The French Press
1101 State St., Santa Barbara
Hours: Mon – Fri 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sun 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Phone: (805) 963-2721

It can be said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a writer, I try not to ascribe too closely to this adage, but as I gazed upon the impeccably configured leaf gracing the top of my latte — a dream-like image of espresso artfully swirled into a cloud of thick, frothy, white foam — I found no better way to describe the attention to detail and care that goes into all of the French Press beverages than this singular symbol of craftsmanship.

From the freshly ground beans from around the world to the high-quality La Marzocco espresso machine, owners Todd Stewart and Julia Mayer are serious about their coffee.

“Everything is done manually, so it takes skill, more than just pressing a button on a machine,” Stewart said while serving up a perfectly poured cappuccino.

Stewart and Mayer, who were both busy behind the bar when I came in, had always wanted to open up a coffee shop of their own and were frequently dissatisfied with the coffee shops in Santa Barbara.

Opportunity arose when a friend of theirs, who owns the fair trade boutique Arcobaleno on the corner of Figueroa and State Street, ended up needing a coffee shop at the front of her store in order to continue her business.

“She originally opened with another café and that café kind of split on her so she had this retail store space in the back with no café in the front. It just worked out that we were able to take over the café space to keep her store alive,” Stewart said.

Since their opening in July of 2009, French Press has garnered a following for their coffee, which is all organic, fair-trade and, true to the title, French pressed, which helps to capture that rich espresso flavor.

“We do things simple and traditional and they just taste extra delicious,” Stewart said of the secret to their success.

They also have a wide selection of more than 30 different teas which are all loose leaf, organic and fair-trade as well.

As with any finely-honed skill, concocting exquisite espresso drinks requires a lot of practice, and the baristas at French Press definitely get their share. Many are not even allowed to serve drinks until five months after being hired.

I asked the friendly barista at the register if he had been yet given this privilege and he informed me that he had after three months, but not before attending the mandatory intensive training in Santa Cruz where they are taught their coffee-creating technique by Chris Baca, the 2008 West Coast Regional Barista champion.

The majority of their pastries, including the moist croissant I ordered toasted with butter and fresh preserves, come from the local D’Angelo’s Bakery, but they do have a selection of baked goods which are unique to French Press.

“We have an in-house pastry chef that makes cookies, sea-salt caramels, brownies and special treats for us,” Stewart said.

They also serve mini pot-pies, including the Breakfast Pie, which my friend ordered. It was the perfect amount of eggs, bacon, potato and cheese wrapped up in a pastry crust.

In a practice I have not seen in many coffeehouses outside of Europe, all the drinks here are automatically served in a nice large ceramic mug, which enhances not only the taste of the coffee but the entire experience, inviting you to sit back and stay awhile. Whether admiring the artwork on the walls which showcase a new local artist each month or simply savoring the smooth taste of the coffee and the company of a friend, there is plenty at French Press inviting you to linger.

Vices & Spices From Around the World
3558 State St., Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 687-7196
Hours: Mon-Sat 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vices & Spices From Around the World is a rare breed of coffee shop where you can be transported across the seas by an exotic assortment of coffee, spices and teas and at the same time feel as comfortable as if you were curled up in your own living room.

Owner Blue Booth opened the coffee shop and specialty store when he was just 21 years old with Henry Wildenborg back in 1975. The coffeehouse is a hybrid of sorts, selling a unique selection of cards, incense, teapots, handbags and spices from around the world.

“It started off as a place to sell coffee, teas and spices, and it has kind of evolved as a place to sell drinks,” Booth said.

They began selling beverages in 1977 as one of the only places in Santa Barbara that had an espresso machine. Since then, they have developed a loyal base of customers equally enticed by their exotic and high-quality products as by the open and amiable spirit which permeates this coffee shop and sets it apart from the multitude of impersonal grab-and-go shops proliferating today.

“We’re likely to remember your name and to remember what your drink is,” Booth said.

In the hectic pace of modern life, it is rare to find employees or business owners who actually care about taking the time to talk and get to know their customers. Booth was more than happy to step out from behind the counter, sit down and explain to me just why this place is so special.

“It’s not exclusive, it’s very inclusive,” Booth said of the shop’s philosophy.

The inclusiveness of the shop became all the more apparent as Booth opened various jars, allowing me to take a whiff of spices such as nutmeg from Malaysia or vanilla beans from Madagascar. Meanwhile, the owner excitedly explained to me the practices of growing tea throughout the world, and even showed me an old photo album of the shop’s history since the ’70s.

“We have long-term employees. Everything here is pretty long-term,” Booth said.
You can tell a lot about a place when the employees actually seem like they are having fun and the vibes from the bubbly baristas behind the bar were extremely positive. The day I came in, Booth was finishing up chatting with two former employees from many years back, one who came all the way from Bakersfield just to drop in and say hello.

Multiple visits here are definitely a must, if just to try their wide selection of 10 different coffees brewed daily, including Jamaica Blue Mountain, one of the rarest, most expensive coffees in the world.

They even offer an Obama Blend, which is a mix of coffees from Kenya, Sumatra, and Hawaii.

“It reflects his ethnicity and it just turns out that it actually tastes good too,” Booth said of the coffee, which they developed during the inauguration and has since stuck around due to its popularity.

But if you only sample one coffee here, try the Kona coffee, which is grown from Booth’s own farm in Hawaii and roasted locally to preserve freshness.

They also offer a wide assortment of delicious espresso drinks and unique drinks such as the Yerba Mate Latte and the Teeccino, a caffeine-free herbal blend of roasted carob, barley, chicory root, dates, orange peel, almonds and figs.

Delectable pastries are delivered daily from the local D’Angelo’s and Arlington Bakeries, and if you are looking for a deal, you can snag a day-old pastry for only $1.50.

True to their name, the teas here come from all over the world and are almost entirely organic.

“Our teas are the best quality you can buy,” Booth said.
When it was time to depart, I gave the shop a parting glance. I gazed over the impressive selection of spices from Hungary to Guatemala, sharing shelf space with teas from India and China, coffee from Hawaii, and crafts from across the globe, all under the same roof of a tiny coffee shop in Santa Barbara. As I waved goodbye to Booth and the baristas and shared a smile with a couple of regulars who just sat down, I couldn’t help but think to myself, maybe it is a small world after all.