A few weeks ago, I was swept into an alternate universe while visiting San Francisco. I was with four young people, aged 12-27, had been on the go all day, and knew I’d be expected to stay up past my bedtime. Thus, I was required to break my one latte per day habit and have a late afternoon pick me up.
Our group had just chowed down a dozen French macaroons from Chantal Guillonour in Hayes Valley. It is the best French macaroon bakery on the planet. (Okay, okay, so maybe the best outside of Paris.)
My son Harrison suggested we visit Ritual Coffee located about a block away.
This particular location is an open air coffee stand. It is housed in what looks like a renovated train car, which gives it an industrial, hip, startup kind of vibe. Or—if you’re my age and from Fort Bragg, California—a vibe akin to “I guess they can’t afford rent on a nice place.”
Their logo reminds me of the former Soviet Union’s flag. Growing up in the Cold War era, my young brain was imprinted with the threat of communist takeover. The Ritual Coffee logo gives me disturbing flashbacks to a time of duck and cover drills.
As we stood in line, Harrison explained that Ritual’s claim to fame [aside from the fact that they operate out of train cars and might be communists] is that they individually slow brew each cup of coffee.
There were six people in front of us waiting to be served by two baristas. The young woman took orders and made lattes or cappuccinos, working at the pace of an artist restoring a masterwork of art. The young man carefully poured hot water into cone-shaped filters to ensure each cup of coffee was brewed at the speed of a saline drip through an intravenous therapy tube.
Unlike a shop where baristas seem to dance to the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash to get orders out post haste, these baristas swayed to a Mozart flute concerto.
After each customer interaction, the female barista issued a lilting laugh. When the next customer approached, she gave a sweet smile and asked for a moment so she could craft the previous customer’s order.
Instead of growling, “I’ve been standing in this line for half a freaking hour and I want my coffee now!” the customer silently nodded.
As we waited (and waited), the line behind us grew to at least 20 people. The baristas appeared unfazed. The guy smiled peacefully and the gal Glinda-laughed. No one twitched with the caffeine joneses. No one complained. Voices were muted as the baristas drew everyone into their state of serenity.
When it was my turn, I ordered in gentle, hushed tones. When she said it would take just a moment, I understood. It was fine. Everything was fine. The world is a kind, peaceful place and I’m so happy we are all one.
Lattes in hand, our little group sat on benches near the coffee stand and admired the milk-painted hearts atop our drinks. We had places to go and things to see, but chose to leisurely sip our coffee, enchanted by the nirvana that resonated from the train car and held us in its comforting embrace.
“Ritual has been a pioneer in this delicious shift in coffee consciousness since we opened our doors on Valencia Street in 2005 and started what some call a coffee revolution in San Francisco. Our goal then–and our goal now–was to craft the very best cup of coffee available anywhere. Period. We’ve learned a lot over the years, but the care and attention we lavish on our process is unchanged, including tasting every coffee several times before it goes out to our coffee bars and into your cup.”
May I be so bold to suggest an edit of this last sentence? It’s a bit disconcerting to know my coffee is tasted not once, but several times before it goes into my cup.
“We don’t do all of this to make coffee more complicated. We do it because pretty much everybody who works here has had a moment where a really, really good cup of coffee changed their lives.”
I want to interview these people. I want to know what their lives were like before they were changed by a really, really good cup of coffee. Were they once, like me, anxious about such things as the continued well-being of themselves and their loved ones, how much longer their 14-year old dog is going to live, and the effects of global warming on the Kardashians?
“And we want to do every single thing we can to create that kind of experience for you, or at the very least, give you a really, really good cup of coffee that makes you feel like your day just took a turn for the better.”
Bingo! I was transformed into a kinder, gentler person for at least an hour while residing in the Ritual Coffee Universe. Did my day get better? It had already been pretty awesome and I’ll be darned if it didn’t maintain a similar course.
“We are endlessly enchanted by the coffees we discover and continually delighted by the experience of sharing them with our customers. And just like with any passionate affair, we find ourselves more in love with coffee today than we were when we started.”
A word of warning Ritual Coffee: passionate affairs can suddenly fizzle and degrade into stalking, nasty text message exchanges, keying of vehicles, and restraining orders.
If you’re ever in San Francisco or Napa, take the time to visit a Ritual Coffee shop. They understand that life’s pleasurable moments are often all too fleeting. You’ll be grateful that they strive to stretch your coffee moment into an experience you won’t soon forget.