Tal Roasting in the back drop.
As I progress through life I’ve learned that anomalies fascinate me. They capture my attention. Maybe the same is true for you. We all love the unexpected gift, the unexplainable headline, the café seemingly far from what’s trending in Portland or San Francisco, but delivers anyway. That, my friend, is ZombieRunner in spades.
ZombieRunner Café is located in Palo Alto. It’s housed in a running shop, as in running and marathons, you know running right– that aerobic sport that people used to do before they figured out cycling.
ZombieRunner is tucked away in a converted art house /movie theater. The exterior sports a real ticket booth, and an overhead marquee proclaiming artisan coffee. A sidewalk sign board in neon colors (no chalk and slate here folks) touts their latte was voted best in the city. These “voted best of” prizes are usually the result of some chad hanging ballot box stuffing chamber of commerce shenanigans, not a democratic vote of the coffee masses, so I give them no heed, and walk inside.
When I walk through the door, I see no coffee, and think maybe the coffee place was the last tenant evicted back when Starbucks hit town. The clerk, walking up from a sea of running shorts and electrolyte fizz packs asks me if he can help.
“I am only looking for coffee,” I say.
“Sure,” he responds, and points West.
What I encounter next is what coffee is all about: a lone La Marzocco GB-5, and a barista named Courtney who knows how to use it. My litmus test question in any café is, “may I have a Macchiato please?” While I say this I extend my hand and cup it in a very small ball. I then follow it up with the sentence fragment…” a true Macchiato?” If the response is yes, I know I am in a place that has some concept of the way things should be. Courtney said yes, and I was on my way.
I grabbed a spot in the seating area. This area was sans ubiquitous hipster wood paneling and reclaimed ship hatch doors. There are a lot of coffee related items to score on: baby chemex(with the mondo big filters) , aeropress, and so on and so forth. Refreshing. To the South was the women’s running section, to the East a wall of what looked like very high tech running shoes, and to the North there was Courtney, working the GB-5, steaming, frothing, extracting. The Macchiato was ready in short order. Most importantly it was done right; the espresso and milk mixture was thick and deep. The latte art and slight crust had a nice tension on the top of the cup.
A line formed just after 9. 9 is when ZombieRunner opens. Not so good on the late start, but I got the impression the locals were willing to wait until 9 to fill their travel mugs and cups with the ZombieRunner brew, and so they did zombie-like from off the street. Courtney knew them all. She knew what they wanted. She asked questions about their vacations, and families. There was a personal interaction between barista and patron I had not seen since the days before social networks and SEO driven marketing. The interaction was simply human, authentic, and one on one.
I don’t know if Courtney was headed to one of the many barista competitions in the near future in places like Iceland or Tokyo. And, I don’t care. I do know that ZombieRunner café is a great way to chill in Palo Alto, drink well made artisan extracted coffee, and buy whole beans—they do roast their own. When in that part of the world you should drop on by. It’s worth the drive. They are located at 429 S. California Palo Alto, California 94306. Phone is 650-325-2048. Find them on line at http://www.zombierunner.com/about/palo_alto_store/
Saturday morning ride and the coffee. Transportation: the trusty Colnago. It’s steel. Its friction shift, it’s analog. A.M. bike love.
After a decent “real” Macchiato at Pacific Bay in Walnut Creek, back home for the Four Barrel pour over; Burundi Kinyovu. A May 5th Roast. Plum notes.
The Skerton raised my cardio to 110 BPM. Someone should design a cafe cardio workout.
Great things are coming up this week. The Giro begins, and Bike To Work Day on May 13th!
Also a big shout out to my friend and loyal blog follower Jessica L. who is having fun in New Zealand. She promised to pack her grinder and french press.
Just as Bud Fox in the movie Wall Street was the, “twelfth man on the deal team and last to know,” I had no idea that Naia, my gelato hang out, had partnered up with James Freeman at Blue Bottle to create some Blue Bottle espresso. Such ignorance is a sure sign that I have been working way too much to enjoy my favorite addictions. Imagine my surprise when my wife comes back from a gelato run and asks, “guess what flavor they have? Blue Bottle!”
I was so shocked I quit watching T.V. I looked in amazement. This is big. Just like the real thing, the creamy mixture has caffeine, as the basis of this great treat is cold-brewed Hayes Valley espresso blend.
Let it rest just under the tongue, and dissolve into espresso delight. Please note that the photo below is half Blue Bottle, and half TCHO chocolate -the other new flavor at Naia. If you don’t know about TCHO, then you don’t know! However, that is a post unto itself.
