I am no caffeine fiend) but still very enjoyable. I forgot to ask about the espresso used here but according to the website it is Retrofit espresso. So far, the Hayes Valley brew is the winner but only based on memory so… obviously we had to go back and try that one afresh.

On Sunday we found ourselves inexorably drawn toward the Linden Lane kiosk. I really like the setup here, as it reminds me of Italian cafes where you stand at a narrow elbow height table and knock back your tiny cup of caffe correto (sadly Blue Bottle is a grappa-free zone). Anyway, we ordered our respective latte and Gibraltar and I sipped cautiously. Would it be as transporting as I recalled? Why yes, yes it was! So perhaps the answer is at least in part the use of the eponymous Hayes Valley espresso, and maybe I got lucky with the baristas here too, though all of them were both friendly and capable. At any rate, the Hayes Valley Blue Bottle kiosk wins the Gibraltar Smackdown this time.

Side note: check out the housemade potato chips at La Boulange. We got a bag from the Hayes Valley outpost and they are light, crunchy, beautifully seasoned and only $2.

If you’re into all that whacky coffee lingo or want to know more about the different types of coffee at Blue Bottle, check out the link, though I note they do not list the 17 Foot here. I think their description of the Hayes Valley espresso is pretty spot on – it’s those chocolatey notes that reel me in I think.

Some other good news for BB addicts – they’re opening a permanent outlet in the Ferry Plaza building (see photo).

And finally, if it is a warm day, try the New Orleans style iced coffee. We stopped by Mint Plaza again after our Fruitvale excursion and gave top marks to this smooth and creamy beverage. Bonus: they have the recipe on postcard if you want to try making it at home, and I think a kit also.

See also the following links for all our other food-centric ramblings this trip if you're interested:

Tadich Grill
Lime Tree
Canteen dinner
Farmers Markets
Bar Tartine
Canteen and Café de la presse breakfasts
Bodega Bistro
La Ciccia
BonBon Patisserie
Anchor Steam SFO

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