Simple and beautiful. Great natural light coming from storefront with clerestory-like windows above the door as well as near floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the back patio; warm diffuse interior track lighting set on wooden beams hanging from ceiling which create a pleasant visual rhythm from the front to the back of the space. Almost everything is made from plain, light brown wood with ample patina which, along with muted off-white walls and concrete tile floors, provides a rich but sublimely soft and unobtrusive visual backdrop to your work, your reading, or your friendly interlocutions. —

I arrived around 8:30am on a Friday morning in early spring. So far, there were only a few customers arranged around the walls, all quietly typing in open laptops. The sounds of calm, finger-plucked acoustic guitar dampened the room like eiderdown. The barista, a young East Asian Californian man clad in black beanie, black t-shirt and draping, loose black cloth pants, with a gold ring on one hand and a jade bracelet on opposite wrist, addressed me quietly and gently, half in a whisper, “What can I get for you this morning?” —

My Americano was quite good, but more importantly, this experience itself was perhaps the nail in the coffin of some lingering feeling that a cafe is first and foremost a machine for producing high quality coffee for the customer. The fact that I was inspired to write a review of the place before even receiving the drink I had ordered speaks volumes about what I had actually paid for. A cafe is an architectural creation – no one would dispute that – and the design of the space is a key element of the quality of the experience of having a coffee there. The coffee itself is, of course, also important, but all else being equal, I would rather drink a nice cup of coffee in a beautiful, well designed space than a less pleasant one. And, let’s be honest, in this present golden age of third wave craft coffee, who can’t do a decent Americano? In truth, I must admit I am generally more sensitive to and appreciative of the visuo-spatial subtleties of a cafe than the minute differences in flavor profiles of their coffee. —

Essentially, I have maybe two or three meaningful categories that cafes fall into in terms of coffee quality: 1. non-craft coffee (delivers caffeine across my blood-brain barrier, and hopefully the taste is bearable), 2. craft coffee (has caffeine, also has flavors, draw me into a blissful enjoyment of the moment), and, arguably a third category 3. really good craft coffee (like the second, but memorably outstanding). This third category may just be a gradation of the second though, given that the first category also has gradations from “almost undrinkable” to “decent”. Beyond this, however, it’s really everything else that makes the difference. So why not, as neither coffee professional nor architectural designer, critique cafes primarily on their aesthetics? —

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