When it comes to preparing coffee I have never been much of a believer in the deification of those who prepare it for a living, nor have I advocated the labeling of certain coffee “destinations” as temples of worship. Now, please don’t mistake me for a coffee heathen. I have my favorite places in San Francisco, and just returned from a trip to Portland for coffee (and Voodoo Doughnuts as well as micro brews from Amnesia Brewing), but the great thing about this complicated beverage is that once you learn to do it yourself, and do it well, any place in the world becomes your cafe. So, after this long and chilly winter, I welcomed the first day of global warming. I set off into the hills to bike, to brew, and to drink one of my favorite beans.
Beside coffee, my other passion is bikes. This outing provided an opportunity to experience both together. Bike or hike, either is effective to break out of the city grind for a more mindful approach to your coffee day. A single speed bike keeps the transportation simple and maintenance free.
My present line up of coffee tools for outdoor fun:
1. Snow Peak GS-100 A Gigapower Stove with Auto Lite
2. Snow Peak ProIso Fuel Canister
3. Snow Peak Titanium Cafe Press (AKA French Press) CS-111
4. Snow Peak Mini Solo Cook Set Ti SCS-004T
5. Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton MSCS-2
6. Blue Bottle bonmac One Hole Ceramic Dripper with #4 paper filters
7. Blue Bottle “Chiapas”–Freshly Roasted Of Course!
I prefer Snow Peak for several reasons. It’s quality gear, and innovative. They place a priority on preparing coffee in the out-of-doors with their Titanium Cafe Press and their other coffee products. In addition, the equipment is made in Japan, where a lot of good design originates. Also, I don’t have to struggle with buying goods from a country where I have differing views on human rights (enough said). The Snow Peak Cafe Press performs well, and there is an extra little skirt on the plunger to reduce chalk and grit in your cup.
The Hario Skerton Coffee Mill is a must have for any coffee lover. I bought it for the office or hiking or backpacking, and now I use it all the time at home. The ceramic burr design is appreciated (no flimsy blade knock off here). You can also field strip it in seconds-for cleaning, and every part is dishwasher safe. If you don’t have one of these grinders, the only thing I can say is, shame on you. They are so much fun, and grinding your own beans in any remote location is so nice. The Hario is one of those possessions that I would retrieve from my burning house, that’s how much I like it. The directions are entirely in Japanese, but the unit is intuitive and therefore easy to use, adjust, and clean. Who reads directions anyway? Buy it now. Everything Hario makes is fantastic.
The ceramic dripper by Bonmac is also from Japan, and although it is a little heavy for packing, you can pound tent stakes with it all day, and then drip a great cup. This baby won’t break; unless you get angry, and smash it against a boulder. However, that will never happen when your having so much fun, relaxing under the spell of caffeine. Sure, there are lighter drippers (AKA pour overs) for backpacking. I have a plastic frame weight weeny pour over with a nylon filter that fits in the bottom of the fuel canister, but it doesn’t compare to the Bonmac in aesthetics or taste. When ever I use this light weight contraption, I feel like I am brewing the grind in a bra from Victoria Secret. So, don’t hassle me about weight. I love the Bonmac as an outdoor brewing method, it’s faster than Chemex, and certainly not as fragile. Most important to me is the fact that the taste results are tip top.
One last piece of advice, be sure to use your field equipment at home before the trek. It’s good to get acquainted with the gear to eliminate problems before you get to the hills. If your experience is anything like mine, you may discover that making good coffee doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and can compliment your outdoor fun.
So, put together a coffee kit, grab a day pack, come out of your kitchens, and cafes. Enjoy the wilderness. Enjoy your coffee.
Thanks to my son Casey Riggs who took the photos for this post! –Thanks buddy.
© all photographic and literary rights reserved 2010 Pat Riggs
Every once in a while you experience and enjoy something that you could never afford on your own, that is beyond your reach to possess. That experience came to me today at Four Barrel Coffee.
Four Barrel has recently set up an espresso bar exclusively dedicated to single origin espresso, and dedicated space and the best of equipment to the art of Espresso. When I say dedicated I mean the bar is set apart from the rest of the coffee operation in the café. The bar is equipped with a La Marzocco GS/3,the $7K lust machine of the home espresso fanatic. Grinding the bean to an amazing fluff is a Versalab M3 Grinder which is such a true work of art, Versalab should win a prize for their craftsmanship.
