What is it about these autumn mornings that makes me think of coffee? Is it the cool, crisp air and the occasional smell of fermenting grapes that bring me to longing for a steaming mug of rich, perfectly roasted coffee? Or is it that I pretty much drink a caffeine-infused dose of what I often refer to as “morning medicine” every single day? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not addicted to caffeine, I just like the taste of coffee. Sure, when I don’t have a cup of tea or coffee in the morning I am irritable and get a headache, but that’s not really a sign of dependency in my book, that’s more like an indication of my deep commitment to a long-held tradition.
When I wake each morning I begin my daily ritual of considering if I should just make a cup at home or venture outside, perusing the streets of Calistoga where there is a wealth of attractive coffee options. Calistogans know, excluding the many restaurants serving breakfast, that there are at least six places to get your morning cup of specialized coffee. Each has its own personality and each has its own unique specialty. I rotate around the options, hating to miss out on any one of the offerings for more than a week or so, and as I do I notice that there are particular groups that congregate at each location at particular times of the day. I’ve also found that these groups migrate, like a band of adventurers seeking treasure on foreign soils, only claiming the land as their own until the itch of conquest spurs them to new vistas.
The scene: Calistoga Roastery (1426 Lincoln Ave.) is what I refer to as the “locals’ hangout” in Calistoga. The coffee is roasted in town, and owners Clive Richardson and Eva King have created an environment that makes people feel like they’ve come home. Or perhaps the Roastery is more like visiting home after you’ve been away for a few years and come back to find that your exuberant Uncle Clive has taken up residence in the guest house out back. This place is just like I remember Mom and Dad’s home, you think — it has excellent coffee, and it also has free WiFi, a kid’s toy box, a broad array of tasty food options and is a comfortable place where I can hang out in my sweatpants all day without being harassed. But of course you also consider that spending time here means that you’ll see nearly everyone you know in town and that you’ll be required to engage with your lovable Uncle Clive, who is charming and funny, but whose “fascinating” stories about worldly adventures and humorous anecdotes will make you ache with laughter, but may also remind you of why you prefer to live alone.
Coffee: Vine Espresso (713 Washington St.) is owned by Calistoga resident Diana Wolf who also owns two other coffeehouses in Lake County. Located in the lower Washington neighborhood, this is perhaps the place in Calistoga to get the smoothest, most luscious coffee in the area. This tiny coffeehouse offers Arubica coffee beans sourced from Brazil and roasted at Kobos Coffee in Portland, Oregon. According to Wolf, these beans are grown at high altitude and grow slowly, each plant producing low yields. The coffee at Vine is rich and velvety, with low acid and lingering flavors of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts. If you are not into “straight” coffee drinks, you might want to try the horchata with a shot of espresso. This utterly unique concoction of rice, cinnamon and coffee will make you question why Starbucks hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. Beyond the coffee, the staff (Jessica and Cindy) are friendly and provide additional reasons to frequent this out-of-the-way gem.
Organic art: Yo el Rey Roasting (1217 Washington St.) serves its organically grown, fair-trade coffee beans that are roasted right onsite in a hip environment that would make even the most cynical beatnik take pause. The space is cozy with free WiFi and local art adorning the walls, and although the pour-overs are comparatively expensive, they are not to be missed, producing soft, full-flavored coffees with deep nuances. Owner J. Kirk Feierisen founded the place in 2008 and has created a conscientious, feel-good vibe that includes art, poetry, luscious chai lattes and coffee made from freshly toasted coffee beans that are always medium-roasted to ensure the richest and smoothest experience.
Croissants: Cafe San Marco (1408 Lincoln Ave.) is owned by locals Alfredo Rayonsalas and Veny (Benny) Ramano, who have created a small-space coffee, ice-cream and pastry experience that is not to be missed. The coffee served comes from beans roasted by the Bay Area’s Graffeo Coffee, which is one of North America's oldest artisan coffee-roasters and remains a family-run company that still hand-roasts select blends of European-style coffees. The pastries are made onsite by owner Rayonsalas, who was trained in Mexico, Los Angles and France in the art of all things pastry. Of particular interest are the made-by-scratch croissants, which are the perfect combination of butter, crunch and chew and make a wonderful complement to the dark, rich and never-bitter coffee offerings.
Sinfully delicious: Bella Bakery (1353 Lincoln Ave), which is owned by longtime Calistoga residents Paul and Jenn Crudo (Jenn is a rare 5th generation Calistogan), has free WiFi and serves coffee and a selection of hand-made baked goods, wedding cakes and substantial sandwiches that will make any lover of decadence rejoice. As my wife says, “The breakfast sandwiches on the fluffy English muffins are sinfully delicious.” Couple this with a variety of coffee drinks all made from Sonoma County-based Taylor-Made Farms, who like Vine and Yo el Ray, source only organic, fair-trade coffee beans. Stop in here and you will not be sorry you ventured into a popular local hangout.
Grab and go: Cal Mart (1491 Lincoln Ave.), owned by longtime Calistoga resident Bill Shaw, provides a quick-access but high-quality coffee option in Calistoga. Although the Napa Valley, and perhaps particularly Calistoga with its bohemian sensibilities, has shunned nearly all things corporate or chain-based, those longing for the familiar flavors of civilization will find comfort at the coffee bar at Cal Mart, where Pete’s Coffee is served by friendly, well-trained baristas who will gladly make your specialized coffee drink while you peruse the aisles of Calistoga’s main local grocery, a place where you might also pick up a slab of local artesian cheese along with one of the many Napa Valley wines for lunch later in the day.
So, there you are. If you’re like me, you wake up thinking about how fortunate it is to live in a place with so many colorful and tasty options for all things caffeine. But of course, if you are really like me, you probably also don’t want to talk about it much before having your first cup.
Originally published in the Weekly Calistogan, September 2016.