Like many San Franciscans, I’m picky about my coffee. Call me a snob if you want, but when you live in a city that cares so much about how their beans are sourced, roasted, and brewed, you sort of have to become an aficionado. Or else endure the wrath of your barista.
Thankfully, there are welcoming and educational establishments popping up that are interested in answering every question you might have about coffee, and will actually spend an hour with you tasting the nuances of espresso. It just so happens that my favorite coffee shop, Sightglass in SOMA, has just opened just that kind of place. Sightglass started as a very small storefront, where it roasted beans to perfection behind closed doors. Then, in 2011 it opened a gorgeous, lofty space designed by Boor Bridges Architecture, complete with a retail space and plenty of much needed seating. Sightglass has expanded yet again with a bar in the back left corner of the second floor called Top Bar.
Top Bar opened to the public on February 2 and the response has been extremely positive. It's not only a place where you can use at least three of your senses on the coffee in front of you, but also encourages open dialogue between barista and coffee enthusiast. Sightglass wants Top Bar to be where your coffee comes with a side of education.
I sat down at the counter and was presented with a very succinct coffee menu and the option of sparkling or still water. Top Bar manager Tayler Mehit, above, who oversees the bar and its menu, jokingly emphasized the importance of staying hydrated while consuming such intense caffeine. Top Bar offers three coffees all prepared differently: AeroPress, V60 (pour over), and espresso. You can order coffee prepared with these methods a la carte or as a compare or contrast option, to taste how each preparation affects the coffees' flavors. I chose the contrast option which included an AeroPress of the Finca la Planada, a micro-lot coffee from Colombia known for its fruity flavors of pineapple and mango, to contrast with a shot of Sidama espresso from Ethiopia known for its sweet spiciness. The AeroPress is a fast, easy way to make a quality cup of coffee in about 30 seconds. It produces flavors that are clean and light, allowing you to taste the coffee notes more easily. The espresso shot was a significant contrast to the Finca la Planada; it had a thick viscosity, coating my tongue with notes of bitter and spice (bitter as a flavor profile, not as brewing method, which are two very different things). Be prepared to taste your coffee straight; Top Bar doesn't offer milk and sugar. This may bother some, but it allows your tongue to differentiate the flavors of each individual offering.
In addition to amazing coffee, Sightglass serves confections from Hooker's Sweet Treats in the Tenderloin, known for their fantastic sea salt caramels. With the opening of Top Bar, Sightglass asked Hooker's to make an exclusive offering. Owner David “Hooker” Williams created a light-as-air pistachio macaroon and a chocolate espresso caramel with pistachios – delicious sweets to accompany any of your chosen coffee offerings.