Today, Barista Matthew mastered the equipment, producing a shot of Sidamo that, for me at least, produced a nice berry flavor, buttery body / mouthfeel, with a clean aftertaste. A memorable shot to be sure. I thought about the experience for the rest of the day. And, as we say in the legal business, this motion followed.
Stop by Four Barrel, belly up to the bar, drink a shot to the espresso gods, and say thanks to Four Barrel for providing these tremendous resources.
© 2010 all rights reserved Pat Riggs
The first thing I notice is the TV antenna. It’s affixed to that skinny mast. There’s no rotor. Its pointing like a compass toward civilization. This image is testimony that although cable has yet to arrive on scene, drugs have made themselves at home here at 45 Main Street USA where “we never close.”
I snapped the picture via Blackberry while visiting this anonymous hell-hole-of-a-town, out in the Central Valley. I was late for court, representing a drug client. I was on the run, not knowing what kind of justice I was going to receive for being, what was now, ten minutes late. As usual, I was craving coffee.
That craving causes me to day dream. The dream for today was the “what a great place for a cafe fantasy.” A lot of people dream about flying, or dating someone like Heidi Klum. I dream about coffee, and where to start café’s. The mental loop started off with, just call it 45 Main, and keep it cable free. That one antenna lead would bring in a signal displaying a snowy, old school world. The TV would be black and white, strapped to the wall, tuned with a knob, by one of the baristas while standing on a stool. The press would come by and like the fact that we could only pull in one or two channels. And most importantly, we could keep the Drugs We Never Close sign by grand-fathering it via the local zoning ordinance.
I put my dream on hold until I met with the next subliminal coffee cue. I walked through the doors to Department 1.
When you are an attorney who is not a member of the local bar, the protocol is: polite, heads up, keep the hair short, and don’t loose your cool when the judge goes through a sort of scripted hazing ritual where the content is designed to prove that he or she knows more than you do. The drill is not quite a public shaming. You laugh at a few of the jokes pointed your way, and you move on.
My client’s case was on for sentencing. I knew it was going down hill when the judge called my client an addict, maybe even a dealer. He stated on the record, “Mr. so-and-so you could fly into any town in the world, and as soon as you land, you would know exactly where to go. You would go straight to the seedy part of town, and buy what ever you need to satisfy your addictions.”
The court reporters hands were bobbing up and down, next to a tall Starbucks paper cup, next to the pink folding doughnut box, which was next to the empty jury box.
I was thinking to myself, no your honor, no need to fly anywhere, 45 Main is just around the corner. They sell drugs there. It says so on the wall. DRUGS, in white letters, surrounded by a field of robins egg blue against a back drop of this wonderful big sky country of yours.
I then had a coffee epiphany.
The reporter’s bobbing hands and the Starbucks cup beside the doughnut box was the second subliminal coffee cue of the day. It reminded me that addiction is a universal human trait. Addiction is in my genetics, it’s a gene I acquired back in the day. One of my remote coffee ancestors had an error in their DNA replication. They had a DNA strand with a coffee mutation, and not even a repressor protein could cure this defect. I was made as well as I could be made. Maybe addiction, in any of its many forms is the quest for perfection, to become like gods, to find that missing piece that we believe we don’t possess, or missing link that will somehow finally satisfy us. Maybe addiction is the opportunity we take to keep us from who we really are.
As a culture we migrate from one drug to the next. My Coffee ancestor would never have left the cradle of mankind in the Olduvai Gorge, if a good espresso machine capable of producing god shots would have been available. They had to keep moving, they had to keep evolving because they only had basalt and chips of stone to tamp and grind their coffee.
So the dealer of addiction, who never closes, is going to go far in this world. This place, 45 Main, was just a block from Highway 5. It is the methamphetamine highway which begins in Mexico and links many of the small cities up and down the Central Valley of California.
The bailiff was circling to remand my client, whose last words to me before they whisked him away, “I can do the time. That’s not it, I just wanted a rehab. Jail won’t do me any good. I am an addict and need help.”
Maybe this post has taken a turn down a very dark alley about an unpopular subject. I need coffee every morning. I suffer withdrawal if I don’t get it. It seems to improve my life. I enjoy it in a big way. Right now I am enjoying some Mexican Zaragoza. from my Chemex.
I’ll drive to any part of town to satisfy my addiction, but make mine legal.
What about you?
all material on this site is property of and copyrighted ©2009 by Patrick Riggs