Food & Drink

San Francisco is our coffee capital? We have a latte to talk about

Nearly a Century of Iconic Coffee Communion in Sacramento

In his March 9, 2019, article in the San Francisco Chronicle, writer Carl Nolte dubbed the Bay Area “the coffee capital of the West.” He listed Seattle and Los Angeles as potential runners-up. There was absolutely no mention of California’s capital, Sacramento, a historic coffee hotbed.

Let us address his argument’s kicker, which debuted in 2017: San Francisco’s robotic coffee bar, Cafe X, which dehumanizes coffee even more than the mobile apps that allow coffee drink pickup without a spoken word at places like Starbucks.

Coffee clout should come from the human element. Though the Sacramento area’s communal coffee consumption chronology reaches back to gold prospectors drinking around a fire, looking back about a century yields some seriously rich coffee culture here.

Now that the colossal Public Market at 13th and J streets is no more, it is easy to forget about the coffee shop that spanned nearly the history of the building: from a little spot on Aisle 2-A in 1924, to its eventual closure as a full-blown restaurant and coffee mecca on May 31, 1972.

It was Falor’s Coffee Bar.

It allegedly got its start as three personal stools and a coffee grinder. Richard I. Falor roasted his coffee on the second floor, where a man named Wally Clark’s father owned a printing company called W.G. Clark Printing, founded in 1930. In an interview earlier this year, Clark said the roasting coffee’s aroma would envelope the entire first floor of the two-story brick building.

Clark did not remember anything being served for takeout. The social scene was bustling, and it gave people like Sen. Albert S. Rodda, first elected in 1958 of a 22-year tenure, a place to pause and chat with other state senators at a regular table four times a week at 10 a.m. Clark said a governor was known to sneak over to Falor’s from the Governor’s Mansion by foot, evading his security detail’s supervision.

When Falor’s Coffee Shop closed in 1972, it took a couple years for a spot with similar significance to make its mark; in 1974, Lee Page founded Weatherstone Coffee & Tea Co. in a cozy 3,200-square-foot brick building built in 1923, nestled in the middle of the Boulevard Park neighborhood. Before Page turned it into a coffee venue, it was Carl Seiner’s meat market, and additionally a Cameo Beauty Salon.

Further from the Capitol than Falor’s, on 21st Street between H and I streets, the Weatherstone was a more Bohemian spot where beatniks, poets, musicians and newspaper reporters would read, write, and converse before the advent of personal computing devices. Competition was occasionally emotional for a pair of tables on the sidewalk which were nestled amid mature, green-leafy street trees.

Page was initially much more concerned about ambiance than coffee. A fire burned inside all winter, an upright Young Chang piano was available to tickle, and he got his coffee from San Francisco’s Capricorn Coffees.

Shortly after contracting throat cancer, Page pulled out of the location in 1986 after 12 years. In came Java City, renaming the venue Weatherstone Coffee and Trading Co.

Prolific local author and historian William Burg, a former regular at Java City’s Weatherstone, noted in a recent telephone interview that they did not implement many changes.

“I liked the dark roast, but I didn’t go to get a cup and go. I could be there for three or four hours. The coffee was secondary to the social scene,” he said.

Burg frequented at night, when goths and punks shared space before heading to music shows. He said the spot gave older and younger generations of all sorts of folks the opportunity to connect in public. A book or an overheard conversation was an excuse to occasionally butt in. It was an intellectual crowd, retaining many visitors from the spot’s previous iteration, and a dictionary kept on a chain was available for fact checking before smartphones.

Java City remained present until Old Soul Coffee Co. moved in after what Old Soul co-owner Tim Jordan described as just a 72-hour remodel in 2008; that makes 11 years there, and still serving. The vintage interior and storefront shows little hint the year is not 1923, a tribute to the businesses that have preserved the Weatherstone Building since its construction.

A spacious outdoor patio installed on Java City’s watch gained a circular fire pit from Old Soul just a few years ago, where three rounded wooden benches invite patrons to huddle with coffee, perhaps similarly to those original Sacramento area prospectors of the past.

And so back to the West’s coffee capital discussion. Sacramento has been California’s capital since 1854: the heart of the state forever changed by the Gold Rush.

We have pioneering coffee roasters like Chocolate Fish, Old Soul and Identity visiting farmers in their home countries to ensure quality and learn. Roaster Ashley Stockwell has worked with all three, and now manages Identity’s roasterie and café. She defines Sacramento’s coffee scene as, “Grassroots. Bootstraps. Do-it-yourself.”

The same spirit is reflected at the 37-year-old Coffee Works, where coffee is manually roasted on a modified, one-of-a-kind fluid air bed roaster, and at Ethiopian American-owned Tiferet, where you can take part in the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony; coffee is roasted, brewed and consumed in one communal, conversational sitting.

That sounds much better than ordering a cappuccino through a touch screen from an anti-social coffee-slinging robot in San Francisco.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee