Roast Highway

Move over Hops Highway, the caffeine tour has arrived

Caffeine Crawl attendees received complimentary beans from Ironsmith Coffee Roasters.
  • Caffeine Crawl attendees received complimentary beans from Ironsmith Coffee Roasters.

Pannikin Coffee & Tea

510 N. Highway 101, Encinitas

Revolution Roasters

970 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

The Westbean Coffee Roasters

240 Broadway, Downtown San Diego

Ironsmith Coffee Roasters

458 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

Lofty Coffee Co.

90 North Coast Highway 101 #214, Encinitas

Coffee tourism hit San Diego in January with the Caffeine Crawl, a series of coffee-shop tours inspired by the pub-crawl concept. This is the second year beverage marketing firm the LAB has organized the tour here as part of a growing national agenda that includes crawls through Portland, Chicago, and several towns in Colorado. Basically, groups of 12 to 20 people converge on a café or roaster shop to sample tasting cups; learn a bit about coffee from the proprietors; then walk, bike, or drive to the next stop in the rotation.

Coffee devotees were treated with artful presentations and special drink selections, but the greatest local impact of the sold-out crawl may have been pushing a couple of new shops to open to the public for the first time. During the January 24 crawl, the West Bean officially launched their long-awaited storefront across from Horton Plaza on Broadway. James Rauh and Andrew Karr have been roasting since 2009, but this is their first physical retail space, and crawlers got its first pours.

Dark Horse also greeted crawlers at its new North Park shop, though just as a preview ahead of its official opening. Likewise, Ladies & Gentlemen Coffee Roasters did not officially unveil its under-construction coffee counter on Market in Sherman Heights — the most reliable place to drink their coffee remains the Golden Hill farmers’ market. However, roaster Joshua Bonner did open the doors to greet crawlers with flash-brewed iced coffee.

Participants were not restricted to central neighborhoods. The crawl kicked off on Friday, January 23, with a North County edition, touring several roasters situated on the Coast Highway. Beer lovers have their Hops Highway — it might be time to start referring to this stretch from Encinitas to Leucadia as Roast Highway.

Ironsmith Coffee Roasters opened their doors to the public for the first time, becoming the fourth roaster to do so within just a 1.5 mile stretch. This excellent pocket of coastal coffee roasting includes Lofty Coffee, Revolution Roasters, and the venerable Pannikin Coffee, which has been producing beans since 1967. Ironsmith co-founder Matt Delarosa delivered a fascinating presentation about the science involved in producing the ideal cup of coffee, right down to the mineral composition of the water Ironsmith uses to brew.

Up the highway a couple blocks, Lofty’s head roaster, Matt Prior, served hot and cold renderings of the shop’s first direct-trade effort, from Finca del Dios in Guatemala. At the roasting counter inside Leucadia’s Coffee Coffee, Revolution chief Dan Scheibe discussed his roasting approach while beans cooked in the Probat roaster behind him.

Pannikin owner Shawn Holder entreated guests to taste a brew of beans from Ethiopia’s Kaffa region — the source of the word coffee itself. When I asked whether having so many new roasters in the area after so many years had hurt Pannikin’s business, he said it’s actually the opposite: “Three new coffee shops opening here the past three years and we’ve never been busier.”

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