Hello La Boulange Cafe & Bakery in Walnut Creek! Per our craving of fruit tarts and need for caffeine, we hastily decided this was a good, convenient, and reliable option. And once I found out Hugo had never been to La Boulange I knew I had no choice but to expose him to something that was so well known for their pastries (and capabilities of doing them on a large scale) that Starbucks bought them up.
We ordered an iced soy latte and an iced chai latte for here. We got the chai unsweetened and more on the spicier side because I figured we would have enough sweetness with the two pastries and good company. Hugo picked out the passion fruit tart and I got the more savory, but also delicious, pear and goat cheese tart. The passion fruit tart had the same consistency as a lemon tart but with the very obvious passion fruit flavor. They topped it with whipped cream and a raspberry, but I think it would have been more properly named if it actually had a slice of passion fruit (or any tropical fruit) on top instead of the berry. The goat cheese had a purple pear atop; neither of us know what it was that color but it was aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
The latte has dark chocolate and earthy tasting notes. I was a bit disappointed by the fact the drink I had (very specifically) ordered for here came in a plastic cup, but the deliciousness of the drink that was contained inside made it worth it.
Today I favored the latte because I forgot to enhance my chai with a shot of espresso. I prefer both the taste and caffeine kick of chai’s when they are dirty, but this chai was able to stand on it’s own as a delicious and refreshing spiced ice beverage. The chai was still sweet but with a clear cinnamon-spice kick.
Two drinks (and two pastries) later I feel ready to get started with my day on the right note. That is the caffeinated-and-satisfied note.
I ended up at the Epicenter Cafe on Harrison Street in San Francisco for a few different reasons. First, I was alone in an area of the city I’ve never ventured, and thus immediately defaulted to finding a coffee shop. Second, this was the closest cafe to where I ended up. Third, they had four stars with 365 reviews on Yelp, which lead me to believe they must be good. Fourth, when I got here they had a hand-decorated sandwich board outside that said free-wifi, which was more than just a plus; it was a necessity due to the fact I have no idea how long it will be until Hugo picks me up. Fifth, I had never heard of it and ideally want to try every boutique coffee shop in San Francisco.
For starters, the first thing I noticed on their menu was that all espresso drinks come with a double ristretto shot (this is how I knew I was in the right place). All of their espresso is an Italian Rosetta/Italian Ristretto style, so when it pours it has a nice crema and is deliciously strong. All of their coffee and espresso is medium roast, which worked well. For espresso Epicenter Cafe pours Chromatic Coffee Company’s Gamut, which is their chocolate creamy butterscotch espresso. The description sold me instantly.
The barista recommended the Cubano, which is a cappuccino with a sugar base. They take a shot of espresso, add brown sugar on top, and press them together to get ready to pull. This heats the sugar on top as the water goes through, giving it the toasted sugary taste. The brown sugar melts on top as the espresso seeps through. I ordered it with soy, which is one of their two non-dairy alternatives. I was about to get it with almond milk, but I was told that the soy looks better for pictures, and so I was swayed.
I was able to taste the brown sugar/caramel flavor immediately on the first sip. There was a short, decadent layer of foam on top with a Rosetta (the leaf/floral looking) design. The barista is able to obtain this Rosetta design only if the milk is perfect, which is when the design basically draws itself as the milk is poured in. You need to have the milk perfectly textured to accomplish a beautiful design. The micro-foam was smooth with a velvety texture. In case you were curious about what I meant by micro-foam, you should know that it was described to me today as when you steaming the milk you let air into it a tiny bit, so that you get the same texture all the way out, which is opposite of Starbucks’ method of scooping the foam out unevenly.
These six letters written on my clear, perspiring plastic cup are almost as meaningful as the eight letters in I love you. Their iced soy shot in the dark, comprised of chai and espresso, also known as a dirty soy chai, is quite literally morning-changing.
The goods: This is the best dirty soy chai I’ve ever had in my entire life. Simply put. There is a perfect balance between the Kirkland Organic Soy, ice, chai tea, and espresso. The chai is actually a brewed chai tea (not a syrup or powder!) that is shipped over from Oregon, where they make this chai goodness in batches based off a recipe from India. These chai people in Oregon know what they’re doing. Additionally, the way Top Dog pours the espresso is even special, using their house blend 3-2-1, pulling the espresso in three different sections to create the perfect combination.
The downside: This SiD was so refreshing that, and before I knew it, the entire drink was down to just the ice cubes! Initially I accused Hugo of stealing the entire thing when I wasn’t looking, but I am pretty sure that wasn’t actually the case.
I’m intrigued by the Mango Chai, along with multiple other Chai options, listed on their Chai menu. Top Dog Coffee Bar, at 857 Main Street in Morro Bay, California, has an entire section of their posted hand-written menu dedicated to their ten different chai options. Everything about this place is wonderful, ranging from the local art hung on the walls to the friendly and helpful staff to the garden patio to the burlap decor to the large windows to the wooden chairs with coffee cups carved into their backings. Definitely trying Top Dog’s Mango Chai next.