Better Buzz mini empire expands their off-center third-wave style

Better drinks for everyone

Better Buzz
  • Better Buzz

Better Buzz

578 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

The Coast Highway in Encinitas is home to another coffee shop. Vista-based roaster Better Buzz opened a 1900-square-foot storefront on August 8. It’s the sixth shop for the retail chain, which also has locations in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Point Loma and San Marcos.

Evidence that all coffee roasters don’t start out in hip neighborhoods, Better Buzz started back in 2002, when college students Tim Langdon and Stephanie Garden bought a used coffee cart and set up shop in a corporate park in Mira Mesa. That not-sexy beginning grew to a second cart in Carlsbad, then eventually to a kiosk inside Fashion Valley Mall.

While the kiosk is still open, the carts were ditched in 2007, when Better Buzz expanded to its first standalone storefront, a converted pawn shop in Pacific Beach that — oddly enough — already had a drive-thru window.

Better Buzz operations manager Jenn Garden started out as a barista in her sister’s original cart. She says in 2010 Better Buzz started roasting its own beans. “We were having a hard time finding a roaster that was consistent and had the coffee that we liked,” she recalls, “Instead of doing another location we decided to invest in getting a roaster.”

Sourcing primarily fair-trade and single-origin beans, the company has been taking steps to make the transition to become a certified organic roaster by the fall. Everything comes out of a seven-kilogram roaster at its corporate offices in Vista, which hustles to keep up with the high demand of its shops — 150 pounds of espresso beans each week, according to Garden.

While its San Marcos and Point Loma locations also feature drive-thrus, the new shop is walk-in only. In addition to espresso, it serves pour-over drinks, cold brew on tap (including nitro), kombucha, and organic juices.

Garden suggests the new café caters to a different crowd than the spate of third-wave shops that have proliferated since Better Buzz outgrew its carts. “People are going to be able to come here with their kids,” she says. “It’s a different decor, a different setup. People might feel a little bit more comfortable, I think.”

That question of comfort stems from the notion of coffee education, wherein third-wave roasters share detailed histories of drinks they serve, which some find elitist or condescending. “I’ve been in that situation,” Garden says, “even as a person who’s been in coffee for 12 years — where the barista makes you feel like a dummy.”

Ironically, a number of San Diego baristas have learned their craft from Garden at one of Better Buzz’s other businesses, the Ivy League Barista Academy. Even a block away from the new Encinitas shop, at Ironsmith Coffee Roasters, owners Matt Delarosa and Raul Macias learned some barista skills there. Though technically in competition, Delarosa says there’s plenty of room for another coffee shop in Encinitas.

“It forces all of us to be better and better if we want to stay relevant,” he says, “so it just creates better drinks for everyone.”

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